In India, Nehru and his descendants are considered beyond criticism and accountability. The mainstream media that has long been playing the role of bards in the Durbar of the dynasty, takes it upon itself to defend the dynasty when someone even attempts to point a finger on them. While, Modi, the unwashed Chaiwalla that usurped the throne is criticised for every household yet to be electrified and every unmanned railway crossing in the country, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty must be kept above the taint of earthly scandals.
When Prime Minister Modi brought up the issue of Rajiv Gandhi’s corruption, the group of wizards known as Durbaris had jumped in to defend his memory. “How can a dead man be criticised,” they said. But the cat was already out of the box. The mention of Rajiv Gandhi and his corruption scams opened the long-locked doors and skeletons started tumbling out. After the corpses of the Bofors scam there came the ghosts of the 1984 Sikh massacre, the silent, hollow faces of thousands of victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy followed next.
The latest in the long list of legacies that Rajiv Gandhi left for us is his now famous holiday in Lakshadweep, on a remote, uninhabited island. The details of the holiday, covered in some old news article are now for everyone to see. The then prime minister of India, a nation struggling with abject poverty, starvation, unemployment and a thousand other issues, took a significant chunk of its defence resources and put it to use for an idyllic vacation for his extended family and friends.
While the Durbaris fought against the scam allegations and Sikh massacre issue with expert responses like, ‘why abuse a dead man’ and ‘he was grieving for his mother’ excuses, the Lakshadweep holiday proved a little difficult. How can a group, that has been busy criticising PM Modi’s foreign trips, his suits and even his visit to see his mother, can justify an overtly extravagant holiday trip by their masters, one that used the warships of Indian Navy like personal taxi and ferrying cars?
Shekhar Gupta has just given a masterclass on how to do that. One lesson that all the novices can use to learn from.
In the video, Shekhar Gupta starts with Rajiv Gandhi, he does not say that Rajiv Gandhi is being discussed because he was a former PM and him being the former PM is the only qualification that his wife and two children have used to claim the reign of the Congress party. Gupta puts the blame on PM Modi. He establishes that the only reason we are discussing Rajiv Gandhi today is that PM Modi started it.
Gupta then goes ahead to ‘explain’ how PM Modi and Amit Shah are seasoned politicians and they had brought up the issue of Rajiv Gandhi ‘now’ for a purpose, Punjab votes. Gupta, in his deft style and air of omniscient elitism, then suggests that the Punjabis (especially Sikhs) cannot be fooled by jingoism and reference to the valour of the armed forces, so Modi has given them something they hate, Rajiv Gandhi.
Nowhere in the statements is the mention of the 1984 Sikh massacre that happened under Rajiv Gandhi’s watch. Like a seasoned Durbari, all the taint, all the guilt, all the misdeeds of the Gandhis are carefully swept under the carpet while the evil, sly face of Modi is highlighted in the discussion, insinuating that Modi is the sly fox that is trying to manipulate the sentiments of Sikhs by bringing in Rajiv Gandhi, what an evil man. The underlying sentiment that is never uttered aloud but gets delivered inside the brain of the people is, Rajiv was good, Modi is tainting his name to get your votes.
In the second part of the video comes the mention of the holiday. The long forgotten holiday that is now hanging like a sword on the head of Congress party. The India Today article mentioned how an idyllic, uninhabited island was chosen, how logistics and provisioning were worked out, how INS Virat and its retinue of support ships, even a submarine were stationed in the area. How the helicopters of the Indian Navy were used to ferry cold drinks, food and refreshments for the extended Gandhi family and their friends.
The 1987 holiday trip involved an extensive organisation of building, supplying and maintaining the remote island. The island was carefully chosen keeping in mind Rajiv Gandhi’s inlaws. It was reportedly the only island in the archipelago where there was no restriction on liquor and the visits of foreign nationals, as it was uninhabited. As per the reports published then, the little holiday must have cost the Indian exchequer an astronomical sum. Apart from the costs, efforts and the maintenance involved, the most staggering part of the holiday was the use of INS Virat and with all its entourage of ships.
A report in the Indian Express details the efforts. Engineers and workers were engaged to make the island ‘Gandhi worthy’. Helipads were made, hutments, water generators, living quarters and cooking facilities were provided. Except for fish and coconut, everything had to be airlifted from 200-400 km away. Just imagine the cost and manhours spent to make all that possible.
Gupta, however, dismisses all that with a careless sweep. He acknowledged that the holiday had happened and it was talked about a lot, even criticised for the wastage of state resources. But he also emphasized that INS Virat was ‘lurking around’ in that area. He casually mentions that the ship and its support ships were used to ferry goods, but denies that INS Virat was ‘used as a taxi’ or Rajiv Gandhi ‘lived’ on the ship.
