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Demonising Modi won't work for Congress

By AMULYA GANGULI
August 28, 2019 19:15 IST

If the Congress sets a trend in polite behaviour where policies rather than persons are the targets of censure, it would be a salutary development, says Amulya Ganguli.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

Prima facie, there is nothing wrong with the sudden realisation among some Congressmen, notably Jairam Ramesh, Shashi Tharoor and Abhishek Manu Sanghvi, that demonisation of Narendra Damodardas Modi doesn't pay politically.

In a way, this recognition of what is essentially an advocacy in favour of a gentlemanly brand of politics is a continuation of Rahul Gandhi's hugging of Modi in Parliament immediately after a critical speech to show that there was nothing personal about such criticism.

 

Few will deny the need for graciousness in the present fraught atmosphere where the BJP's elder statesman, L K Advani, had to remind all and sundry that in his time, political opponents were not seen as enemies.

If the Congress sets a trend in polite behaviour where policies rather than persons are the targets of censure, it would be a salutary development.

Such an attitude with a focus especially on Modi as the Congressmen have said is necessary not only because the BJP is the ruling party at the Centre with more than 37.4 per cent of votes, but also because courteousness should be the basis of interactions between all parties -- big and small.

Nor should such civility be (mis)interpreted as a prelude to switching sides.

Given the alacrity with which a not inconsiderable number of Congressmen, including several bigwigs, have gone over to the BJP, any suggestion of being gentle and accommodative towards the party can raise questions about the real motive of those favouring a gentler, kinder approach.

The doubts also arise because the Congress at the moment is ideologically at sixes and sevens with Rahul Gandhi's temple hopping before the last general election (but, significantly, not afterwards), pointing to the pursuit of "soft" Hindutva at the expense of secularism.

If the party now suddenly starts to pick and choose between Modi's various policies in an attempt to sift the grain from the chaff, it can appear more confused and ingratiating rather than a clear-eyed, impartial arbiter of the good and bad.

However, it has to be remembered that such a turn towards cordiality cannot be a one-sided affair.

There has to be an element of reciprocity in the exchanges.

True, the ideal of "turning the other cheek" lays down the precept of being nice even to someone who is nasty.

From this standpoint, the Congress will deserve a round of applause if it continues to be convivial and courteous towards the BJP which has been demonising Jawaharlal Nehru, the icon of the Congress and Left-Liberals, even calling him a "criminal" as the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, has done.

It isn't only an individual like Nehru who is the BJP's bete noire, the party has also been less than kind towards groups it doesn't like such as the media, whom some of its members call "presstitutes" in a feeble attempt to be humorous.

The BJP is also mean about the principles cherished by the Left-Liberals such as secularism, which the party and its trolls dub "sickular".

To reiterate, it is not mandatory to imitate the unsavoury features of an opponent.

In fact, rising above calumny and being warm-hearted are bound to evoke admiration.

If the Congress pursues such a path, it will be able to refurbish its lost credentials of being a party of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru.

Such an image can also be politically rewarding because the average people are bound to appreciate such a gesture.

Besides, the field of governance lies outside politics.

The Congress, therefore, can be generous in praising the Modi government's welfare schemes such as housing, electrification, cleanliness, providing cooking gas to the poor, opening bank accounts and so on without feeling that it is conceding too many plus points to its main adversary.

It is possible that the Congress has been hesitant to do so because it is these microeconomic measures which have helped the BJP to cross the electoral Rubicon.

At the same time, it is possible for a politically savvy party to balance the praise for such populism with condemnation of the BJP's other electoral card of hyper-nationalism which brands all dissenters as "anti-nationals".

Unlike blanket denunciation, which tends to be counter-productive, a pointed focus on the BJP's playing of the patriotic card can be a helpful tactic for the Congress as it tries to claw its way back into political reckoning.

Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.

AMULYA GANGULI
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