All’s fair in love and war but things can get a little unfair in India’s political battlefield sometimes. What else can explain the ruling BJP’s deployment of a battery of leaders to target Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for his private visit to attend a conference conducted by an eminent TV show host in the United States?
The Congress leader’s visit to Aspen in the US for “Weekend with Charlie Rose” quickly snowballed into a political issue with Union minister Ravishankar Prasad seeking to “know his location” and BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra calling it a “forced vacation” to keep him out of Bihar.
Another BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao cited the schedule of the Aspen Institute to claim that the said conference was already over.
By Monday, the BJP spokespersons were left red-faced as Gandhi’s office tweeted a picture showing him at the Charlie Rose event and Congress MP Milind Deora posted the pictures of his party vice-president with Iceland President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and former British foreign secretary David Miliband.
The embarrassment lasted only till Tuesday with Patra terming the pictures as “non-consequential”. By then matters had gone far enough for Gandhi’s other political adversaries to join the defence.
Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy said, “Blatant disinformation campaign has been a hallmark of the RSS and the BJP has inherited it. During Indira Gandhi’s regime, the RSS had once spread rumours about her suffering from a deadly disease.”
Contrary to the BJP spokesperson’s assertions, Rahul is set to resume his campaign in Bihar next week.
As for Rao’s claims, The Aspen Times, a local newspaper, checked it with the Aspen Institute and reported on September 25, “An institute official said Thursday that the think tank has no affiliation with the Rose event.”
The report also said how local residents had learnt about the exclusive event last year when US vice-president Joe Biden’s 40-vehicle motorcade forced motorists to re-route on a highway. “(Charlie) Rose and others are back in Aspen this weekend for the conference, which started Thursday and ends Monday,” said The Aspen Times report.
It’s gone beyond truth and lies now. Some political analysts sniff a larger conspiracy.
“The BJP and the Congress have got trapped into attacking each other’s leader rather than their policies and strategies. The BJP started it first by attacking Sonia and Rahul Gandhi ahead of the elections. They are probably trying to demoralise the Congress’ rank and file by criticizing Rahul Gandhi. But, another explanation could be that they (BJP) are deeply uncomfortable and insecure. They have come to power with such a majority and yet they might be feeling that any good move by the Congress could reverse the situation. In the long run, Gandhi family or Rahul can become a threat. That explains this attempt to create a negative image of him,” said Professor Suhas Palshikar of the University of Pune.
The BJP may be hoping to draw political mileage out of what amounts to be a “disinformation campaign” against the Congress vice-president, but the strategy could well boomerang on the NDA regime.
The ruling party’s constant personal attack on the Nehru-Gandhi family is likely to lead to more confrontations between the Treasury and Opposition Benches in Parliament and may further jeopardize the government’s economic reforms agenda.
The political discourse, as it is, is already getting murkier with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself taking the lead in indirectly attacking the Nehru-Gandhi family from San Jose and the Congress returning the favour by publicly reminding him of his “duty to his mother”.