Media should not treat Government as a punching bag

Politics is said to be ugly but there are occasions it can get ridiculous. The Pulwama bombing of February 14 that killed 40 CRPF jawans should, ideally, have injected a note of sombreness in public life. Initially, that seemed to be happening with the government and the Opposition speaking in one voice against the terror attacks. Unfortunately, the resolve of national unity has proved to be very short-lived.

Even before the political class has seriously applied its mind to the complex issues arising from the suicide bombing by a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the logic of electoral politics has resurfaced.  The reference is not to the usual moans of “failure of intelligence”—a template reaction that assumes that somehow all intelligence inputs are specific and infallible. Of course, Indian intelligence had informed the authorities that the JeM was planning something big. The problem was that there was no actionable intelligence.

This is not a failure but an occupational hazard of living with terrorism. India has been remarkably successful in preventing terrorist attacks in most parts of the country. The threat posed by radicals once associated with the SIMI, for example, has been largely met and there have been no bomb blasts in trains, cities and market places for nearly five years. This is not because the terror threats have disappeared but that a combination of no-nonsense policing and good intelligence penetration have proved effective.

Governments don’t get the credit when a terror plot is foiled. In fact, there is a tendency for the liberal media to either discount these totally or see them as part of the BJP’s antipathy towards Muslims. However, each time a terror plot succeeds, there is a Pavlovian response by the same people who believe innocent people have been framed for suspicion of being terrorists. They claim “intelligence failure”.

It is one thing for some tinpot politician or an opinionated editor to make this charge but it certainly doesn’t behave the Congress party. First, the Congress has long been in government to know the difference between generalised and actionable intelligence. And, second, because there is no evidence of security negligence.

As a political party, the Congress under Rahul Gandhi seems to be disproportionately influenced by conspiracy theorists, post-national activists who squirm at the mention of Vande Mataram and disgruntled middlemen often masquerading as members of the Fourth Estate.

Their influence is particularly marked because the Congress President has yet to acquire the gravitas that comes with a blend of sober reflection and experience. His attacks on the government and the Prime Minister have been loud, shrill but both undignified and, more often, puerile.

A leader whose claim to leadership is based on an accident of birth had, for example, the temerity to demand that the Prime Minister be charged with treason. More important, the number of times he has goofed up over facts and jumped to ridiculous conclusions on the strength of dodgy inputs is itself embarrassing.

That Rahul Gandhi still remains a Lutyens’ Delhi darling owes to the fact that the old elite is just desperate to get back to power and resume its politics of entitlement. There is just too much happening for it to believe that they are safe from having to explain misdeeds of the past. After all, if important power brokers of the past can be bodily lifted from the Gulf and brought to India to stand trial, it suggests no one with a tainted past is safe.

This explains why for some people the general election is a do-or-die battle and they will do their utmost—from fabricating evidence to wheeling out Priyanka Vadra—to ensure that Modi isn’t re-elected. They have been joined by the BJP’s own renegades, infuriated that Modi didn’t give them the positions they felt were rightly theirs. It is in this context that we should view the Rafale controversy which, for all the column inches it has got in the press, has yet to produce anything resembling a smoking gun.

It is in this context that we should view the open threats made by Congress leaders to civil servants and other public functionaries to either fall in line with the Old Establishment or await retribution. Threats have also been issued to the judiciary and constitutional bodies such as the CAG and the Election Commission. To seek victory is understandable but to become reckless and desperate in the process is quite unpardonable.

It was this tasteless recklessness that explained the bizarre and offensive allegation that the Prime Minister was doing a Bollywood-style photo shoot while people were counting the bodies of jawans in Pulwama. This fake news—given wide publicity by the anti-Modi media—was deliberately put out to discredit the leadership credentials of the Prime Minister. It was part of a dirty tricks campaign that will escalate as voting day approaches.

Make no mistake, what we are witnessing is not any ordinary electoral competition involving the government and its opponents. It is a no-holds-barred fight to ensure that New India doesn’t take the place of the Entitled India. This is a dirty campaign being waged by desperate individuals who will not stop even when the enemy is killing our soldiers in pursuance of a Ghazwa-e-Hind, the prophecy that deems that Hindustan belongs to the true believers.

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist and Member of Parliament, being a presidential nominee to the Rajya Sabha.

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