Rahul Gandhi was barely 14 years old when his grandmother and the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi fell to the assassins’ bullets at her residence in New Delhi on 31 October, 1984. Barely a few hours after the tragedy the national broadcaster, Doordarshan, put out a live telecast with an outpouring of people’s mourning.
Something unusual happened at that moment. A slogan rent the air, “khoon ka badla khoon se lenge (will avenge blood with blood).” This was probably the first time since the monumental tragedy of the partition of the country that “khoon” (blood) was reintroduced into the political lexicon. Lo and behold, a volcano of violence erupted in Delhi, Kanpur and Bokaro, engulfing thousands of innocent Sikhs.
If a grief-stricken Rahul had watched television back then, his childhood familiarity with the word “khoon” must have been an unpleasant one. As a child, he saw how people reaped the benefits by shedding the blood of a prime minister and subsequently of thousands of innocents for political gains.
His father, Rajiv Gandhi, was one of the beneficiaries of this tragedy. A word embedded deep in one’s psyche, particularly during childhood, has the uncanny ability to haunt you for the rest of your life, more often at the wrong moments.
There is hardly any doubt that such a moment came for Rahul on Thursday when he accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “politically profiteering from soldiers’ blood (khoon ki dalaali).” His context was, however, patently wrong.
Even the most ardent critics of Modi would find the prime minister’s conduct since India’s surgical strikes on terrorists camps across the Line of Control (LoC) nothing but exemplary. Till now, he has maintained a stoic silence that is uncharacteristic of a leader often projected by media as a demagogue.
A day after Indian Army’s successful operation across the LoC, Modi addressed a conference on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in Delhi and did not even once reflect on the growing India-Pakistan strain.
Similarly, just after the Uri attack, Modi spoke in Kozhikode and addressed the nation on the All India Radio in his monthly programme Mann Ki Baat. In both the speeches, he brought down the temperature around war-mongering.
In Kozhikode, he talked about fighting a war on poverty and illiteracy, while in his radio programme he mentioned Pakistan’s nefarious intent to destabilise the sub-content through the instrument of terror. Not once could he be accused of making any loose remarks. Practically, Modi has not said a word on the India-Pakistan conflict since the 29 September military operation.
That was the precise reason why all the political outfits lent their support to the government in the all-party meet called by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on 29 September. But taking into consideration the shift in the stand of many of the parties since, a pertinent question arises: What went wrong suddenly?
Within less than 24 hours of the military operation, a realisation dawned upon political leaders across the spectrum that Modi’s popularity was soaring sky-high. And thus, the search for fault-finding began. In a calculated move to sow the seeds of doubt, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul-loyalist Sanjay Nirupam started demanding proofs of the surgical strikes.
Since the issue could not gain much traction, Rahul chose the decibel on debate by accusing Modi of “profiteering on soldiers’ blood”. This jibe curiously coincided with attempts by leaders like Sharad Pawar, who claimed that the surgical strikes were a routine affair and took place many-a-times when he was the country’s defence minister.
Apparently, the strategy employed by Modi’s detractors is too clever by half and bound to recoil on them. If their efforts are to set the terms and engage Modi in a public debate, they are attempting to do something in which even Pakistan could not succeed.
Over the years, Modi has developed silence and eloquence as strategic tools. Recall a vituperative attack on Modi by Congress general secretary BK Hariprasad before the 2007 elections; he simply ignored it.
Similarly, Mani Shankar Aiyar’s caustic remark on Modi, calling him a “chaiwala (tea vendor)”, may have evoked popular anger but could not elicit a response from him. In this regard, there is no chance that Modi’s detractors can draw him into a debate by hurling invectives at him.
Unlike Rahul’s jibe of “suit-boot ki sarkar” that seemed to have rattled Modi to some extent, his rather clumsy and hysteric delivery of “khoon ki dalali” is flawed on many counts.
Rahul dragged the security forces at the centre of a political turf at a time when the country is staring at an undeclared war with Pakistan. His rant, believed to scripted by a filmi-dialogue writer, is seen to be directed against the country’s most powerful leader – a prime minister who has been showing exemplary fortitude and equanimity against all odds.