The BBC showed a damning report on communal violence in Gujarat; a ripping investigation by a US company into alleged financial turpitude scalded a nouveau riche Indian tycoon in whose private plane Prime Minister Modi landed in Delhi in May 2014 to take the oath of allegiance to the constitution; and Rahul Gandhi’s hugely popular 4,000-kilometre long march for national harmony ended in snow-clad Srinagar. The elements are mixed and disparate. But, they are signalling in unison to a harrowed audience: the winged seeds of change are sprouting.
Shelley used the metaphor of the seeds in his Ode to the West Wind, a poem of hope and rekindling of life in seeds that are given up for dead.
“The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!”
Let’s first see how Rahul Gandhi fits in with the gust and its potential to sweep and recast India’s political field. We know that the two-part BBC documentary hit the right-wing establishment in the solar plexus. That a major government saw Modi as directly responsible for an unspeakable carnage 20 years ago is a significant new input into the public dossier still piling up against the former chief minister and his party. Modi’s supporters have called the BBC report an insult to the Supreme Court, but the apex court has listed a petition against the official ban for hearing on Feb 3. Be that as it may, the documentary has engulfed university campuses and colleges like wildfire.
As for the $218 billion Gautam Adani empire, the US-based Hindenberg Research published a damning report on Jan 24. The result was instant and destructive. The Hindu reported the effect sans emotion. “The benchmark S&P BSE Sensex slid 1.5 [per cent] on Friday, dragged down by banking stocks on investor fears that a short-seller triggered rout in Adani Group stocks could impact lenders with a substantial exposure to the ports-to-commodities conglomerate.”
The Sensex fell 874.16 points to 59,330.90, with State Bank of India leading the losses at 5.03pc. The flagship Adani Enterprises, which opened a Rs20,000 crore follow-on public offer on Friday, slumped 18.5pc to Rs2,762.15 on the BSE. The Congress has demanded a “serious investigation” by the Reserve Bank of India and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) into the report that accused the Adani Group of “brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud” — charges the Adani Group said were “malicious” and timed to “ruin the public listing of its shares”. Rahul Gandhi had often named Adani as one of the clutch of tycoons around Mr Modi who had benefited from crony state support at the expense of the country. On Monday, Adani called the Hindenberg report an attack on India. Hindenberg Research, in its reply, said Adani was using nationalism to dodge the questions about alleged fraud.
A Western news agency reported that SEBI had increased scrutiny of deals by the Adani Group over the past year and will study the Hindenburg report to add to its own ongoing initial investigation into the group’s foreign portfolio investors.
Between the BBC documentary and the Hindenberg report is a hint of the West’s gathering discomfort with an Indian leadership they have needed to court. But there is unease as Mr Modi flaunts his ties with President Putin, after having canvassed support for a second term for Donald Trump, both being pariahs for the Biden-led alliance. Equally significantly, Modi’s self-advertised proximity to the Israeli leadership, in particular to Prime Minister Netanyahu, could be recoiling. He had leveraged useful support through his Israeli links in the portals of US politics. But, now, given the extreme right-wing control of Israel with its threatened adverse fallout on the alliance’s material help to Ukraine, it has robbed Netanyahu of traditional legitimacy.
Modi’s critical gambit in his balancing act concerns India’s membership of the anti-China Quad. However, with the subsequent formation of AUKUS between the old Anglo-Saxon allies of Australia, US and the UK, the Quad has become a B team in America’s anti-China talent hunt. In any case, Modi’s centrality to Washington’s need for an anti-Beijing anchor in India may no longer be the unchallenged proposition it was.
Rahul Gandhi has positioned the opposition to supplant him. A repeated theme in Gandhi’s long march to unite India focused on China. The topic has little political traction at home but should be finding keen eavesdroppers abroad. Rahul’s fulminations usually covered a gamut of issues from communal harmony to big corruption. But one of his favourite targets of attack was Prime Minister Modi and his alleged vulnerability against China. “The media will ask me personal questions all the time, but would they ever want to know what we think of Mr Modi’s handling of the Chinese moves on our borders?” The question posed by Rahul at whistle-stop media briefings masks a messaging.
By going hard on the China border issue, Gandhi was indicating a strengthened continuity in a foreign policy stance favoured by the West vis-à-vis China. In a way, it cancels his late father’s televised handshake with Deng Xiaoping in 1988, now an unspoken impediment to the post-Cold War pro-West Congress position. Rahul’s hard line on China clearly outpaces Modi’s. On human dignity, on doing business fairly, without cronyism, and in diplomatic finesse, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress are preparing the opposition to take charge. The wind looks rather favourable too.