Will Sonia Gandhi be able to Ride the Sympathy Wave if she is Jailed?

Amrit Hallan’s commentary on the possibility of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi going to prison in the National Herald case.

Many are of the opinion that if the Narendra Modi government takes a tough stand against the various scams carried out by Sonia Gandhi and her henchmen and women, and if somehow she ends up in jail, she will ride on the sympathy wave and the Congress party will come back to power.

Can this happen?

There is a gloomy precedence. After the unparalleled transgressions of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, the Janata Party, led by a hodgepodge of anti-Congress leaders, came to power with a landslide victory in 1977. They had no vision for the country. Most of them wanted to be PM and they were ready to pull the rug from under each other’s feet at the slightest opportunity. They did two things horribly wrong. Almost immediately after coming to power, they started a witch hunt against Indira Gandhi as if they had come to power just to harass her, and they played vicious politics against each other.

Although the witch hunt against Indira Gandhi was justified to an extent as she had ruthlessly jailed the entire opposition when she had the opportunity (and hence, almost everybody wanted to see her behind bars), the public was less interested in punishing Indira Gandhi and more interested in improving the day-to-day affairs of their lives.

The actions of the Janata Party leaders were a big turnoff. Nehru had died not a long time ago and she was still, although roguish, the daughter of a figure revered by a generation that was still alive. For the Indian public, her losing power was enough punishment for her and the country just wanted to move on. By continuously obsessing over her, the power-hungry and directionless Janata Party leaders turned her into a Joan of Arc of sorts.

This, coupled with the political machinations cleverly orchestrated by her, saw the Congress party return to power with an even greater number of votes.

Ever since, people think that she rode back to power due to the sympathy wave generated after she was jailed. She wasn’t even jailed for one day – on her way to the prison, she got her vehicle stopped and then she sat by the side of the road in protest, generating sympathy. But that was Indira Gandhi.

But Sonia Gandhi?

The leaders of the current BJP-led NDA government are not clueless. The current government is not a hodgepodge of over-ambitious leaders like Charan Singh, Morarji Desai and Babu Jagjivan Ram, although the current dispensation has scheming politicians from the BJP’s so-called old guard. These politicians have ambition but they cannot match the energy, charisma and vision of Narendra Modi, and they are aware of that. They are somewhat reconciled to the fact that as long as Narendra Modi is a mainstream politician, he is always going to remain the main PM contender.

sonia gandhi

Sonia Gandhi

Narendra Modi doesn’t just enjoy the support of Indian politicians, party workers and millions of ordinary Indians. He has the enviable distinction of also enjoying support from world leaders. People may have their own apprehensions, but on the question of being a capable administrator and a visionary leader, hardly anybody doubts him.

Modi is not known for carrying out witch hunts. In fact, self-declared, agenda-bearing activists who have hounded him for more than a decade are still thriving despite him coming to power.

Journalists who are constantly spouting lies against him are still “eminent” journalists. False opinion pieces, editorials and articles maligning him keep appearing in national and international media without attracting even a tiny rebuke from him.

He continues to be derided, lampooned, ridiculed, and all sort of muck is thrown at him endlessly. Sonia Gandhi herself has called him “maut ka saudagar” and there are many intellectuals, writers and journalists who have called him “the butcher of Gujarat” in public forums without ever attracting his ire.

The Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal recently called Narendra Modi “a coward and a psychopath”. And yet, it is these same people who claim that the conditions in the country are worse than the Emergency days!

In fact, Modi’s problem is not vindictiveness (for which Sonia Gandhi is amply known), but softness. Indeed, it’s not actually softness, Modi is obsessed with doing everything by the book, even pursuing corrupt politicians and officials. This often becomes frustrating for his supporters. Many of his supporters have turned hostile because he is still to take a strict action against the Nehru-Gandhi family that has been running the country like a mafia.

The Congress Party and its cronies are betting on a scenario where a sympathy wave will be generated if Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi are jailed even for a couple of days.

This is why a few days ago, she claimed arrogantly, that she is not afraid because she is Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law. What she wanted to say was, if the cases against her and her family are pursued, she is going to benefit just the way her mother-in-law did. It was a disguised threat.

However, this is not going to happen.

We now live in a highly connected world. In Indira Gandhi’s time, alternative opinions were not allowed to be broadcast. Forget the Internet, there weren’t even multiple TV news channels and radio stations. Some newspapers were comparatively better, but they too were mostly used as propaganda machinery.

As events were unfolding, people didn’t get news in real time the way they get these days on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. What we know of the deeds of Sanjay Gandhi and his goons is due to the literature that was written much later. Many people on the streets were appreciative of the fact that the trains were running on time and there were less crimes.

Sonia Gandhi might be a revered and feared figure among a particular elitist class, but the rest of the country doesn’t care much about her and her family. Almost everybody knows how corrupt and venal the family is. There is an unfortunately high level of tolerance for corrupt political parties in our country – the latest example being the renewed rise of Lalu’s family in Bihar despite him being a convicted criminal. In fact, Lalu’s sudden ascent must have given a moral boost to the Congress party.

My own interactions with multiple left-liberal intellectuals and thinkers have revealed that supporting Sonia Gandhi and her ilk is just a necessary evil to keep the “communal” BJP and its various dispensations in check.

When it comes to choosing between corruption and “communalism”, people choose the so-called lesser evil, corruption. Regrettably, what they don’t know is, corruption kills more people than the so-called communalism, but that’s another topic.

If at all there is a sympathy wave, it won’t manifest as the actual sympathy wave from ordinary Indians, but a small ripple in the murky puddle of dynasty sycophants.

As we have recently observed, whenever something nasty happens in the country, the blame squarely falls on Narendra Modi. Whether it is an attack on activists, on places of worship, on minorities and Dalits and now, even CBI raids on corrupt officials, Modi is the only person to be blamed.

So naturally, even if Sonia Gandhi and her family are rightly punished for their misdeeds, Modi is going to be blamed for running a vendetta against the “poor widow trying to better the lot of the people of a foreign land”.

But it won’t go beyond that. Everybody knows that whatever punishment Sonia Gandhi gets, it will be well-deserved. Whether it is fortunate or unfortunate, public memory is fickle. Even if the mother-son-duo is jailed, in two years, people will forget it and vote according to their current state of mind and political understanding.

In reality, the BJP doesn’t need Sonia Gandhi and her sympathy wave to run itself out of power in 2019. It’s going to be the party’s own doing as it has been observed in Delhi and Bihar. Again, that’s another topic for another day.

Amrit Hallan provides professional content writing services. He generally mind his own business, but when he strongly feels about particular issues, he likes to take on the mantle of a journalist and commentator.