It is obvious that the Congress would be now targeting Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar in Parliament when the second phase of the budget session commences on Monday following his veiled attack on Rahul Gandhi for his “misplaced campaign to taint India”.
Dhankhar, who is also the Chairman of the Upper House, had minced no words while being critical of Rahul during the launch of Dr Karan Singh’s book on Thursday. He had stated, “If I observe silence on this orchestration by an MP outside the country which is ill-premised, unwholesome and motivated, it will be constitutional culpability and outrage of my oath of office…How can I sanctify a statement that mics in Indian Parliament are put off? How can people say so?”
The Vice President, who was criticized by the Congress for his observations, also stated that “it was too serious and exceptional to be ignored and countenanced”, while referring to Rahul’s speeches in the United Kingdom. The first indication that the Congress would not take these statements lightly were provided by the party communication chief, Jairam Ramesh, who said that “there are certain offices which require us to shed our prejudices, our party allegiances and compel us to rid ourselves of whatever propaganda we may have imbibed on the way. The office of the Vice President of India, an office on which Constitution bestows the additional responsibility of being the Chair of Rajya Sabha, is foremost amongst these.”
Jairam, who is usually subtle and nuanced in his reactions, went on to say that Dhankhar as the Rajya Sabha Chairman is “an umpire, a referee, a friend, a philosopher and guide to all” and “cannot be cheerleader of the ruling dispensation”.
The implication of this anticipated confrontation is that so far in his speeches, Rahul Gandhi had been hitting out at the Prime Minister and the ruling party for allegedly subverting institutions and democracy and encouraging a set of industrialists at the expense of the overall development of the country. However, in Parliament, instead of the Prime Minister, Dhankhar may face the ire of Congress members, who would try to demonstrate their loyalty to the Gandhis at this prestigious forum. This would suit the BJP perfectly, since the confrontation with the chair would shift focus from Narendra Modi, who would continue to have his political space to say whatever he wishes.
On another note, the challenge to the Chair is something which is not easy and since the House has to run and many important matters have to be deliberated, the grand old party would find itself isolated at times in this mission. What is also going to be significant is how the Congress president and Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge reacts.
Kharge is a seasoned politician and knows the ramifications of taking on the Chair. He has been trying to forge Opposition unity while attempting to bring semblance to the Congress, which needs to strengthen itself at the grassroots to prepare for bigger battles. He had recently stated that the Opposition should come together to dislodge the BJP without squabbling on who would be the Prime Ministerial face.
In other words, Kharge, without stating so in so many words, did indicate that the Congress was willing to stitch together this alliance without insisting on who the Prime Ministerial face would be. This statement implies that if it was required, the Congress would not insist on any person to be made the spearhead of the joint campaign, thereby fuelling speculation that Rahul may be out of this race.
In all fairness, Rahul has never projected himself for the PM candidacy and it is always the media’s speculation that props him up as the visible alternative to Modi, something which perfectly suits the BJP. There are many in the Congress who believe that Rahul should declare that he would not be a claimant for the PM position, a move that would put the BJP on the backfoot and also provide comfort to possible allies.
Rahul has been in focus for his observations on what was happening in India while interacting with intellectuals and others on various platforms abroad. The BJP has been critical of him for raising issues concerning India on foreign soil though Jairam Ramesh has clarified that there was nothing that Rahul has said in the UK which he did not state while in India. Even many BJP leaders have spoken about India’s internal affairs while being abroad.
These are issues that should be sorted out amongst political parties. However, Rahul’s reported plea for intervention by western players is untenable since India is a vibrant democracy and should be able to sort out all matters on its own. Nevertheless, the ruling dispensation must ensure that conditions for expression of views are improved in Parliament and the constant expunging of remarks by Opposition leaders who were shown live on TV while making them, was not a step in the right direction. If MPs cannot speak out their mind freely inside Parliament, where else can they express themselves?
The Vice President has had a long political journey himself and is well versed with the Constitution and law which he often quotes in his speeches and observations. He was apparently compelled to say what he did since the criticism made by Rahul during his foreign visit also reflected on Indian Parliament. The core issue is that any confrontation with a presiding officer would be counter-productive and lead to disruption. Between us.