Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi set the proverbial cat among the pigeons on Wednesday when he told journalists that he had sensational information of personal corruption concerning Prime Minister Narendra Modi but that a rattled government was not allowing him to speak in the Lok Sabha.
“The PM is personally terrified of the information,” said Gandhi at at a joint press conference with 15 Opposition parties in New Delhi. “It is personal corruption of the PM that we have detailed information on.”
Last week, speaking in the same vein, Gandhi had said that there would be an earthquake if he was allowed to take the floor in Parliament.
Since November 16, when the Winter Session of Parliament commenced, a combined Opposition has derailed proceedings in both houses of Parliament to highlight the hardship caused to the common man by Modi’s decision – announced on November 8 – to withdraw high-denomination Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes overnight.
Congress and BJP rattled?
Gandhi’s dramatic announcement has undoubtedly rattled the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which has, in an unusual move, been blocking proceedings in Parliament for the past few days. However, the Nehru-Gandhi scion has also got his own party worried.
Members of the Congress are nervous that if Gandhi is unable to come up with substantive evidence regarding his allegation, this exercise could backfire on the party, especially since Gandhi’s personal credibility is low. Given his past record, they are also unsure about his ability to carry this fight to its logical conclusion. Not known for his consistency and staying power, the Congress vice-president has acquired the reputation of putting in cameo performances and then disappearing.
Publicly, however, Congress leaders insist that Gandhi would not have made such a statement if he was not in possession of sensational information about Modi. They are also convinced that the Congress vice-president will place these facts in the public domain at the appropriate time if he is unable to make these disclosures in Parliament. Gandhi told the media on Wednesday that he would place all the facts in the Lok Sabha. However, this is unlikely to happen as there are only two more days left for the ongoing session to close.
Though questions are being raised about the consequences of mounting a direct attack against Modi, Congress insiders said that Gandhi’s chief purpose is to prove that the prime minister is not the Mr Clean he claims to be.
While maintaining that there are no financial scandals against him or anybody else in his government, Modi has consistently accused the Congress in general, and the Gandhi family in particular, of being corrupt.
Street protests planned
Modi has defended his decision to invalidate Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 high-denomination currency notes at a series of public rallies over the past month. He underlined that the move was aimed at rooting out black money, adding that those who were against demonetisation (read the Opposition) were speaking in favour of the corrupt and black marketeers.
“With the entire Opposition, especially the Congress, being accused of protecting the corrupt and running a scam-ridden government when it was in power, it is necessary to target Modi to show that he is not above board as he is made out to be,” remarked a senior Congress leader.
As the Congress prepares to take its fight against demonetisation to the streets after Parliament closes on Friday, Gandhi’s supporters in the party maintain that the revelations against Modi will lend legitimacy to this campaign.
Like other Opposition parties, the Congress is also planning to hold a string of public rallies across the country to highlight the problems being encountered by the poor and vulnerable in accessing cash following demonetisation.
Gandhi called a special meeting of party MPs and general secretaries on Wednesday evening to get their feedback about how they could keep up the momentum of their ongoing protests, as the biggest challenge before the Congress is to sustain this campaign till next year’s Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur.
Though ambitious plans are being drawn up, there is all-round skepticism about the organisational capacity of the party and the temperament of its leaders to lead such a campaign.
As the Opposition parties discuss their respective strategies on continuing their protests against the Modi government, Gandhi’s decision to up the ante also has the potential of creating fissures in their ranks.
After a slow start, all the Opposition parties joined hands in Parliament during the session to corner the ruling alliance for its tardy implementation of the demonetisation scheme. Although Opposition leaders said that they would sit together on the last day of the session to see how they can continue this campaign despite their state-level differences, Gandhi’s declaration could be seen as a move to lead the anti-Modi campaign.
The Congress leader’s dramatic announcement was not particularly well received by the other Opposition parties though they did not say so publicly.
“It is not the question of being on the same page as Rahul Gandhi,” said a senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader. “He has made an announcement. It is now up to him to make the disclosures.”
This view was endorsed by the Trinamool Congress.
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