PM Modi & BJP Have Decided to Hit the Gandhis’ Interests Directly

Absence of a groundswell of support for the Gandhis makes PM Modi and Amit Shah go for their jugular.

Updated11 Jul 2020, 03:25 PM IST
Opinion
5 min read

Amid speculations around the internal strife in the Indian National Congress, The Quint has invited two senior political journalists to weigh in on the situation. This article is the second part of this series. The first article, by senior journalist Bharat Bhushan, can be accessed here.

The Modi government has put the Gandhis on notice with the announcement of an inter-ministerial probe into three family-held trusts. The trusts being investigated are Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust and Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust.

The announcement was delightfully vague on details but the composition of the probe team has an ominous ring.

The inclusion of home ministry officials, in addition to members of various wings of the income tax department that deal with financial irregularities, suggests that the investigation will be open-ended and could eventually move into areas of national security.

A hint to this effect came from a BJP spokesperson who was shouting on a TV channel the other night about a quid pro quo with China in return for a hefty donation to RGF from the Chinese government through its embassy in New Delhi in 2005 when the Congress-led UPA government was in office.

Snapshot
  • The Modi government has put the Gandhis on notice with the announcement of an inter-ministerial probe into three family-held trusts.
  • For the first time since it came to power in 2014, the Modi government has decided to hit the Gandhis and their interests directly.
  • Modi and his trusty lieutenant Amit Shah have calculated that the Gandhis are too enfeebled today to stage a comeback.
  • The clash at the last meeting of the Congress Working Committee on June 23 suggests that they may not be wrong in their assessment.
  • With the government on their back, the Gandhis need a party. They need loyalists who will defy COVID-19 restrictions and choke the streets for their leaders.

PM Modi and BJP Have Taken Their Gloves Off

The gloves are finally off. After six years of resisting demands from its Gandhi-hating constituency to guillotine the dynasty in the style of the French Revolution, the government seems to have decided to bite the bullet and satisfy saffron blood lust.

Last November, it stripped the Gandhis of their SPG cover. Earlier this month, it ordered Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to vacate her government bungalow in what is known as Lutyens Delhi. And now it has upped the ante by moving in on three family-run NGOs with draconian laws such the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.

Whatever spin BJP spokespersons may put on it, the attack has moved from the political domain to the personal. For the first time since it came to power in 2014, the Modi government has decided to hit the Gandhis and their interests directly.

BJP Realises that the Gandhis Are Vulnerable Today

The implications were not lost on the family. Rahul Gandhi immediately struck back with a defiant tweet that he would never be intimidated. Brave words but bluster will not be enough as the Gandhis fight a grim battle for survival in a sinking ship that was once the Congress.

The significance of the government’s move is not that the Gandhis are being subject to the same treatment as lesser politicians. Slipping the noose around their necks and send them to prison were always at the top of the to-do list for the BJP and RSS.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi feels emboldened enough today to unleash government agencies on the first family of Indian politics.

Government agencies, obviously, have been coming in handy to crush opposition for a long time now. You don’t even need to have a watertight case to harass your political opponents. PM Modi held back all these years, perhaps because of a lesson learnt from the history of the Janata Party whose government arrested Indira Gandhi and put her on the path to political revival after a humiliating defeat in 1977.

It would seem that Modi and his trusty lieutenant Amit Shah have calculated that the Gandhis are too enfeebled today to stage a comeback despite the crises stacking up on all fronts.

Clashes Within the Congress Party

The clash at the last meeting of the Congress Working Committee on June 23 suggests that they may not be wrong in their assessment. According to an insider who attended the meeting, tempers ran so high that day that CWC members would have come to blows but for the fact that the meeting was conducted virtually over a video conferencing platform.

The divisions in the party, which surfaced immediately after Modi’s second consecutive Lok Sabha victory in 2019 and led to Rahul Gandhi’s resignation, seem to have only deepened over the past one year.

Lack of leadership, Rahul’s penchant for functioning as a Lone Wolf, Priyanka’s fading charisma, Sonia Gandhi’s obsession to reinstall her son as party president, the high command’s inability to stem the internal rot which has led to large scale defections across states and the loss of its government in Madhya Pradesh, the party’s consistently poor track record in elections are just some of the issues tearing the Congress apart.

The CWC meeting saw sharp exchanges which pitted Rahul and Priyanka against the rest. While Sonia was mostly silent, Priyanka didn’t mince her words in lashing out at the old guard and some of the younger leaders for not backing her brother. Rahul, she raged, was fighting a lone battle against Modi and gets no support from the party.

The schism between the family and the rest of the party is so wide that a former loyalist actually confessed that “no-one in the Congress wants the Gandhis”.

Where is the Ground Support for the Gandhis Today?

It is significant that after the government announced probes into the family trusts, the reaction from Congress leaders was muted. Except for proforma statements from Randeep Surjewala, Abhishek Singhvi, P Chidambaram and a few forgettable names, no major leader of substance or weight has rushed to defend the Gandhis.

Contrast this to the mood in 1999 when Sharad Pawar and P A Sangma questioned Sonia Gandhi’s leadership because of her “foreign origin”. The party sprang to her defence and for weeks outside her house, Congressmen and women pitched tents pleading with her to withdraw her resignation and return as president.

In true Congress style, one person climbed a tree, waved a gun dramatically, and threatened to shoot himself in the head.

With the government on their back, the Gandhis need a party. They need loyalists who will defy COVID-19 restrictions and choke the streets for their leaders. It is this absence of a groundswell of support that has given the Modi-Shah duo the gumption to go for the Gandhis’ jugular and tick another box on the agenda list.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Published: 11 Jul 2020, 12:38 PM IST
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