I am not a Rahul fan. Never was. Those who have read what I have written since Rahul’s entry into politics know this. I am also not a Rahul detractor. I don’t have to be; for there are many far superior to me working over-time on this. Since I am neither this nor that, I am free to be myself. To me, freedom means the ability to see and stand by the truth, without any pretensions to know it all. This may seem strange today, when only those who toe the line of the party in power seem to be free. They are free especially to assault the freedom of others. They do so in the name of freedom.
This frightening rupture between the spoken word and lived reality, in which the spoken word deletes lived reality, is a measure of the degradation of our public life. But what has not been realized, or if realized, not admitted, till the historic non-confidence motion debate day in the Parliament, is that this unnatural situation, despite the air of impregnability conjured up around it, is brittle and riddled with insecurity. To me, the prime achievement, intended or otherwise, of the debate on the no-confidence motion by the TDP, is the eruption of this suppressed truth. This is, as the coming days will prove, good news to Indian democracy.
This unveiling of the hidden life of truth, it is helpful to note, has happened via what has become a rare phenomenon: an open, civilized parliamentary debate. We had nearly forgotten that such a thing existed! Even if nothing else materialized from the present debate, even if the outcome was boringly predictable, this one achievement was more than worth the eleven-hours
long marathon exercise. A parliamentary debate, touching real life issues, in which the speakers tried to make sense and, thank God, could be heard and deciphered, is a rare achievement in itself!
It made me realize that the David- Goliath pattern though it goes back to pre-democratic days, points to the essence of democracy. The BJP, not the Congress, envisaged the debate with evident glee as a Rahul vs. Modi confrontation, delicious for its asymmetry. They sneered at the mismatch, just like the Philistines mocked David, the shepherd boy, pitted against the invincible warrior. From their perspective, dominated entirely by size and scale, David did not stand a ghost of a chance. The outcome of the fight was a foregone conclusion. David would be crushed.
Hence the significance of Rahul’s calculated reference to his routine denigration at the hands of the BJP as the Pappu of Indian politics. Cartoonists may caricature this as an unwitting faux pas. But, they should not be in any hurry in this respect. By making what seems to be a self-slighting reference, Rahul pointed to a reality in the Indian context. The upper castes in India had arbitrarily arrogated to themselves, for millennia, the right to name inferior castes as they pleased. The lower castes did not have, for long, the right to name their children as they wished. They attracted ridicule, even reprisal, especially in the rural hinterland, by giving to their children names that were deemed proper only for the upper castes. So, there was much in a name in the Indian context. Name has been a chief marker of inferiority and superiority. Vis-à-vis the lower castes, name was a label of degradation. So, Rahul will be named, not by his parents, but those who think they have the right to do so. Consequently, he will be Pappu, not Rahul. Pappu is politically low-caste. It is pretentious on his part to aspire for the top job in the country.
The BJP today perceives itself as the Brahmin caste of Indian politics. Those who align themselves with it have conferred political legitimacy. Those outside the charmed circles are outcastes. They are, ipso facto, immoral, sure to be corrupt. It is a patriotic duty to put them in their places. This is the working logic, though it is never stated as such. It is politically impious to project oneself as an alternative to Modi. Hence the dogma that those who oppose Modi, or criticize the BJP Shashi Tharoor being a recent example have no place in India and need to migrate to Pakistan. Shashi does not have to be a Muslim by religion to be instructed to that effect. It is bad enough that he is labelled a Muslim by thought. The presumed invincibility of Modi, and the BJP, points to the ascendancy of the caste worldview over the culture of Indian democracy.
Here we have the heart of the matter as far as parliamentary debate is concerned. The idea and discipline of debate run counter to the paradigm of a caste-driven scheme of things. Debate stands on equality especially equality of opportunity which, according to the American Constitution, is the essence of democracy. There is inequality in time allotment; for time is apportioned based on the numerical strength of parties. But there still was the bottom-line equality of opportunity: the opportunity to be heard.
It does not have to be argued that Modi has thriven so far by dodging debate. He has perfected the art of ponti cating to the populace, top-down and without a question being raised or entertained.
The game will change because Rahul seems poised to outstrip Modi, if he continues to build on what he has showcased in the Parliament, in the race for the hearts and minds of the youth of India. This has erupted at the worst possible juncture for Modi; at a time when his hallmark rhetoric has clearly begun to jade and an air of weariness begun to settle in upon the youth of India, to whom Modi has paid generous lip-service, but done little for. Modi will have a hard time to convince the youth of India, languishing in unemployment, that they are all happily and prosperously employed and marching triumphantly into the new India that is, presumably, come upon us.