Rahul Gandhi should apologise or choose jail

Even a short stint in jail would be an effective political statement

Ever since Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha the media narrative has focused on his potential status as a political martyr. The debate on prime time shows has been framed as one around why the BJP would hand him an ace to play with in the form of a sympathy card.

I disagree.

Of course, for Rahul to lose his parliamentary seat in this fashion is wrong and the criminal defamation law that enabled it is problematic. But looked at through the prism of politics, for Rahul, the legal route may not be the smart one.

In fact, he runs the risk of being trapped in the quicksand of court dates in a year when he should not be distracted by anything but the 2024 elections and the big state elections just ahead of them.

Though a sessions court in Surat has suspended his sentence, a suspension on a conviction could still be a lengthy process. Rahul, who lost his Lok Sabha seat, after being found guilty in a criminal defamation case, could be facing multiple legal summons from across India. At last count he already had eight pending defamation cases to fight.

The charge against Rahul is that by linking corruption to the Modi surname he defamed the entire OBC community. The Congress has argued that the petitioner who dragged Rahul to court had no locus standi to do so because he was not an OBC. Of course the party has also argued that the comment was rhetorical and about what Shashi Tharoor called “rich, fat cats”—in a reference to Nirav and Lalit Modi.

Rahul Gandhi | Arvind Jain Rahul Gandhi | Arvind Jain

But the most recent petition dragging Rahul to court is by the BJP Bihar leader Sushil Modi, who is from the OBC community. And Rahul will most likely have to now turn his attention from Surat to Patna. Expect the cases and petitions to keep stacking up.

The BJP has always calculated that by keeping the public focus on Rahul, the contest for 2024 will be framed as a Narendra Modi vs Rahul battle—a battle that Modi always wins. But by keeping Rahul embattled they may succeed in enfeebling him.

Would it not be smarter for Rahul to simply apologise?

Sure there might be a loss of face for a day or two. But who would remember anything more in the heat and dust of elections?

We have a living example that illustrates this in Arvind Kejriwal. The Delhi chief minister had charged an entire slew of leaders with corruption and, eventually went on an apology spree, including to Nitin Gadkari, Arun Jaitley, Bikram Majithia and Kapil Sibal. His supporters never cared or held it against him.

If Rahul refuses to cut his losses and say sorry, he may want to look at a disruptive option. He could consider not pursuing the route of legal appeals and welcome his arrest.

Even a short stint in jail would be a more effective political statement than offering up a battery of lawyers. Then he may even have a real chance of being a political martyr.