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Why the Congress is on the back foot

July 08, 2020 09:02 IST
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'Given that the RGF is a family-controlled trust, why would the Congress defend it every time someone accuses it of wrong-doing?' asks Virendra Kapoor.

IMAGE: Congress President Sonia Gandhi, right, with her children Rahul Gandhi, the MP from Wayanad, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the party general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh. Photograph: ANI Photo

The Bharatiya Janata Party may well have raked up the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation controversy to deflect Rahul Gandhi's unbridled criticism of the handling of the border stand-off with China.

But that cannot be reason for the Gandhis to stonewall all questions about the nature of the RGF's funding.

It takes two to fight.

Rahul showed utter lack of restraint in attacking the prime minister, calling him 'surrender' Modi, claiming India had ceded territory to the Chinese.

He had Congress leaders in Ladakh on video describing the loss of territory.

No senior Congressman nor any leader from the non-Congress Opposition has supported Rahul.

Sharad Pawar ticked him off in plain sight, recalling how under his 'great-grandfather' China had annexed tens of thousands of kilometres of territory.

Rahul did not take the hint.

At a virtual meeting of the Congress Working Committee, he chided senior leaders for failing to attack Modi out of fear.

He was not afraid, Rahul said.

The implication was that senior Congress leaders refused to criticise Modi because they lived in fear of the investigative agencies.

The former and future Congress President has clearly learnt nothing from his disastrous 'chowkidar chor hai' campaign ahead of the May 2019 Lok Sabha election.

It spectacularly boomeranged.

Of course, the situation at the border is tense, but there is no sign of the government readying to surrender.

On the contrary, without making a show of it, every conceivable effort is underway to ensure that the status quo ante at the Line of Actual Control was restored.

Simultaneously, on the military, diplomatic, economic fronts efforts are on to get the aggressor to pull back.

However, the Gandhis failed to cover their flanks on the RGF.

Probably they were unable to. The RGF has been a child of controversy right from the word go.

A plum piece of land, a stone's throw away from Parliament, was allotted almost free to the Congress to build its national headquarters.

All other parties were given land for their offices four to five kilometres away in central Delhi.

For decades the Congress occupied two adjoining Type-VIII bungalows on Akbar Road in the heart of Lutyen's Delhi.

It was repeatedly served notice by the central works and housing ministry to vacate the residential bungalows, especially after it had been allotted a big plot of land for its office.

But the party dilly-dallied, refusing to move out of Akbar Road.

In the meanwhile, an impressive structure fitted with the latest communications and other gadgetry was constructed by a major infrastructure conglomerate which at that time was controlled by a controversial business house.

Before the Congress could shift to its new address, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.

Sonia Gandhi took over what was to be the Congress headquarters and ran the RGF from there.

The Congress allotted itself another three acre plot for its central office in central Delhi adjoining the offices of other political parties.

Then finance minister Manmohan Singh in his maiden Budget allocated Rs 100 crores for the RGF.

Following vociferous protests against the 'misuse of taxpayers' funds for a family-run trust, Singh was forced to withdraw the proposal.

But there was no dearth of funds for the RGF.

Various government and semi-government organisations when P V Narasimha Rao was prime minster donated liberally to the RGF.

So did some foreign missions and other charities.

The Chinese wrote a cheque for $300,000. This was followed up with more such donations.

Worse, such was the quest for funds of the Sonia Gandhi-led RGF that it opened branches in at least two foreign locations, London being one of them.

Now, given that the RGF is a family-controlled trust, with a couple of confidants of the Gandhis on its governing body, why would the Congress defend it every time someone accuses it of wrong-doing?

Unless the argument is that the family is the party and the party is the family, there is no justification for official party spokespersons to rise in the RGF's support, or, for that matter, Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, when the BJP and others criticise them.

Meanwhile, the eviction notice to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to vacate the Type-VI bungalow on Lodhi Road too has the party crying foul.

Upon ceasing to be a SPG protectee, Priyanka had lost her claim to government accommodation.

Unless the party believes that the Gandhis are heaven-born and entitled to a special dispensation, including free housing, free power, free travel, free security, et al.

Otherwise, one fails to see any controversy in the eviction notice lawfully served on her.

It was like a number of journalists accusing then Union housing minister Jagmohan of attacking the freedom of the press when asked to vacate government houses.

Elevating personal privilege to the level of national interest reveals an imperial mindset which militates against a democratic order.

Our Constitution recognises no holy cows.

Everyone has equal rights as per the founding document of the Republic.

Ironically, despite losing the trust of the voters, the Gandhis continue to behave as if they were royalty.

Meanwhile, the effort to equate the contributions by some Chinese companies operating in India to the PM Cares Fund with donations to the RGF falls flat because Modi heads the latter in his official capacity as prime minister.

A new prime minister will automatically manage the PM Cares Fund.

But the RGF is a closely-held family trust where its control will remain unchanged with the Gandhi family.

Virendra Kapoor is a veteran commentator on Indian politics.

Feature Production: Aslam Hunani/

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