How Sonia Gandhi has walked into a trap by going after Arnab Goswami

It is simply about the Congress party’s political wisdom in reacting the way it has to a news anchor’s provocation of calling its president Sonia Gandhi biased and silent on the lynching of two Hindu monks in Palghar.

Abhijit Majumder April 26, 2020 09:45:33 IST
How Sonia Gandhi has walked into a trap by going after Arnab Goswami

This piece is not about Arnab Goswami and his journalism. One journalist issuing a journalism certificate to another is vain.

Nor is it about television drama spilling on to streets and courts with real consequences, or a fading dynast’s desperate jabs at power and intimidation.

How Sonia Gandhi has walked into a trap by going after Arnab Goswami

FIle image of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. News18

It is simply about the Congress party’s political wisdom in reacting the way it has to a news anchor’s provocation of calling its president Sonia Gandhi biased and silent on the lynching of two Hindu monks in Palghar.

It is also about how the party took Arnab calling Sonia by her maiden name ‘Antonia Maino’, dog-whistling about her being Italian, and thereby unboxing the baggage of old allegations.

Old questions tumbled out. Why did she take 16 years to become an Indian citizen after marrying Rajiv Gandhi in 1968? Has she ever been an Indian at heart, even while running the country as the power centre with Manmohan Singh as prime minister?

The episode is undoubtedly personal and sensitive for Sonia Gandhi. But those two are bad words in politics. Politicians train not to react in anger or hurt, and respond when waters of the mind are still.

Five blunders of Congress

First, reportedly attacking Goswami and his wife near their Mumbai home and filing a slew of cases against him in states like Chhattisgarh where it rules, the Congress has re-established itself in the nation’s mind as the party of Emergency. It has a distinguished record in quashing criticism and muzzling freedom of expression, captured in this Twitter thread by scientist and political commentator Anand Ranganathan.

From jailing actor Utpal Dutt to banning investigative journalist Jack Anderson’s documentary ‘Rajiv’s India’, to Kabil Sibal bringing the repressive Section 66A of the IT Act, Congress’ handiwork shines from Ranganathan’s thread (274 posts and counting).

It gently holds the mirror to the savagery the party is capable of on press and artistic freedom. The latest incident only acts as a national reminder of that.

Second, hounding a journalist brings under stage lights the Nehru-Gandhi family’s well-known intolerance to criticism. Scores of works like the movie Aandhi in which the protagonist resembled Indira Gandhi, or Xavier Moro’s book The Red Sari on Sonia, faced censure.

It was in under Congress rule in Bihar with Jawaharlal Nehru at the Centre that Kedar Nath Singh was slapped with sedition in 1962 for saying, “Today the dogs of CID are loitering around Barauni…today these Congress goondas are sitting on the gaddi.”

In the UPA years, there was an unwritten diktat in newsrooms to not openly criticise the family; one could take on its minions, if at all. The incidents over Palghar have proved that the much-weakened Congress has not changed.

Golden gift to the enemy

Third, the reckless aggression somehow gives one the sense that mentioning her roots gets Sonia very uncomfortable and defensive. The moment the BJP tasted blood, it pounced more fiercely on her father Stephano Maino’s story, who reportedly had served in Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s army. Discrepancies about her university education, citizenship, name on electoral rolls and even alleged KGB links are being dug up.

Fourth, it puts the Congress’ senior partner in the Maharashtra coalition, Shiv Sena, in a bind. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is constantly being chided by his core Marathi-Hindutva constituency for actions of the NCP and the Congress, or the ones Sena is taking to keep the alliance alive. The Congress’ brashness makes his position weaker.

Fifth and last, this gives potent ‘what about’ ammunition to the BJP. Every sin of the Congress in the past 70 years has come to the BJP’s rescue each time it got cornered in the last six years. From allowing communal violence to toppling governments, the Congress has a much better record to show. And the latest one, even with crippled power, paves the road for the BJP to travel with fresh precedence as a weapon.

This violence and vengeance is an opportunity worth in gold for the BJP. It won’t let it go.

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