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Is The BJP Stung By Rahul’s Walk?

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Nowadays, our politics is habituated to sitting on a high pedestal, hobnobbing with world leaders, generating impressions of a superpower and returning to earth for the purpose of winning elections.
In contrast, the yatra never left earth, observes Shyam G Menon.

IMAGE: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi waves to supporters during the Bharat Jodo Yatra at Ghasera village in Nuh, Haryana, December 22, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Back in school, there used to be a regular question at quiz competitions: who is the governor of the Reserve Bank of India?

Not knowing the answer usually left one embarrassed because the name was there on currency notes.

How could you not know something that was so easily accessed? So, if the occasional quiz competition engaged one’s interest, knowing the name of the RBI governor was part of one’s arsenal; even if, the actual purpose of the RBI and how it functioned, were still beyond one’s grasp.

That’s how I first heard of Manmohan Singh. He was the RBI governor from 1982 to 1985.

I belong to the generation which completed its studies and commenced employment in the period he moved from the RBI to the Planning Commission, the South Commission, being advisor to the prime minister on economic affairs, then chairman of the University Grants Commission and eventually entered politics.

He was finance minister in the government headed by P V Narasimha Rao. In that position, he both shepherded India out of a severe financial crisis and played a key role in structuring the economic reforms that liberalized the Indian economy.

 

IMAGE: Rahul with military veterans during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Haryana. Photograph: ANI Photo

In May 2004, he became the prime minister. As prime minister, Manmohan Singh’s wasn’t a dominant presence. He was low profile and aware of his limits on the communication front. With all that and his stature as economist, he was much respected by other world leaders without having to dress India up in splendour, GDP and weaponry to make his visiting card impressive.

This was years ago; the Manmohan Singh government is now history. In an irony of sorts, it was scandals stemming from the maturing of the market economy he enabled, that felled him.

IMAGE: Rahul with Congress leaders Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Udai Bhan, Kumari Selja, Randeep Singh Surjewala and others in Nuh, Haryana. Photograph: ANI Photo

In September 2022, a yatra that few bothered paying attention to, commenced from Kanyakumari in southern India.

It was led by Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress party and thanks to the trolling of the Bhartiya Janata Party, among the most mocked politicians around.

His goal was to walk from the country’s southern tip to Kashmir in the north. The procession was meant to spread a message of unity, bring people together.

Ignored by major media organisations and written about by only a handful, the yatra nevertheless gathered a following. It was a stark contrast to contemporary Indian politics lost to spin and optics.

Nowadays, our politics is habituated to sitting on a high pedestal, hobnobbing with world leaders, generating impressions of a superpower and returning to earth for the purpose of winning elections. In contrast, the yatra never left earth.

With a dedicated IT cell, troll armies and State agencies at their disposal and big business supporting them, the ruling disposition has been of a sort rarely witnessed in independent India.

By November-December 2022, the government appeared lost in its own world of Gujarat elections, G-20 meetings and response to the periodic border tensions with China.

A cavalier attitude to public sentiment (except that of its followers) and survival via an obsession with ancient India, hyper-nationalism and indulgence of business — this has been the formula at work for some years now.

IMAGE: Former Reserve Bank of India governor Dr Raghuram G Rajan — the Katherine Dusak Miller Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago — walked with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, December 14, 2022. Photograph: Kind courtesy Rahul Gandhi/Twitter

Mid-December, it surprised little that this political disposition hosted a barbed comment by its IT cell chief Amit Malviya on former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan walking with Rahul Gandhi in the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

‘He fancies himself as the next Manmohan Singh,’ Malviya tweeted.

BJP’s national General Secretary C T Ravi compared dR Rajan’s presence at the yatra to repaying his debt to the dynasty that made him RBI governor.

At the time of these remarks, the yatra was in Rajasthan.

As of mid-December, the long walk wasn’t a marginal affair.

Well past the half way mark and seemingly robust except for the consequences of the occasional ill-timed and ill-advised remark, the yatra was attracting people.

The former RBI governor wouldn’t have participated in the yatra without knowing that political foes of the Congress would be hovering around to snipe. But Malviya needs to be thanked for reading an attempt to be another Manmohan Singh in Rajan’s participation in the yatra.

Manmohan Singh’s biggest fault in politics was that he didn’t have a larger-than-life image or cut a public spectacle. He wasn’t a good orator.

As much as he was a prisoner of his limitations, there wasn’t anything of a troll in his conduct.

There was no lapdog media to advertise his or his government’s virtues.

To my eyes, Manmohan Singh’s quietness and low profile makes such personality welcome relief from our times characterised by a State on steroids and leaders so huge that country seems too small to accommodate them.

By bringing Manmohan Singh to the yatra as a role Dr Rajan fancies, Malviya has done something the Congress couldn’t.

IMAGE: Rahul being applied with tilak during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Photograph: ANI Photo

From the beginning, the yatra was a mass outreach programme incapable of being boxed into poll-winning purpose.

So diffused and dispersed was its impact that even as the yatra was underway, the Congress suffered a political rout in Gujarat.

Now Malviya has given those tracking the yatra a decent public figure and an earlier type of politics, to remember as contrast to the present.

As for Rajan, all one can say is that while the sight of the former RBI governor walking in the yatra stung BJP leaders, nobody passed similar comments when the media recently published a photo of a former chief election commissioner taking the salute at a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh meeting.

Shyam G Menon is a Mumbai-based columnist.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com



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