Rapid Retribution: BJP’s Unyielding Approach Toward Opposition Leaders Raises Concerns

— By Amit Sengupta
(Amit Sengupta is a journalist and teacher based in Delhi)

When it comes to super-fast action against Opposition leaders, the ruling regime in Delhi refuses to take a pause. They are unimaginably quick in their draw, and they care little for public perception. Indeed, it’s just the opposite.

They are certain that these strong-arm tactics, however vindictive and unjust it might seem to some sections of society, endears them to their fanatic, hard-line, herd-like following, who are actually looking for a macho and muscular display of praxis which can make the Opposition bite the dust. Show them their place, as is the cliché.

The BJP victory in the three Hindi heartland states, unexpected for both poll analysts and journalists who reported from the ground, has only boosted their morale to do what they want — come what may. Surely, this could be just one more aggressive action among countless many in the past, and many more being planned and strategized in the days to come — before the countdown to 2024 begins.

First, it was the quick disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. This was rapidly followed by evicting him from his MP’s bungalow. Even the opponents of Rahul Gandhi could see then that this was petty revenge politics, and in a mature democracy, such revengeful moves are seen to be jarring and in bad taste. But they care two hoots.

Undoubtedly, as Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly said, there was the ‘A’ factor behind these two, quick retributive actions targeting him – especially after the stupendous success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. He spoke frankly and eloquently inside the Lok Sabha, seen ‘live’ across the country. He offered transparent evidence based on objectivity, about the links of the Gujarati industrialist with the prime minister, whose meteoric rise under this regime, seems like stuff made in cushy dreams, and fantasy movies. Indeed, from a diamond businessman, he seems to be presiding over and controlling all that he can see with his eyes on this part of the earth – from ports to airports. Plus, there is that famous picture which Rahul Gandhi showed for all to see inside Parliament – the PM reclining in relaxation in the private aircraft of ‘A’.

The other Opposition leader who took up this case inside and outside Parliament with relentless clarity, especially after the explosive Hindenburg report, was Trinamool Congress MP from Krishnanagar, Mohau Moitra, herself a former investment banker in a multinational company, and one of the most articulate and fiery speakers inside the Upper House. In ordinary circumstances, her speeches have ripped apart the government and its policies, and have gone viral across the country, though, she usually speaks in English. On the business dealings of ‘A’ and his associates, her facts and evidence seems to be on the dot, and she has been as relentless as a crusader with a cause. That is why, observers are now saying that Rahul Gandhi first paid a heavy price, but came back to Parliament eventually; and, now, she is paying a very, very heavy price for taking on a formidable industrialist who is one the best buddies of the PM.

Ironically, and this is a style-statement made by the BJP, which sends a signal to its followers, that they really don’t care for democratic convention or protocol. Or, consensus. She was not allowed to speak or defend herself before her expulsion from the Lok Sabha as an elected MP from Bengal. And not only she, the opinion of other members of the ethics committee was disregarded, and their voices were ignored, even as the decision to expel her was taken by a voice-vote.

Said Mamata Banerjee: “I am shocked and sad. Four hundred and ninety-five pages of the report (Ethics Committee report) were placed. After just 30 minutes of discussion, she was expelled. How can one read 495 pages in 30 minutes? She was not even allowed to speak her side. She was not even allowed to speak in self-defense. They did not allow her to explain her side. This is a murder of democracy. This is injustice…”

The accusations against her, in what is being called the ‘cash-for-query’ episode, remains in a twilight zone. More impartial and objective clarity on the issue based on hard evidence would have made the expulsion more acceptable. Now, it seems another slice of vendetta politics – silencing a vocal woman MP who has the courage to take a big businessman close to the political establishment using brilliant articulation.

Opposition MPs in the ethics committee have alleged that she was being asked “immoral and personal” questions. Coming out from an ethics committee meeting, Mahua Moitra had said to the media, “What kind of meeting is this? They are asking dirty questions.”

The flipside of the issue is that the entire Opposition seems to have suddenly united in one collective. Sonia Gandhi and others stood next to Mohua Moitra as they walked out of the Lok Sabha. Inside the house, Adheer Ranjan Choudhury of the Congress, vehemently defended her, while writing letters seeking justice and a proper procedure. Even the CPM has come out in strong support of the expelled MP, though they have battlelines drawn in Bengal against the TMC, like the Congress.

Does this mark a sign that the INDIA block will revive itself, uses consensus and flexibility in the future, and help each other in marking a ‘one-versus-one contest’ against the BJP in 2024? It is too early to say. The drubbing in the Hindi heartland, for reasons the Congress would know too well, cushy as it was in the dream-world of a fanciful victory, has, hopefully taught the Congress leadership in the Centre and the states, a few lessons on ‘how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory’! It has also clearly shown that choosing soft Hindutva, as Kamalnath did so willfully in MP, will only prove that clones are not appreciated in the polarized electoral arena – people will go for the original.

The only consolation is that the Congress has scored more votes than the BJP in the Hindi heartland states, and has overwhelmingly won Telengana. The defeat-margin in Rajasthan is just about 2 per cent, and there has been no anti-incumbency wave against Ashok Gehlot in a state which likes to choose a different government every five years, as has been the trend in Kerala and Himachal Pradesh. Gehlot has done a remarkable job as a chief minister in terms of welfare politics and in public interest – and there is no doubt about it. So has Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh. Hence, why Baghel’s party has lost so badly in the tribal and urban areas, remains an enigma.

In a North-South divide currently looming large, as has been the pattern in the past, will the INDIA alliance break new ground, and forge an united and strategic relationship which can win the battle – indeed, the many battles which are lined up on the ground with a resurgent, and, rather, undemocratic BJP? Certainly, regional parties will call the shots now, and the Congress will have to be much more flexible. Or else, 2024 might go the way 2019 went. In that case, will India remain a pluralist, secular democracy, amidst harmony and peace? That is the question which would stalk the nation in the days to come.

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