There are two ways one could react to the organised protests and sloganeering that accompanied Congress MP Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the Enforcement Directorate office, to be questioned in connection with the National Herald case. One reaction is to wonder how a party, that has seemed moribund and half-asleep in recent times, could wake up to put up such a feisty display of (real and feigned) anger over the ED summoning. The list of leaders who joined the crowds in the enraged fray included Rahul’s sister Priyanka Gandhi, Chief Ministers Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel and sundry others such as P Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh.
The second reaction is to wonder whether this kind of mobilisation couldn’t be put to more consistent and effective use. If the party can rally around a leader in this manner, shouldn’t some of this energy be channelled for a more popular and relevant political purpose? In truth, there is very little political purchase in protesting the ED’s decision to question Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. It is true that investigating agencies such as the ED have been acting at the Centre’s behest and in an extremely partisan manner. But this argument can only go so far. First, Central agencies such as the CBI and the ED have always followed government diktat. Secondly, this is a case in which the Delhi High Court noted there was “criminal intent” and also one in which the Supreme Court refused to quash proceedings against the two Congress leaders. At the very least, the case deserves to be tried and settled.
In essence, the case revolves around how Young India Limited, a company in which Rahul and Sonia Gandhi own the majority shares, acquired the ailing and discontinued National Herald, which became a party publication post-Independence. YIL had acquired for a mere payment of Rs 50 lakh, an estimated Rs 800 crore of assets of the entity that owned the National Herald. Given this, crying hoarse about injustice is not going to fetch much political sympathy. More importantly, it is hardly the glue to bring the Opposition together – an absolute priority to give it a chance of taking on the Modi-led BJP electoral juggernaut in 2024.
As the Congress suffers loss after loss and grapples with its interminable leadership problems, there are clear indications that other regional leaders are prepared to step in and fill the vacuum. Principal among them is the TMC’s Mamata Banerjee, who recently went as far as trying to host an Opposition meeting to strategise about the coming Presidential election.
The Congress has its work cut out over the next few years, given that it not only has to deal with a powerful BJP, but also an Opposition that is increasingly tiring of its indecision and growing ineffectiveness. Standing up for a leader in an energetic and forceful manner is a good thing. The issue is whether it can find the same zeal and enthusiasm to stand up for the real issues confronting the nation.