After a decade in Parliament, if Rahul Gandhi, the Congress’s heir apparent, has still not grasped the fact that rules and procedures are central to the working of the highest seat of Indian democracy, it either smacks of sheer arrogance or of plain dumbness. In case it is the former, it reveals that despite the huge devaluation of Brand Nehru-Gandhi, its designated owner still chooses to remain in cloud cuckoo land, refusing to come to terms with his vastly reduced circumstances. In case it is the second, well, there is nothing one can do about it, it is for the immediate stakeholders in the Congress Party to decide whether they want to be led by someone who has such a poor grasp of issues. The Congress Vice-President’s premeditated act on Wednesday, which saw him rushing to the well of the Lok Sabha and, later, accusing the NDA Government of stifling debate in the House and even blaming the Speaker Sumitra Mahajan for being partisan, admittedly, won him headlines. He dominated the airwaves that evening and the next day’s newspaper headlines. But, as any independent observer would testify, his deliberate act of `contrived aggression’, as senior minister Arun Jaitley put it, hardly won him new friends. There was near-unanimity that the Gandhi scion had come prepared to disrupt the Lok Sabha and a debate on the communal situation in the country was incidental to his attention-seeking drama. No doubt, the day’s headlines had spoken of an increasing number of communal incidents in Uttar Pradesh. No doubt, this called for a full-fledged debate in Parliament. But to ensure that there was debate, there was a laid-down procedure. No one could defy that procedure even if it happened to be the Congress’s Chosen One. The Lok Sabha Speaker had clearly told the Congress members that should they give the prescribed notice for a debate on the communal issue, or, for that matter, on any other issue of public interest, she was bound to schedule it as per the rules of conducting business in the House. She is, after all, a servant of the House, not its master. But Gandhi behaved on Wednesday as if he alone was the master of Parliament. It should do his whimsical bidding. And if it does not, he would call the incumbent power names. His conduct militates against the orderly functioning of Parliament. Although it is now common for members to rush to the well of the House, this was the first time that someone, who is virtually the boss of the Congress Party, had personally led the shouting, screaming members into that low pit of our democracy. Significantly, television footage of the proceedings showed Sonia Gandhi egging on her son to rush to the well of the House. What it revealed was a desperation on her part to make a `leader’ of her son, who, despite her wanting to thrust the mantle of leadership on him, refuses to come good. Following the drubbing in the Lok Sabha poll, a number of Congressmen have made bold to seek a change of leadership, some pointedly blaming Rahul for the humiliating loss. All these critics were sought to be promptly disciplined for fear that otherwise the contagion might spread and turn into an irresistible avalanche for his removal. But, regardless, stray voices for replacing the son with the daughter as the heir apparent continue to be heard.
Whether Wednesday’s contrived show was meant to silence his critics or it revealed a strategy to ward off a `palace coup’ was hard to tell. But all those rooting for Priyanka Vadra might be in for a shock since she too has shown little talent for organisational consolidation beyond giving catchy television sound bytes. Her being photogenic is more than nullified by her being the wife of the scamster Robert Vadra. In the end, the Congress leadership would do well to remember that the only way the party can hope to win back the trust of the people is by playing the role of a constructive and rule- and merit-based opposition, and by demonstrably distancing itself from its criminal and corrupt legacy. Debating communalism only for the sake of blaming the ruling BJP would not do unless the party can stop playing the pseudo-secularist card. Minorityism is as bad as is majoritarianism. Respect for all religions and appeasement of none ought to be the guiding mantra.