Then, Gupta launches his masterstroke. He wipes away all the allegations of brazen wastage of state resources, the shameless misuse of power in using the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier for personal leisure and the blatant, despicable display of entitlement in putting the naval forces to the work of ferrying cold drinks for the PM’s friends in one stroke. Gupta goes ahead to justify the holiday as a lifestyle that the elite, yuppie and young couple like Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia were quite used to.
Not even Sonia Gandhi would’ve came up with such Justification for corrupt practices of Family: @ShekharGupta says “All our PMs were either too old or Single; Rajiv Gandhi had family & modern elite yuppie lifestyle so he’s entitled to use #INSViraat pic.twitter.com/75I3ufPIWw
— Mihir Jha ✍️ (@MihirkJha) May 10, 2019
Gupta says most Prime Ministers of India has been either very old or single or both. He says that Rajiv and Sonia were a ‘young, yuppie’ couple that India doesn’t usually identify with as a Prime Ministerial couple. He asserts that Rajiv and Sonia were a couple and as they were young and elite, parties, hobbies, and fraternising with elite friends was quite normal for them. He even adds that India, that believes that wisdom comes only with age, and expects political leaders to be ’24×7 Tyagis’ was just surprised and curious about the holiday at that time.
The way Gupta brazens the holiday as a regular young couple thing is remarkable for a number of things.
- He manages to cancel the negativity associated with that holiday. By casually ignoring the elephant in the room, that is the shameless misuse of state resources, he casts a spell of normalcy around the idea of that holiday, projecting it as some usual, regular activity.
- He makes the viewers conscious about their own ‘Indian-ness’ if they were thinking about the holiday as an outrageous issue. He manages to shame the viewers into admitting that they were fools if they had believed Modi and thought about a ‘yuppie young couple’ like Rajiv and Sonia negatively or blamed them for misusing taxpayers’ money.
- He casts an aura of celebrity status on Rajiv, Sonia and their family. The very same aura that Durbaris make sure is hanging around every time Priyanka smiles, wears a Saree or Rahul hugs his mother. The idea that they are beyond normal and everything they do is special is the foundation on which the Gandhi elitism and entitlement is built upon.
- He also puts all other Prime Ministers, including Modi, in the ‘old and boring’ category. He projects Rajiv and Sonia as a star couple like Ranveer and Deepika, Saif and Kareena or the Clooneys. He spreads an invisible net where the Gandhis stand out in their radiance while Modi, Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and all others are sulking in the back as old, grumpy people who are jealous of the young, party-going folks.
The emphasis on Rajiv-Sonia’s ‘young yuppie’ image is a better, sharper and more effective version of what Anand Sharma did yesterday. While Sharma’ juvenile “Modi has no family to go to vacations with” was a foolish defence that could be easily countered, Gupta’s projection of Rajiv Gandhi as a young PM who also was a family man and took his family for expensive vacations is a double-edged weapon that will work precisely as it was intended to.
Later in the video, Gupta also mentions how Rajiv was young and learning, and asserts he did make mistakes, as learning leaders usually do. He mentions how Rajiv had mocked the remembrance of Sikh massacres in the past as “The Ghallu Ghallu” thing. He also mentions how once Rajiv has mocked Jaipal Reddy’s physical disability as “He does not even have legs to stand on”, inside the parliament. Gupta emphasises that Rajiv had become a PM suddenly and he was learning. He even hails Rajiv as someone who always admitted he was curious and learning as if being a Gandhi and being young at the top of it is something that gives a clean slate by default. Something that is at play even today as we see the never-ending string of articles on Rahul’s ‘coming of age’.
This is precisely how Durbari propaganda has worked all these years. Yesterday, Sam Pitroda said, “1984 hua toh hua”, in a tone one would say, “Yes I swatted a fly, so what”. Priyanka Gandhi does absolutely nothing all her life, but the moment she ‘decides’ to step into politics, she is made Congress’ general secretary. But all the Durbaris sing about is how pretty she looks and how she smiles. Sonia Gandhi runs a system that controls, manipulates and often overrules the PMO, the nation sees its biggest scams under her rule but all Durbaris give us is if she cooked in her kitchen and how was her experience with her mother in law.
The spell cast by Durbaris is so strong that it is very difficult for the average Indian to escape it. The Gandhis are constantly kept under an aura of dazzling glorification. Our perspectives have been carefully programmed to overlook their fallacies and ignore their sins. We a nation, as a society, have casually forgotten Shah Bano, the thousands of deaths in Bhopal, the wailing of Sikh widows and children but we remember every time Modi showed the nerve of wearing an expensive suit or hugged a foreign president. The spell works, it has been working for decades and the Durbaris keep it in place.