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National Herald case: Lost-in-time Congress mistakes Modi for Chandra Shekhar, 2015 for 1991

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Ambikanand Sahay

Two non-descript, innocuous looking Haryana constables in plainclothes, who were seen to be lurking at Number 10 Janpath, New Delhi, on an otherwise pleasant March morning in 1991 didn’t have any inkling of the political earthquake they had triggered. Their mere presence on the road leading to ‘the palace’ was enough to cause havoc within a week leading to resignation of then-prime minister Chandra Shekhar and announcement of elections for the 10th Lok Sabha.

The two constables, Prem Singh and Raj Singh, who were arrested under espionage charges, didn’t know what had hit them. Neither did anybody in the Capital, including the men who manned the Union Cabinet, who could not find a logical connection between the presence of the policemen at Janpath on 2 March and fall of the government on 6 March. No one in their right senses could until then digest the “fact” that you can’t just raise pointed fingers towards the palace; it didn’t matter whether you were right or wrong. It was too late by the time Chandrashekhar, from under whose feet the carpet was about to be pulled, realised this bitterly. He had to put in his papers. And the political narrative of India that followed is history.

This incident appears to have acquired greater significance today when the entire nation is trying to find a connection between the court summons served to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi over the National Herald case on one hand, and the ruckus in Parliament on the other. Apparently, there is no connection – neither legally nor parliamentarily. Maybe that’s why both Queen Mother and the Prince of the Congress appear to be so rattled and miffed.

What happened within and outside Parliament verbally made a queer reading.

Chair: What are you agitating for, what’s the issue?
Congress reply: Down with dictatorship.
Treasury bench: Go and take clearance from the court; what can we do under the circumstances?
Congress reply: Hitlershahi nahi chalegi.

It’s time they realise that much water has flown down the Yamuna in the past 25 years. And 2015 presents a vastly different political scenario compared to 1991. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who enjoys an unbeatable, absolute majority in the lower House of Parliament is galloping along nicely compared to Chandra Shekhar whose survival depended solely on the support of 197 Lok Sabha members of the Congress. The party should know it cannot topple this government.

Then why is the Congress still hell bent upon creating noisy scenes and pandemonium on the floor of Parliament? Perhaps, the answer to this riddle lies in politics — and politics alone. There are two reasons for the Congress action: First, Modi had been gaining in stature and acceptability during the current session of Parliament despite the electoral defeats in different states because of his uncharacteristic conciliatory gestures both within the House and outside. The ‘chai pe charcha’ had produced desired results. And secondly, many Opposition parties, including Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (U) and Mamata Banerjee’s TMC, appeared to be supporting the BJP on the GST issue. The threat of Opposition unity that had come about in the wake of BJP’s Bihar debacle is no longer present in Parliament.

The Congress seized the opportunity provided by the court summons with both hands, and tried to mix up law and politics. Rhetoric and innuendos dished out by Congress members became the order of the day thereafter. “I’m Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law and I am not scared of anyone,” roared Sonia Gandhi. It was all meant to unite the Opposition under the umbrella of anti-BJPism apart from deflecting attention from the punches coming from the court’s end. The Congress kept on reiterating that the Modi government was bent on victimising Opposition leaders. Within 24 hours of their dramatics, almost all the Opposition parties flocked together in support of the beleaguered Congressmen. It was surprising that even Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party jumped on the bandwagon.

However, there are signs of strain in this unity already. The more the Congress tries to stall Parliament without reason, the more it’s likely to break apart.

Tailpiece: Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray and BJP president Amit Shah, who were travelling together on a Jet Airlines flight from Mumbai to Delhi, didn’t have any conversation for two hours. No pleasantries were exchanged between them. Both had kept mum as long as the flight lasted.

The stoic silence of the ruling party allies, however, has nothing to do with what’s happening within Parliament. But it’s pregnant with political meaning nonetheless.

Disclaimer:The views expressed above are the author’s own

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