Members of the Nehru-Gandhi family are known to undergo paroxysms of hate, often at the mere mention of Narendra Modi's name. On the eve of the 2012 Gujarat Assembly polls, the family's matriarch, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, drew widespread condemnation for describing the then Gujarat Chief Minister as "Maut ka Saudagar". Now, merchant of murder, if said in English, would still be an unfortunate choice of phrase, but nowhere as repulsive as the filmy expression "Maut ka Saudagar". Similarly, a "broker of blood" would sound confusing but not cause the kind of revulsion that the word "dalali" in Hindi evokes. Rahul Gandhi's father, the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, courted controversy by using expressions like "Nani yaad dila doonga", roadside slang, in the context of Pakistan, apart from his more infamous sentence "Jab koyi bada pedh girta hai, dharti hilti hai" (when a big tree falls, the ground shakes) in an unsuccessful bid to justify the anti-Sikh riots in the wake of his mother's assassination in 1984. Mrs Sonia Gandhi got carried away at an anti-NDA rally when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister and asserted: "Unka dimagi santulan kho gaya hai", meaning Atalji had lost his mind.
From those expressions to "khoon ki dalali", it is evident that the lack of command over Hindi and inadequate understanding of the nuances or expressions in that language have dogged the Nehru-Gandhi family for decades. Especially when they try to talk tough, they end up using phrases that are not only disrespectful but sound almost rabid and abhorrent in civil society. But the context in which Rahul Gandhi described Prime Minister Modi as a dalal (broker) of soldiers' blood is particularly repugnant. His acolytes may claim that the Congress Vice-President was only trying to assert that Mr Modi was capitalizing on the sacrifices of Indian soldiers to gain political mileage, but even they cannot deny that the expression used has been counter-productive.
Ever since India launched its counter-offensive on Pakistani terrorists across the Line of Control or LoC, the Congress has been in a tizzy, not knowing how much to support the surgical strikes and to what extent to rubbish them. Understandably, as an opposition party, the Congress does not want Mr Modi to run away with all the credit, but at the same time, it realizes that outrightly questioning the government's claim would be politically disastrous. Congress leaders have made convoluted assertions regarding the strikes, demanding the government come out with photographic and other evidence to establish that Indian forces indeed crossed the LoC and took out terrorist launch pads inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Congress leaders have also claimed that the UPA conducted three such surgical strikes during its tenure but did not go public.
This seems rather incredible and moreover, there is the question why Pakistan never countered these alleged Indian strikes. In double-speak similar to Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal (its erstwhile ally in Delhi), the Congress has taken one step forward and two steps back in simultaneously complimenting and lampooning the Prime Minister. In a back-handed compliment a few days ago, Rahul Gandhi said that for the first time in two-and-a-half years, Mr Modi had acted like a Prime Minister. Presumably realizing it has conceded too much and only helped Mr Modi further consolidate his support base, the Congress Vice President backtracked with his stinging dalali remark.
Once again, it is the bankruptcy of the Congress party's intellectual content that is showing up. Having made fun of Mr Modi's claims in the run-up to the 2014 elections, mocking his assertion that it needed someone with a 56-inch chest to teach Islamabad a lesson (something that Congress leaders did not possess), the main opposition was flummoxed by the surgical raids. So it started talking in a forked tongue with some doubting if the raids had at all happened while others heaped praise on the armed forces. At all-party meetings, Congress representatives declared they stood by the government in whatever action it had taken and could take in future. Outside these meeting rooms, the Congress first doubted the efficacy of the action and has now charged the Prime Minister with cynical manipulation of the army's sacrifices.
The Left-Liberal intelligentsia, which is pathologically anti-Modi, has derided the army - its twitterati brigade going so far as to ask what's the big deal? Some have even commented that those who join the Army know very well that they are meant to die in the nation's service. The Congress knows it would be politically suicidal to echo such opinions. However, it cannot denounce the Left-Liberals who have been intellectual allies of the Congress for many years. At the same time, the Congress needs to prick the euphoria that is sweeping across the country in the aftermath of India's cross-LoC action. This is essential if the party is to regain some of the ground it has lost to the BJP in recent times. That probably explains the confusion prevailing among the party's think-tank. Rahul Gandhi is clearly a victim of that confusion.
Just back from a gruelling 2,500-km cross-Uttar Pradesh yatra holding many khat sabhas, Rahul Gandhi must have been sufficiently charged up to take on the Prime Minister directly, no holds barred. His inadequate knowledge of the connotations of Hindi usage - what is roadside brawl language and what is dignified political response - did the rest of the damage.
Rahul Gandhi's inability to emerge as a responsible and mature leader must be causing his party enormous heartburn. With every self-goal he scores, the chances of his being nationally accepted as an alternative to Narendra Modi get dimmer and dimmer. Leaders often get carried away when addressing public rallies. Some off-the-cuff remarks even draw prolonged applause. But it is a mature leader who can make the distinction about when to use hard-hitting phrases and when to be restrained.
National security is too serious and sensitive an issue to be treated flippantly. Moreover, the Army is universally respected, almost revered by people across India. To accuse the Prime Minister of running an agency to deal in their sacrificial blood will be widely reviled across the political spectrum, including the Congress' allies.
The irony is that even those who would like to see Narendra Modi out of office sooner rather than later are realizing to their chagrin that the Congress Vice-President does not have it in him to emerge as a mature politician. Only the BJP delights from Rahul Gandhi's recurrent gaffes. The dalali comment was probably the most unthinking remark he ever made. In fact, virtual incitement of the Army, suggesting the Prime Minister is playing with their blood, is actually a treasonable offence, except that few will take Rahul Gandhi seriously enough to charge him on that count.
(Dr. Chandan Mitra is a journalist, currently Editor of The Pioneer Group of Publications. He is also BJP MP of the Rajya Sabha.)
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