The Indian Parliament this week witnessed both the best as well as the worst of our political culture. A casual observer may be flummoxed at the striking contrast in the conduct of the same party — the Congress — during the debate on the motion of thanks to the presidential address, in the two houses of Parliament.
What is it that compelled the Congress to behave so reprehensibly in the Lok Sabha when the party was happily abiding by the norms of parliamentary procedure in the other House? The answer lies in the political culture that the Gandhi family, first Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul Gandhi, has brought to the party.
So in Rajya Sabha, we saw parliamentary exchanges first during the debate on the motion of thanks and then when the retiring members were being bid farewell. When the leadership was with Rahul Gandhi, we saw street-level raucousness in the Lok Sabha.
For close to five decades after Independence, cut-throat political and ideological differences did not diminish common courtesies or the ability to reach across the aisle for a national cause. Be it the tenure of Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao or Atal Bihari Vajpayee, our national leaders always maintained a healthy relationship with the ability to come together on national issues. All this changed with the advent of Sonia Gandhi. Ideological opposition converted into personal hate and social untouchability with everyone she disagreed with.
Someone like Vajpayee, adored and respected by generations, was a “gaddar” (traitor) for Sonia Gandhi. George Fernandes, a lifelong honest man, was hounded as “coffin chor” by manufacturing a fake case.
The template that she set and the slide that began with her, has haunted us ever since.
A duly elected chief minister of a state was denied a visa by a foreign government and instead of treating it as gross and unacceptable interference in our internal affairs, the ecosystem that Sonia Gandhi spawned and headed cheered it on as a great victory. If the mother called Modi “maut ka saudgar” during the 2007 Gujarat elections, then the daughter disparaged him by calling him “neech” during the 2014 elections. When despite their machinations, Modi won an absolute majority in the 2014, the family even refused to congratulate him, a basic but important feature of electoral democracy where the loser gracefully concedes and wishes the winner well.
Rahul Gandhi took the lessons he learned from his mother a step further. An ailing man on his death bed, Manohar Parrikar, was visited in the guise of a courtesy only to be later shamelessly pulled into a manufactured controversy based on concoctions and lies.
Defying all past traditions, the new President of India elected in 2017, whose previous political career was in the BJP, did not even receive a courtesy visit from the then head of the Congress party. She was the only major national politician not to do so.
Rahul Gandhi, now president of the Congress, called an incumbent Prime Minister “chor” (thief), without any evidence or rationale. When the people of India overwhelmingly rejected the Congress during the 2019 elections, including booting out Rahul Gandhi from his own family constituency, he still did not learn. Instead, he complained that why did the rest of the senior leadership of the party not join him in his rancorous chorus. Unable to get his way, he resigned in a huff.
That chasm in the ways of Rahul Gandhi and the rest of the Congress senior leadership has since further widened and it is this chasm that we witnessed in Parliament this week.
Left to themselves in Rajya Sabha, the Congress followed the Indian ethos of fierce debate of making one’s own point and then hearing the government response. Finally, the people of India will decide whose version was more convincing.
What we witnessed in the Rajya Sabha, during the farewell session to retiring members, especially in the way Prime Minister Modi spoke effusively about a lifelong Congress politician, Ghulam Nabi Azad, was the epitome of Indian political culture and our civilisational values.
A culture that believes that those who have devoted their lives to public service may have different ideas and philosophies but are all working towards the same cause of nation-building. That they may be political adversaries but are not enemies and different ideologies and policies can be advanced while still maintaining basic decencies.
The farewell session to the retiring members of Rajya Sabha gave us a glimpse of what is possible in Indian politics while the Lok Sabha shenanigans displayed its worst tendencies. As Modi said in Lok Sabha, we may have to await the result of the battle for leadership in the Congress to get a firm picture of which way it will turn.
The writer is CEO, Bluekraft Digital Foundation and former director (content) MyGov