India needs a principal opposition party and if the Congress is claiming to be that, the least it can do is speak in one voice.
In politics timing is everything. Club this with allegations of ‘headline management’, evolving news consumption patterns and a general disregard for the detail — every politician and political party will be doubly cautious, because an ill-timed gesture or an out-of-place comment could cause havoc. But not the Congress. India’s grand old party is unmindful of these nuances and in the process has turned the idiom ‘shoot oneself on the foot’ an art.
On January 21, at an event in Delhi Congress leader and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh said, “Why Nehru did not want secular and socialism (in the Preamble) is because he felt that there was not enough of a consensus on both these issues, that there are divergent points of view.” He went on to say that the two words were added in 1976 as part of the 42nd amendment.
When it comes to historical accuracy, Ramesh is spot on — but what about his political timing?
At a time when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other Right-wing affiliates are questioning these amendments, when liberal points of views are attacked, when the word ‘secular’ is being referred to with disdain as ‘sickular’, and when the Congress is claiming and at times trying to uphold these values, Ramesh’s statement is counterproductive.
At a time when the Congress, and other opposition parties, claim that the ruling BJP is destroying the secular fabric of the nation, at a time when Congress has been accused of minority appeasement and ‘sickularism’, and at a time when all those who believe that India is a secular republic should speak in one voice, the former rural development minister has weakened the case for secularism.
Ramesh is not the only one.
On January 18, while speaking at a literary function in Kerala, former HRD minister and Congress leader Kapil SIbal said that no state can deny implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and that it would be unconstitutional to do so. He added that the states could pass a resolution opposing it and ask the Centre to withdraw it.
When it comes to the letter of the law, Sibal, who is also a legal luminary, is spot on — but, what about the political timing?
At a time when the Congress, and other opposition parties, are joining the thousands of protesters in opposing the CAA, when some states have decided to not cooperate with the Centre on the CAA or the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and when Congress-ruled Punjab has passed a resolution against the CAA, Sibal has scored an own goal for Team Congress. If the Congress is serious about its opposition to the CAA, it could speak in one voice.
There also appears a clear, and interesting, line here: While mainstream Congress leaders who have come up the ranks of the party, starting with student politics and upwards, are overly cautious to be in sync with the party’s stated line, professionals who have joined the Congress later in their career — lateral entrants, for want of a better expression — are not. This also highlights a problem, or a schism, within the Congress.
As mentioned in the beginning, at a socially and politically sensitive time, when statements can be misconstrued and misused, when the speaker does not get an opportunity to defend herself, or enough damage is done by the time a clarification is made, a sharp politician or alert political party would avoid such political landmines.
However, it might be ambitious to expect the Congress to speak in one voice. Today the Congress can be compared to a conference call with hundreds of participants all speaking at the same time, and it’s not clear who is controlling the discussion. Or, it is like a concert, were no musician is following the conductor. Some might romanticise that this pandemonium and cacophony mirrors India in its fullness, but the hard fact is India needs — and desperately — a principal opposition party and can the Congress be that party?For more Opinion pieces, click here.
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