Two bullies once challenged each other to a public fight. On the designated day, when they met in a bazaar, both rolled their sleeves, fumed from the nostrils, stamped their feet on the ground, and threatened each other with dire consequences. While the eager public waited impatiently for them to stop talking and start fighting, the two spent hours screaming, shouting and challenging each other. Eventually, both of them walked away, claiming the other was not letting him fight.
This, essentially, is the story of the government and the Opposition today: Two poltroons putting up the pretense of a fight but not willing to take the first step because of the fear of consequences.
The defining moment of this faux belligerence was on display in Parliament on Wednesday. Surrounded by the media, flanked by other opposition leaders and imbibing last-minute tips from Jyotiraditya Scindia, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi claimed he has information on "personal corruption" that would bust Prime Minister Narendra Modi balloon. The PM is scared, so he won't let me speak in Parliament, Gandhi said.
It seems Gandhi is currently inspired by marketing tricks adopted by Bollywood filmmakers before the release of a film. First he builds up hype — "It would cause tremors" — then accuses his rivals of usurping all the screens and creating problems before the release. But, unlike Bollywood producers who finally go on to put their work out in the market, Gandhi has a habit of simply disappearing.
A year ago, for instance, after raising war hysteria over the death of Hyderabad university student Rohith Vemula, demanding a debate in Parliamanent over the incident, Gandhi took the narrowest exit by claiming — what else — that the government did not allow him to speak.
"I will speak, but they will not let me speak. Because they are scared of what I will say," Gandhi boasted before the debate began. In the end, he bolted, leaving the battlefield empty for Smriti Irani to dominate. And now he is back to familiar threats and, god forbid, an encore of the Vemula denouement.
Here is a question for Gandhi: If he really has ammo that would demolish the PM, what is he waiting for? Instead of waiting for a mahurat, an auspicious day and date, why won't he just fire his weapon at Modi and get it over and done with it? To quote Ram Prasad Bismil, let us see how much strength he has in his arms.
The Winter Session of Parliament would end this week. If the remaining days are also marred by sloganeering and shouting, Gandhi may not get the opportunity to "bust Modi's balloon". If that happens, will he wait till the Budget Session to launch his war?
The problem with Gandhi is essentially this: In spite of his decade-plus presence in politics, he has done nothing to obliterate the trust-deficit that exists between him and voters. He has rarely, if ever, lived up to expectations; never carried a fight to its logical conclusion; hasn't walked his bluster. Because of all this, most of his words are either taken with a bucketful of salt or barely suppressed giggles. With his politics of "I would destroy you, but you won't let me", he merely adds to the image people already have of him.
Demonetisation, especially its faulty implementation, is in many ways a godsend for Gandhi. After the initial euphoria around the announcement, the mood on the ground is fast turning from circumspection to criticism on its way to complete dejection. And when the prime minister, the leader of a government with a comfortable majority in parliament, starts avoiding a debate and claiming in public that he is not being allowed to speak (by whom, the 44 MPs of Congress?), it shows the BJP is on the defensive, if not on the run. For Gandhi, it really is the right time to turn the knife.
But what we are witnessing instead is a charade of cowardice masquerading as parliamentary helplessness. Never before in the history of Indian democracy did we witness the tragi-comic spectacle of both the ruling party and the opposition roaring in public gatherings and crying about their inability to speak in parliament.
The ruling dispensation's reluctance, even when the opposition has given up its insistence on a debate followed by voting, is understandable. The demonetisation story is still unfolding in the hinterland, towns and metros of India. Nobody can predict with certainty where it would end. So, the government would prefer discretion over an immediate debate.
But Gandhi's refusal to open his mouth and show his cards unless he is allowed to do so in parliament defies logic. There could be only two explanations for his reluctance to start the promised war with Modi. Either he doesn't have the ammo to back his bluster. Or, he is looking for the safety of Parliamentary privilege to throw some wild allegations at the PM instead of facing the consequences of an assault launched in public.
Perhaps Gandhi is himself scared of his own words. If he isn't, bring it on.
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Updated Date: Dec 14, 2016 16:32:47 IST