Questioning by ED unlikely to ruffle Rahul Gandhi, who has taken worse in his stride

He is remarkably fit at 52, does push ups with one hand, is a black belt in Aikido but is also incredibly calm, attributed by Indian Intelligence to meditation and a course in Mandalay

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi before heading to ED office on Monday
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi before heading to ED office on Monday

Ashis Ray

This week the Enforcement Directorate summoned Rahul Gandhi without apparently registering an FIR a specific charge against him and sharing it with him or his lawyers. The gravity of the ill-treatment – now standard practice for 'guardians of the law' in India – should not be taken lightly. India has increasingly in the past eight years experienced a textbook manifestation of fascism. Institutions have been captured and compromised, the country’s divine light – the Constitution – has been trampled upon; democracy has been half-destroyed.

What is it that so petrifies the RSS, BJP, Modi and his ilk about Rahul? The celebrated writer Salman Rushdie was critical of Indira Gandhi’s imposition of a state of Emergency in 1975-77. Yet, he unambiguously declared in an article in the London Times that the Nehru-Gandhis ‘made the Kennedys (of the United States) look like amateurs’. That's what it is. The Sanghis are terrified the nation will return to the tried and tested 'professionals'.

They are acutely cognizant that the Congress’ nationwide network blended with the charisma and determination of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi – not to mention game-changing governments under P V Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh as well – deterred their poisonous project for decades. It weaved, to their chagrin, social harmony and a unity of faiths.

They shiver when reminded of the fact that in December 1984 BJP was reduced to a microscopic two seats in the Lok Sabha, with even the irrepressible Atal Bihari Vajpayee rejected by the electorate. Modi and his Hindutva clan have nightmares about the Nehru-Gandhis with a battery of educated, forward-thinking talent around them storming back to office at the Centre.

The RSS was then roped in to bamboozle uninitiated Indian-origin escapees from East Africa who settled in the United States and Britain after the 1984 debacle – when few Indian businessmen were willing to squander their investment on a party perceived to be without a future – BJP. The Overseas Hindus not merely became BJP’s new donors, but also underwriters of powerful political PR firms to rescue and reboot the new poster boy of Savarkarism – Modi - after the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Besides, when Vajpayee became prime minister in 1998, the first priority was for BJP and its affiliates to ballistically besmirch the Nehru-Gandhi brand with a fusillade of falsehoods. The innocent or the communally inclined swallowed this.

A dozen years ago, Professor Gray Worster, then a senior tutor at Trinity College, Cambridge, confirmed that Rahul Gandhi was indeed awarded an M.Phil in Development Economics. Last month the member of the Class of 1995 returned to within a stone’s throw of his Alma Mater – Corpus Christi College – to engage in a public conversation and take questions. It was a free speech, free-wheeling event, the kind of which Modi has never dared to negotiate.

It’s difficult to comprehend the inner feelings of a human being who lost his grandmother at 14 and father at 20 in the most brutal circumstances. An everlasting anger would be a understandable residue. But Rahul, while blasted by this harsh experience, displays no fury. On the contrary he effuses ‘forgiveness’, as he underlined in an answer to a question at the Cambridge interaction.

He could have put his black belt prowess in the Japanese martial art Aikido to effective use. He hasn’t. At 52, he is fit as a fiddle, can incredibly do push-ups with one hand. If there’s one Indian politician who can march the entire length from Kashmir to Kanyakumari it is he. Not once, though, has he ventilated his physical attribute. Instead, he has sought peace in calmness and contemplation.

Myo Thant of Dhamma Mandala Vipassana Meditation Center, spread over eight acres in the hills on the outskirts of Mandalay in Myanmar, was silent when asked about Rahul Gandhi reportedly meditating there. Those who have completed at least five 10-day courses practicing the vipassana method, qualify for an advanced 20-day course. In 2015, Rahul spent 21 days in Myanmar, thereby giving rise to an inference that he might have successfully undertaken this self-imposed privation. An Indian Intelligence officer posted in Yangon revealed: ‘You have to completely cut yourself off from the rest of the world. No mobile phone, nothing to communicate with anyone outside.’

Those who know him close-up cannot but imbibe the impression that Rahul’s heart is in the right place. This is vitally important in a leader of the only party that can remedy the horrible derailment of India’s tryst with destiny. Imminent elections within the Congress could create a launch-pad for realisation of its ideals - values synonymous with peace-loving, progressive Indians.

It would appear, to Rahul finding a way of overcoming obstacles is a process. He may even be searching for solutions from philosophical text. He also speaks to domain experts, thereby absorbing knowledge. His warnings about the danger posed to India by COVID – mocked at by the thali-thumping BJP – transpired to be unerringly accurate. In fact, Indian patriots would do well to heed his insight on China. From Shiva to Vishnu, Gandhi to Nehru, he seems to be analysing their relevance to arrive at an applicable synthesis for 2022.

A section of Indians who like Rahul think he’s too nice a guy. To them, nice guys don’t win. But a nice guy has in fact exploded this myth. ‘The Nice Guy Who Finished First’ is the title of a biography of cricketer turned head coach of the Indian team Rahul Dravid. There are few greater successes in the pantheon of stalwarts in what’s now India’s national obsession.

The divisive army has pummelled Rahul with punches. Yet, they have failed to land a decisive blow. A majority of Indians are convinced of the deficiency in the present dispensation. But their disunity has permitted a vocal minority, extremely well-oiled, to rule the roost.

However, just as much as the indomitable British Empire petered in the face of a peaceful resistance, so can this path repossess the soul of India suppressed by a disagreeable vileness. Rahul is naturally suited for a Gandhian resistance. This is also the need of the hour - to awaken masses ripe for ignition.

A Bharat Joro movement to counteract the Bharat Toro enterprise of Modi is the right recipe for people ravaged by disharmony, inflation and unemployment. It could well be the making of Rahul Gandhi!

(The writer is a veteran editor and foreign correspondent based in London. He writes regularly for National Herald. Views are personal)

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