As an opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi may think he is right in continuously looking for an opportunity to corner Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That’s what any opposition leader should be doing in an active democracy like ours.
But, when he is repeatedly targeting the Modi government over the stand-off with China — without outrightly saying much against the behaviour of its troops in Ladakh — he appears not to be just irresponsible but one who has got his sense of timing terribly wrong.
Even as most other opposition parties have backed the government's stance in the face-off with China in Eastern Ladakh, Rahul has sounded churlish, to say the least, leaving his own party leaders wondering what he hopes to gain by his outpourings against Modi. His tweets have ranged from accusing the Prime Minister of “publicly supporting” China's claim to having “surrendered Indian territory to Chinese aggression”.
Rahul has also repeated his allegation that Indian soldiers were without weapons during the violent face-off with China on June 15-16, which left 20 of them dead. He does not wish to acknowledge that, at least, 43 Chinese soldiers too were said to have been killed. By all accounts, our men in uniform died resisting the Chinese aggression. Otherwise, there could not have been so many casualties on both sides.
Disappointed by the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which gave huge second mandate to the BJP, Rahul’s campaigns so far have been due to his own frustrations.
Currently, Rahul’s rants against the PM rest on the argument that India is soft on China. That is because of Modi’s diplomatic initiatives over the previous four years, which saw the PM engage Chinese President Xi Jinping in substantive summit meetings. Thereby, he believes China lulled India into complacency by “Jhoola diplomacy” (when Xi and Modi sat on a swing in Ahmedabad) and Chinese investments in India.
Naturally, the BJP cannot let go of Rahul’s barbs and insinuations so easily. It had to respond by questioning the Congress’ own dalliance with the Communist Party of China right from the days of the UPA government. In the process, Sonia Gandhi-family run Rajiv Gandhi Foundation has found itself at the heart of a controversy. It has been revealed that the RGF received over Rs. 1 crore as donations from the Government of China during the UPA regime. After all, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson of the RGF which has on its board former PM Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi, P Chidambaram and Priyanka Gandhi. The line between the RGF and the government under the UPA dispensation was very much blurred. Money also went from the PM’s Relief Fund to the RGF in the name of funding the latter’s schemes for the poor.
The BJP also could not help targeting the Sonia Gandhi family for meeting with Chinese officials and "having a secret pact” between the Congress and the Communist Party of China over the years. Rahul’s meetings with Chinese diplomats based in Delhi even during the Doklam crisis (between India and China) were sought to be under scanner.
While it is true that many BJP leaders too have met with members of the Communist Party of China, the Congress finds itself more defensive after Rahul’s attacks on the PM for being “soft” on China.
In turn, the Congress has, of course, sought to raise questions on reports that the PM CARES Fund got donations from Chinese companies like Huawei and TikTok. However, one does not know whether these Chinese companies actually gave the money to the PM CARES Fund, which they had publicly committed. But the moot point is can donation to the PM CARES fund for COVID-19 be treated on par with foreign donations for a family-run organisation like the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation?
What is important to note is that the saner voices in the opposition, particularly Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, have questioned the barbs fired by Rahul at the PM. Firstly, Pawar, an ally of the Congress in Maharashtra, had said at an all-party meeting (convened earlier this month by the Prime Minister) that issues whether soldiers carried arms or not (raised by Rahul) are decided by international agreements and "we need to respect such sensitive matters”. Secondly, a few days ago, Pawar had virtually chided Rahul for attempting to politicise an issue concerning national security and reminded how China occupied 45,000 sq km of the Indian territory in 1962.
As Pawar’s statement was seen as support for Modi on India-China border stand-off, questions began to be asked whether the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance was itself in a fix because of the discordant note struck by Pawar. The Congress was quickly forced to clarify that Pawar’s remark had no bearing on the alliance.
However, it is no secret that senior Congress leaders are upset with Pawar’s statement. In this context, former Union Minister Milind Deora expressing displeasure over the political “mud-slinging” over the border stand-off appears to be directed at his own leader. Similar opinion was aired at the Congress Working Committee meeting recently. Perhaps, Rahul should take cue from Pawar and pipe down his criticism of the government and wait for things to cool down on the border. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has already indicated that the government is ready to discuss all events concerning the border with China from 1962 onwards in Parliament.
The top priority for all political leaders should be to close ranks. They must try to understand why China has behaved in this manner after the outbreak of the coronavirus. This question needs to be debated in all earnest to size up our big unfathomable neighbour.
The writer is a former Senior Associate Editor of Hindustan Times and Political Editor of Deccan Herald, New Delhi