Instead of a belated remark disapproving party leader Sandeep Dikshit's thoughtless remark on the serving Army chief, Rahul Gandhi would have done a better job in giving him a "Janadrhan Dwivedi" treatment.
It could be true that Rahul may have accepted Dikshit's apology and felt that the matter was closed. However, in the battle of public perception, the Congress lost an opportunity. Even if Dikshit’s apology was to be accepted, the grand old party which is in the business of contesting elections and currently struggling to mould public opinion in its favour, should have gone through the motions.
Rahul may recall how in January 2015 he had dealt with party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi who had praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Dwivedi had described Narendra Modi’s 2014 Lok Sabha electoral win as a victory of “Indianness”. He had also said Modi’s ascension to power marked the beginning of a “new period.”
Dwivedi had said, “Modi aur BJP logon ko samjhane main safal ho gaye ki samajik roop se wo desh ke nagrik ke jyada nikat hain. Kul milakar bina kahe bole to yeh ek tarah se Bhartiyata ki jeet hai. (Modi and the BJP have been successful in convincing the people that socially they are closer to them. Without elaborating, it can be said that in a way it was the victory of Indianness).”
The Congress was quick to slap a show cause notice and refer Dwivedi’s case to the AICC’s central disciplinary committee. Even though Dwivedi was Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s Hindi speech writer, he had faced public rebuke from Ajay Makan who was then heading the party’s media department.
It was then said that Rahul was personally keen to "discpline" Dwivedi. Makan, articulating Rahul's line of thinking, had said, “What Dwivedi has said is totally opposite to the Congress's idea of Indianness... The victory of Modi can by no stretch be the victory of Indianness."
Dwivedi had gone on the defensive. He met AICC disciplinary committee head A K Antony and clarified, “I have never said Modi is a symbol of Indianness... There is no need for anyone to teach me what is... Indianness.”
Typical of the internal Congress dynamics, a strong lobby of Brahmin leaders led by Motilal Vora worked behind the scene to save Dwivedi. Sonia stepped in to prevail upon Rahul to give Dwivedi "a chance."
An anxious Dwivedi ultimately got away with his apology but the episode had established the supremacy of the Congress leadership and made it clear to all that nobody was allowed to cross the proverbial Laxman Rekha of party discipline.
In public space, the debate relating to what constitutes Indianness, Congress's own legacy and the ideological debate between the BJP and the Congress helped the grand old party get some media space too.
In Sandeep Dikshit's case, these nuanced engagements were missing. The Congress (which indeed has a diverse view on the manner in which the present Army chief has spoken in defence of Major Gogoi who had used a stonepelter as human shield ) seems ultra-liberal which has scant regard towards serving head of the Indian Army. This perception, highlighted by some hawkish news channels, presented a somewhat distorted and inaccurate picture of the Congress's official stand and its thinking. No show on prime time news shows was another blunder.
It is pertinent to point how the Congress had dealt with Punjab chief minister Captain Amrinder Singh for his open and unapologetic defence of Major Gogai. There were murmur and voices within the Congress that felt Captain had gone a bit far in defence of Majar Gogai. But Sonia Gandhi sensed the public mood (rather majority sentiment) prevailing in the country. Subsequently when Major Gogoi was awarded army commendation card, party spokesman Randeep Singh Surejwala went public justifying the Army chief's decision to decorate Major Gogoi.
Congress insiders say Sonia is acutely conscious of the BJP’s attempts to bring in a change in the people's mindset and create a 'superficial divide' between 'nationalists' and anti-nationals. As a mass base party, the Congress can not afford to be moving against the popular tide. However, in Sandeep Dikshit's case, Sonia and Rahul have missed an opportunity.
(Rasheed Kidwai is the Associate Editor with The Telegraph. His Twitter handle is: @rasheedkidwai)
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