News Analysis National

Rahul Gandhi challenges Modi’s forte, projects his own

A politically convenient campaign formulation that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi’s sympathisers have popularised — despite being seriously flawed — is whether politics has moved away from the debate on secularism to the one on governance.

The underlying suggestion in this formulation is that the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 is a matter of Hindus versus Muslims, something that the youth of India allegedly have no patience for. Tired of the ‘secularism slogan,’ all they want is good governance, we have been told, as if both are mutually exclusive ideals.

The Congress’s response to Mr. Modi’s efforts to sidestep questions about his record of 2002 has been ambiguous. The party has been intimidated by the campaign that the new voters have no stomach for debates on riots and communalism. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s criticism of Mr. Modi, questioning his leadership during the riots, clears this ambiguity. By addressing the 2002 massacre as a matter of governance rather than a question of religious identity, Mr. Gandhi is questioning Mr. Modi’s main claims of strength — good governance and strong leadership.

Dismissing the clean chit given to Mr. Modi by the Special Investigative Team as “politically expedient” but “far too premature,” Mr. Gandhi told PTI: “Beyond that, there should be a legal accountability for the clear and inexcusable failure of governance under him.”

Mr. Gandhi’s understanding of the 2002 riots has been in line with the Congress-led government’s approach towards minorities and other disadvantaged sections, but it has rarely been articulated in this fashion. The concept of ‘inclusive growth’ that the party has propagated over the last decade has, in many ways, reduced the relevance of secularism as a slogan, without undermining the validity of the concept. Being inclusive would naturally mean special attention to disadvantaged groups, including religious minorities. The Manmohan Singh government’s interventions in this regard, such as the Sachar Committee study, have been from the perspective of improving governance and ensuring citizenship rights. By linking the Gujarat riots clearly to Mr. Modi’s claims about governance, Mr. Gandhi is trying to overcome his party’s timidity in taking on the BJP on this issue.

Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal has been questioning Mr. Modi’s claims about Gujarat’s development, almost disregarding 2002 in the debate, but the Congress cannot afford to do that. Mr. Gandhi’s characterisation of 2002 as a governance failure is an attempt at maintaining the party’s identity of an inclusive platform that minorities can trust, without falling prey to identity politics.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 6:20:53 PM |

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