The Constitution Day (26 November) debate in Parliament was a fitting occasion to read how the minds of Indian political leaders now work. Sonia Gandhi, the Congress matriarch, read out, in her laboured Hindi, a speech that basically illustrated her inability to speak on the core issue of Indian politics. More pathetic was how the MPs of her party were applauding the speech she was reading with evident difficulty. But Gandhi was not embarrassed at her shortcoming; instead her triumphant glee at the applause of party MPs made her repeat that BR Ambedkar had thanked Congress for selecting him as the chairman of the Constitution drafting committee!
The Speaker could not help smiling, neither did Home Minister Rajnath Singh or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The entire effort of the Congress president was to highlight the history of Constitution drafting when all political entities under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the then Congress sat together and framed a document good enough to bring in a workable democratic system in a complex geography. What was un-historic in the speech that Sonia Gandhi read was that Ambedkar did not belong to the Congress, nor was he a choice of Nehru. He was there because of Mahatma Gandhi. Also the fact conveniently winked at by her speech writer was that, in the first general election, the Congress managed to defeat Ambedkar. Again in a by-election in 1954 he lost to a Congress candidate.
Ambedkar was a member of the Constituent Assembly from Bengal where Muslims were in a majority. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha. He resigned from the Cabinet in 1951 when his Hindu Code Bill was rejected by the Congress. Nehru felt that the Bill would be a problem for the Congress in the forthcoming first general election and sided with the opponents of Ambedkar. The other issue conveniently forgotten by Sonia Gandhi was how Ambedkar opposed Article 370, a Nehru brain wave that is still harming the nation.
Sonia Gandhi’s entire effort was to attack the Modi Government, claiming that those who had no role in drafting the Constitution were now trying to glorify it. The shouts from the treasury bench invited a polite comment from the Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. Waving at the members to keep quiet, she said, “None of us contributed, we all were born after the Constitution was drafted.”
The leader of Congress in Parliament Mallikarjun Kharge was, however, clear in his mind that his job was to criticise the government. He had little inclination, even less ability, to rise up to the challenge of talking on the Constitution. It was evident that Kharge had the pious duty of establishing the ‘rightful’ claim of the Nehru clan to the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi for which he went on to quote Gandhi’s speech in 1942. Kharge also had to collate all the good deeds by Congress leaders outside the family even if they were forgotten like Sardar Patel was or ousted as Morarji Desai was, and put their achievements as that of the Congress.
Repeatedly these leaders went on reading from Ambedkar’s speech where he had praised the Congress for the smooth passage of the Constitution. What they winked at is the fact that their (original) party before the 1951 general election was the coalition of all political hues barring the Communists who now eat from the same plate as the remainder of what Congress is. Little did these leaders realise that, by invoking parts of history, they did more harm to the whatever image the grand old party of the nation has been left with.
What was latent in the speeches of the Congress president and the leader in the Lok Sabha was made clear by Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha. Clearly, the Congress did not like the insertion of another day — that of the adoption of the Constitution — in the Parliament itinerary. Azad was worried that this was an effort to rewrite history as the Congress had made their commissioned historians write.
For the Congress, 26 January 1950 was the Constitution Day, with little significance of 26 November 1949, the day the Constitution was actually passed by the Constituent Assembly. Azad raised a technical point on notification without touching on the reason for celebrating the day as the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar. Congress’s defensive attitude and their utter inability to argue on an issue of national importance, for which the party otherwise deserves all credit, illustrated the lack of quality in the grand old party. Its two-term prime minister Manmohan Singh remained silent all through the important occasion. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is known for his efforts to give the party a much-needed facelift, was seen inattentive when the Prime Minister was making his points.
The debate exposed the vulnerability of the party; another speaker Tathagata Satpathy of the BJD described the Congress in no uncertain terms as a party “that is struggling to survive, not realizing its deficiencies”.
Another group that has effectively lost its relevance in India today is the Left. Its leader Sitaram Yechury illustrated the reason for it. He felt that celebrating the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar was an avoidable drama. “Constitution is there, what is the need for reaffirming the oath that we all have taken on it,” was Yechury’s argument. Like a street urchin, Yechury was engaged in cracking banal jokes that are normally cracked against the present Prime Minister. The discomfort to discuss the august personalities, in general, and that of Ambedkar, in particular, was evident in his manner. What were these leaders of Congress and its ally Yechury trying to obfuscate? Their deviation from the principles laid down by the framers of the Constitution? Their complicity in eulogising a certain political family at the cost of suppressing other illustrious personalities? Or the fear of losing their core constituency once the people come to know the history as it unfolded breaking out from the one that was fed carefully over the six decades?
Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh, the two senior leaders of the Treasury Benches, had exposed the total absence of debating ability in Congress leaders. Even political greenhorn Smriti Irani was more articulate than any of those who spoke from the non-government parties. They effortlessly shifted from historical anecdotes and contemporary political discourse and placed Congress in a tight corner. They knew that they were safe since the speakers from Congress were not good enough to speak fluently, let alone argue.
Credit must go to Prime Minister Modi. He rose to the occasion and spoke without acrimony or bitterness, rising above the mundane exchanges resorted to by his opponents. His hour-long speech illustrated why Modi had opted for a Constitution Day in the house. The well-publicized two-day debate exposed the weakness of the Congress in particular, the hollowness of their criticisms and exposed clearly their effort to run away from the historical truth.
No wonder Yechury called Modi an “event manager”. Narendra Modi had demonstrated in no uncertain terms that he was the most competent manager of political events on the occasion and spoke without acrimony or bitterness, rising above the mundane exchanges resorted to by his opponents. His hour-long speech illustrated why Modi had opted for a Constitution Day in the house. The well-publicised two-day debate exposed the weakness of the Congress, the hollowness of their criticisms and exposed clearly their effort to run away from the historical truth.
No wonder Yechury called Modi an “event manager”. Narendra Modi had demonstrated in no uncertain terms that he was the most competent manager of political events in India since 2014.