Forbes reported on 10 September 2019 that Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, a sister company to the space tourism-focused Virgin Galactic intends to launch an ambitious mission to Mars by 2022 – opening a new window into interplanetary Solar System exploration. However, the Brit was just the second entrant into the corporate Star Trek. In 2016, Wired reported that Elon Musk had outlined SpaceX’s plan to colonize Mars at 67th annual International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. It involved a revolutionary new tech called the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System.
I personally spoke to folks at both Virgin Galactic and SpaceX and was heartbroken to learn that Sonia, Rahul & Priyanka Gandhi were not on the list of people who had signed up for that one-way trip to Mars. ISRO’s incredibly successful Mangalyaan mission however gives me hope that we could soon have our own rocket to send them up there, into the vast unknown of the cosmos, and not have to worry again.
Congress continues to be, well, Congress
INC can also be written as Inc. which would mean ‘incorporated’, which actually explains the Congress Party’s relationship with capital and profits. Since the ’70s, the party has indeed turned itself into a profit centre, making money however it could, and the extent of the robbery is still unravelling.
The fact that Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) had accepted donations from the Chinese Government and the Chinese Embassy in India is unsettling. Even more is the fact that the RGF thereafter commissioned several studies on how a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and China was a much needed step towards improving bilateral relations and why India needed it more than China. The result of the FTA? India’s overall trade deficit with China grew from $1.1 Billion in 2003-04 to $36.2 Billion in 2013-14, skyrocketing by 3190.90%.
If that didn’t tickle your feathers, the RGF also received donations from Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) thrice between 2005-2008.
PMNRF, meant to help people in distress, was donating money to Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in UPA years.— Jagat Prakash Nadda (@JPNadda) June 26, 2020
Who sat on the PMNRF board? Smt. Sonia Gandhi
Who chairs RGF? Smt. Sonia Gandhi.
Totally reprehensible, disregarding ethics, processes and not bothering about transparency. pic.twitter.com/tttDP4S6bY
It needs to be mentioned that the Prime Minister of the Congress-led UPA Government donated to the Congress President-run think tank (RGF) through a relief fund, on board of which the Congress Party president still sits, as did the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. We can argue that the BJP has done the same with PM-Cares and that, there’s honour amongst thieves, but let’s face it, that’s something the grand old party hasn’t heard much of in recent years. The bigger question – with credentials like these, how does the Congress stand a chance of taking on the establishment? How do they put national interest first in a debate and not spend time feigning their own innocence?
They failed themselves in 2014 as the ruling party and then in 2019 as the opposition party. The consistency is startling but true and should be taken with a pinch of salt and gratitude.
They smeared the Government and Armed Forces while trying to engineer their 2019 poll plant, the Rafale Scam, which they possibly perceived would do to Narendra Modi what Bofors had done to Rajiv Gandhi. However, Rahul Gandhi forgot that it wasn’t his late father but his legendary mother who had managed the kickbacks. Their election agenda gradually became the ‘un-election agenda’, lost them miniature leads in many states and contributed even more to Modi’s pro-nation, pro-forces image.
The questions that many would be asking themselves today is, is the Congress still relevant? Can it be a strong opponent? Can it hold the ruling BJP to account?
If the Opposition’s role was easy, Congress would have done it
The fact that the party has scored in double digits in last two General Elections despite being the principle opposition party and the second largest political coalition, speaks volumes of what the people think of it. They abhor the fact that they lost but, in a democracy, the electorate not only chooses the ruling party but also the opposition party. Their job description changed in 2014 and six years down the line, they have proven that they learnt nothing from it. The same rhetoric of championing freedom struggle, intersectional identity politics, quack economics, and pipe dreams of ending economic inequality has made the public ponder if the Congress even takes itself seriously.
India Needs a Principled Opposition
In 2018, when the BJP-led NDA government tabled the shady Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act 2010 that lets off political parties for accepting foreign funds, instead of standing up for clean politics, the Congress jumped at the opportunity to help it pass the house. The bill sought to amend the Finance Act of 2016, which had actually amended Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) 2010 to change the definition of foreign source of funding.
The vagueness of the issues the Congress picked up had nothing to do with prevailing, contentious issues. The last six years of Modi have seen little or almost no reform in elections, judiciary, parliamentary democracy, education, laws infringing rights or in government business holdings.
Section 124 A of IPC, the Sedition Act, should have been taken down and yet the Congress refused to chase BJP down the road. The archaic Police Act of 1861 should have received broad reforms and it did not. Skill India’s abject failure in producing industry-read labour should have been on the debate table as should have been a credible criticism of GST rollout across the nation. There was little fun in pursuing the spectre of the ghost called ‘Make In India’ and its ratio of ‘Investment Commitments vs Grounding’. An opportunity of a lifetime awaited them when the BJP Government failed to usher in large-scale education reforms, but they let it slip. One rarely hears the Congress come out in the open and speak its mind on clean energy or responsible AI for social good.
For Congress to earn public trust of being competent to hold the Opposition aisle seats, it would at least have to resign the Gandhis to their fates, revive its own cadres with grassroot leaders and kill the Dallas Buyers Club that stands between its modernity and antiquity. It faltered, taking on a reactive than proactive approach on issues and playing on the backfoot.
On Balakote, it was outwitted. On demonetisation, it was out manoeuvred. Om PM-CARES, it is clearly outgunned.
The reluctant prince had one job – to dismantle this oppressive skeleton of a party and prepare the ground for an inspired unit. But like many other jobs he has taken up before, Rahul managed to bungle this one up too. His core teams have been ousted twice in the last seven years, his trusted friends in the party have found other sources of employment and his biggest advocates in the party are either fighting rivals inside the party or have left the party. In fact, his biggest champion from 2013 to 2020 has gone from Sanjay Jha to Tehseen Poonawalla; and if Tehseen Poonawalla is not your rock bottom or you don’t know what rock bottom is, jump into an empty well and wait till you find out.
Walk into the sunset, please
The kind of expectations the young liberals on the Left have with the Gandhis and Congress is indefatigable. If that is any measure of the expectations they generally pin to people, my suggestion to them would be to not get married and definitely not have children.
For the nation to have a better array of electoral choices in 2024, especially in the Opposition, it would do the nation a lot of goodwill if INC retired voluntarily. This would free up a major space on the political spectrum for newer parties to invest their capital.
Or in a few years, Rahul will lose more hair and start resembling his late father Rajiv and Priyanka will have more greys and start resembling her grandmother and the party will then line up crores of rupees in advertisements and op-eds to explain how they will bring back the glorious old years with the albeit poorer copies.
Principled politics is collectivism at best. We need principled leaders who take upon themselves the great tradition of being a part of this enriching democracy, as an individual responsibility. It is regardless of their standing on issues and the side on which they sit in the Parliament. What really are our options?
More importantly, can we even have a principled Opposition today?