The National Herald case won't help Sonia do an Indira for the Congress
Despite all the Congress celebrations, the National Herald case will not help Sonia Gandhi do an Indira for the party by portraying herself as a martyr.
By NR Mohanty
The Congress and its leaders have heaved a sigh of relief with the trial court giving unconditional bail to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in the National Herald Case. Both the Gandhis appeared in person on Saturday as per the court order and they will most likely do so again on 20 February, the next day of hearing, as their lawyers have not filed for exemption from personal appearance in the court on subsequent hearings.
There was a lot of speculation in the mainstream media that Gandhis would not file bond for bail and would instead go to jail to send out a strong message about their innocence in the matter. But they did not fall in that trap. Arvind Kejriwal had fallen for the bait of martyrdom last year and had to swallow his words and come out on bail bond after a stint in jail. Gandhis chose to steer clear of that ignominy.
But, by refusing to go to jail, has Sonia thwarted her chances of a political revival? Sonia famously said the other day — after the high court turned down her plea to quash the proceedings in the National Herald case in the lower court — that she was the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi and she was afraid of none.
Many interpreted this remark as her rejoinder to Subramanian Swamy, the moving force behind the Herald case, who had said on the day of the high court judgement that there were enough grounds for Gandhis to go to jail.
Well, no one could predict how a court would interpret the evidence produced before it. After all, way back in 1977, after the Janata Party came to power, the CBI made a ‘fool-proof’ case against Indira Gandhi in the 'Jeep Scam' and arrested her in the evening, kept her in police custody overnight and produced her before the court next morning. But the court threw out the evidence implicating Indira Gandhi personally in the case as devoid of legal scrutiny and released her. The Jeep Scam sank without a trace.
A similar thing happened when the CBI was deployed to nail the role of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in the Gujarat massacre case of 2002. The CBI had supposedly infallible evidence against both, but when the evidence were presented before the court, judges did not find enough merit in them. Narendra Modi went on to become prime minister of India and Amit Shah the all-powerful president of the ruling party, despite all the indignations of the secular brigade.
Will the National Herald case go the Jeep Scam way or the way the Gujarat riots case has gone so far as the accountability of the political leadership is concerned? No one can predict for sure.
But, if past is any guide, one can reasonably conclude that the arm of the Indian law is not yet long enough to take the top political leadership of the country within its fold. It is only the second or third tier politicians who get caught in the legal ambit, that too sparingly.
The biggest legal setback for a top political leader in India was the setting aside of Indira Gandhi’s elections; Indira challenged the judiciary by imposing the Emergency and taking away fundamental rights. But the judiciary caved in. India got back its democracy, not because India’s courts upheld the constitutional rights nor because India’s opposition leaders created a nationwide movement against the dictatorial state (they were all languishing in jail), but because the sycophants of Indira convinced her that she had such a groundswell of support after the imposition of the Emergency that she would win hands-down if fresh elections were called. As it turned out, the silent masses turned the tide; she was thrown out lock, stock and barrel.
The same Indira extracted her pound of flesh when she was sent to jail for a week by the then Parliament in a contempt proceeding. She portrayed herself as a martyr, who was being hounded without a just basis.
But Indira Gandhi roared back to power not because she faked martydom, but because Janata Party had gone into the self-destruct mode. A severe in-fighting had ensued among the various constituents which had merged to form the umbrella party; the political ambition of some leaders to go down in history as the prime minister, even for a day, ripped apart the political formation Jayaprakash Narayan had sewn together to fight Indira Gandhi in 1977. Janata Party collapsed in two years. That helped Indira storm back to power.
But there is a crucial difference in the situation between 1979 and 2015. NDA is a conglomeration of several parties, but the parties retain their respective identities (they have not merged to form one party). More crucial, BJP has a majority on its own. So the government can survive even if political equations change and some allies walk out. Most important, there are no political squabbles within the NDA.
So, Sonia’s hope to turn the personal adversity into political advantage, a la Indira, is misplaced in the immediate context. Modi government will last for five years and will be judged by the voters in 2019, based on its performance on the ground and equations in the political horizon at that time.
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