Why The Kamal Haasan-Rahul Gandhi Conversation Was Too Alarming To Be Ignored

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Jan 4, 2023 03:51 PM +05:30 IST
Why The Kamal Haasan-Rahul Gandhi Conversation Was Too Alarming To Be IgnoredActor Kamal Haasan with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. (Source: Twitter)
  • The conversation between Kamal Haasan and Rahul Gandhi exposes their incomprehension of an extremely complex subject and damages their credibility beyond repair.

Under normal circumstances, a televised conversation between a famous actor and a senior leader of a national political party with similar mindsets would not have attracted comment from this pen, because these echo-chamber chats happen all the time.

They are, without exception, shallow, puerile, biased, and made to expound stock themes like secularism or socialism, or to warn people (especially minorities) about the many dangers they apparently face today.

The list is always the same: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, fascism, majoritarianism, capitalism, Hindutva, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or what have you.

Such conversations by the usual secular suspects, about the usual alarmist topics, make little or no impact outside their bubbles of dwindling relevance, not least because they are conducted in English, using more rhetoric than facts, and idioms most Indians would struggle to relate to.

But when cinema legend Kamal Haasan tells Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on camera that the Indian government is afraid of tackling China, and cluelessly ‘whistling in the dark’ to stave off fear, then it will attract comment.

And when Rahul Gandhi draws a comparison between India and Ukraine, says that we should be careful about who we are friends with, obliquely advises India to toe a Western line, reduce the extent of its relationship with Russia, and publicly infers that we have a China problem because of our domestic divides, then the logic of such arguments, or their absence thereof, will come under scrutiny.

Boiled down, according to Rahul Gandhi, the Narendra Modi government has mismanaged the border issue with China.

Apparently, China’s aggressive, unfriendly efforts to grab our territory, and ratchet up military confrontations along the Indian border, are because of the Prime Minister’s public silence on the subject (a sly dig at the government’s refusal to discuss the recent Tawang clash in Parliament), disunity (Congress-speak for majoritarian victimisation of the minorities), and ‘a weak economy’.

Meaning, that the reasons for tensions on our borders are of our making; it’s our fault, not China’s. It is India which is not doing what is necessary to improve relations with China. It is India which is forcing the Chinese to behave the way they do towards us.

Curiously, this is exactly what Lohia-ite pseudo-secularism preaches — that it is ‘Hindu hauteur and fanaticism’ which forced the partition of India, thereby absolving those Muslims who asked for a separate nation of all blame (see here for a detailed study).

Kamal Haasan qualified this by remarking that the government was ‘whistling in the dark’ out of fear. It is an appalling comment which he will find extremely hard to live down, because, by his cavalier flippancy, he has also questioned the bravery of that part of government which keeps us safe — the Indian armed forces.

But oblivious to the grave implications of their statements, or their patent contempt for Narendra Modi’s handling of foreign affairs, the duo ploughed on.

That is when Rahul Gandhi drew an intriguing analogy between the Russo-Ukrainian conflict and the Sino-Indian disputes.

As per him, Russia invaded Ukraine to prevent the latter from growing closer to the West and that this is similar to Chinese behaviour towards India. Direct quote: “What the Chinese are saying to us is: ‘Be careful with what you are doing, because we will alter your geography’”.

Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on India needing to be judicious about the way in which it deals with other countries are intriguing, especially since there is only one country which fits that bill — Pakistan.

First, these remarks were made at a time when India is facing immense pressure from the West to trim links with Russia.

A recent example was the barrage Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar delivered to the Western press during a visit to Austria, in response to a series of hypocritical questions which sought to undermine India’s position on the conflict in Ukraine.

Second, by parroting this Western line, Rahul Gandhi is, in fact, contradicting his own Foreign Minister, who has repeatedly said that India will follow a foreign policy which serves its interest, and not that of others.

Third, this congenital tendency to pursue a policy of appeasement, be it with a country or a particular community, at the cost of national security and interests, is actually a validation of this writer’s assessment of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party made last month:

“Indeed, if there is one point which makes the Congress’s decline almost irreversible, it is the approach adopted by the party and its leaders to matters of vital strategic importance… A common strand is a tendency to seek compromise over aims and interests…”

Fourth, at no point in this discourse on foreign policy, did Rahul Gandhi or Kamal Haasan address the elephants in the room — the politico-military patronage and financial assistance Pakistan still continues to enjoy from the West (to India’s detriment); the blatant hypocrisy of such acts; or the umbilical nature of a Pakistan-China strategic nexus which presents India with a grave, active, two-front threat.

And, fifth, while both men were swift to repeatedly criticise the current dispensation’s handling of foreign affairs, with special emphasis on our issues with China, neither had any solutions to offer. Instead, what we got was a vague, discursive warning about needing to being wary of what we did, recurrent negativism, and an unfortunate jibe at the valour of our forces.

The problem is that Rahul Gandhi’s advice is both gratuitous and wrong.

Does he really believe that China will back down if we go soft on Pakistan?

Can India afford the associated risks and costs of doing that?

Is Pakistan going to de-link itself strategically from China, stop cultivating terrorism, give up those parts of Jammu and Kashmir which it presently occupies illegally, and mend its ways with us if we bend over backwards?

Can Pakistan even do that?

Will appeasing China by appeasing Pakistan reduce our regional security concerns?

If his answer to even one of the questions is ‘Yes’, then it will only reinforce our long-held assessment, that the Congress party deserves to be kept far, far away from any decision-making process on India’s strategic affairs.

Our national security needs, aims, concerns, risks, and constraints, and the intricate, subjective, constantly-changing, multi-layered dynamics of geopolitics through which we have to navigate in that quest, are not, and must never be, discussed in such a casual, superficial, partisan manner by politicians who wish to be taken seriously.

It actually exposes their incomprehension of an extremely complex subject, damages their credibility beyond repair, creates needless headaches for our foreign office, actively deepens those very domestic divides which, according to Rahul Gandhi, are supposedly the root cause of our bad relations with China, and does the national cause no good.

And yet, that is precisely what Rahul Gandhi and Kamal Haasan did: conduct a tiresome exercise in specious cafe intellectualism to reverse a decline in their political fortunes, without facts or reason, by using a topic so central to our security, which should, in fact, be discussed in public any which way but this.

The ineluctably unelectable should know that it is better to not talk about subjects one knows nothing about, than to speak and expose one’s nescience.

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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