Herald View: Battling our worst fears

Rahul Gandhi used an ancient Indian leitmotif to drive home his message of fearlessness during the special session of Parliament

Rahul Gandhi holds up an image of Lord Shiva in the Lok Sabha (photo: PTI)
Rahul Gandhi holds up an image of Lord Shiva in the Lok Sabha (photo: PTI)

Herald View

To run the country, a consensus is of the utmost importance, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi before entering Parliament on the first day of the opening session of the 18th Lok Sabha. The people, he said, expect their representatives to discuss and debate issues that are important for the country and its people. Sage words that no sane person would disagree with.

Leader of the Opposition Rahul Gandhi said as much in the course of his address in the Lok Sabha: “The Opposition is not your enemy, we are here to make your work easier.”

Beyond those preliminary courtesies, though, the just-concluded special session was quite a slanging match, with the referee once again struggling to hide his own biases.

The tone was set early by President Droupadi Murmu’s address to a joint session of the Houses — it sounded like an approbative stamp on the Modi government’s policy agenda, instead of trying to set the legislative tenor of the newly convened Lok Sabha or outlining priorities from a remove befitting her high office.

Speaker Om Birla revealed his cards early. His little cameo in the House on 26 June, when he read out a resolution condemning the Emergency of 1975, was blatantly partisan and quite unmistakably a part of the ruling party’s orchestrated campaign to embarrass the Congress in the House.

While the Opposition had no official information about the resolution, the placards and other protest paraphernalia materialised soon after Mr Birla’s performance, which made it all too clear that the Speaker was in on the plan.

The optics of these two incumbents who hold exalted Constitutional offices (the President’s is the highest in the land) playing handmaidens to the party in power were embarrassing, to say the least.

Rahul Gandhi tried to set the record straight in his first speech as the Leader of the Opposition, hitting the high notes with élan. He held the Modi government to account on the NEET scandal, on the ill-advised Agniveer scheme, on its decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood, on its deathly silence on Manipur, on the disastrous consequences of the Demonetisation of 2016, on how its policies have broken the back of India’s MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) sector — and in the process exacerbated the country’s employment crisis — on the real agenda of the three farm laws it rammed through Parliament and reluctantly withdrew after the farmers raised hell, on its attack on minorities, and more…

Of course, these acts of omission and commission and their consequences have been analysed copiously in the past, but the occasion was right to sound the Opposition bugle, to serve the government notice that the Opposition was ready this time round to take on the government on its programmes and its attempts to deflect people’s attention from its policy failures by making grand promises about a distant future.

Before he even began on the government’s policy failures, Gandhi delivered a tutorial — call it a sermon, if you like — on a feature that unites the many religions that have flourished in this land over the centuries. Much to the chagrin of the Speaker and the squirming occupants of the treasury benches, the tutorial began with a reference to interpretations in Hinduism of Lord Shiva’s abhay mudra.

The raised right hand of the abhay mudra, as the name itself suggests, is a gesture that signifies freedom from fear. It’s a recurring leitmotif in Indian art and philosophy. Philosophical readings of the mudra, found in the Agamas, Tantras, Puranas, Dhyana Shlokas and other Indian philosophical texts and treatises, offer insights into its meaning and significance.

It’s a gesture of protection and reassurance, and signifies the deity’s power to protect devotees from fear and danger. It’s also a gesture of spiritual liberation, of compassion and benevolence, of balance and harmony, of the just use of power — and, as Rahul Gandhi emphasised in his speech, a gesture urging fearlessness.

Daro mat (have no fear)’ had become a resonant slogan in the run-up to the 2024 elections, and RG invoked it repeatedly in the House on the day — perhaps as much to say he won’t be cowed down as to exhort everyone else engaged in this battle to save India’s democracy, its pluralist ethos and its sacred Constitutional covenants.

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