Is the BJP Outrage Over Rahul Gandhi’s “Rape in India” Comment Justified?


Is the BJP Outrage Over Rahul Gandhi’s “Rape in India” Comment Justified?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Over the last few weeks, our country seems to be stuck in one of those days where absolutely nothing goes right and every minute seems to last about two hours. There hasn’t been much to smile about in the news — pollution is on the rise, Kashmir still doesn’t have any internet, Assam is literally on fire over the highly contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, women have been given absolutely no assurance that the country will get any safer, and the prices of essential commodities continue to rise, as the economy heads for an imminent slowdown.

Nothing seems to be looking up for us.

Yet, we are dealing with these tragic headlines in our own ways — the “liberals” are suddenly struck by a feeling of helplessness and are sticking their heads in the ground, the “nationalists” are looking for more inventive ways to twist the headlines in their favour, and students from across the country are out on the streets demanding some change. The ruling party, meanwhile, seems to have taken stock of everything going wrong and reverted to Plan A — blame the Gandhis.

The youngest of the lot — Rahul “Pappu” Gandhi — was to be the target today, after he stated at a Jharkhand rally that “Make in India” should actually be called “Rape in India”, a reference to the dozens of gruesome rape headlines we’re seeing every hour at this point. While neither the most trenchant critique of the government, nor the wisest, it’s played right into the hands of the establishment. Almost on cue, the BJP forgot about the two states currently under lockdown, and all the backlash it’s been getting over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, and instead descended on Rahul Gandhi for his “shameful remark”. 

It started in Parliament, when MP Smriti Irani angrily accused the Congress leader of giving out an “invitation to men to rape”. Once she was done ducking the whole point of his statement, she informed the parliamentarian that “not all men are rapists”. Of course, her party colleagues joined in the Gandhi-bashing. Former Home Minister Rajnath Singh went on to claim that “people who make such remarks have no moral right to be a member of this house”. Even BJP leader Subramanian Swamy jumped in on the action on Twitter, mockingly making a reference to Italy’s reported rape cases being higher than India’s (as if that’s going to make anyone feel better).

Rahul’s remark doesn’t sound so bad considering some of the actually shocking remarks our politicians have been making about rape for years.

Rahul’s remark also doesn’t sound so bad considering some of the actually shocking remarks our politicians have been making about rape for years. We’ve seen Mulayam Singh Yadav claim “gang rapes are not physically possible” and then go on to say “boys will be boys”. The Chief Minister of Haryana Manohar Lal Kattar once advised girls to “dress decently” to avoid rape. The head of the NCP’s Women Wing, meanwhile, said during a speech that the victim of the 2012 Delhi gang rape should not have gone for a night movie, and that the Shakti Mills reporter should have thought twice before going somewhere at 6 fucking pm.

So faced with all this flak in Parliament, Rahul Gandhi doubled down, both refusing to apologise for his previous remark and sharing an old video of the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Delhi the rape capital of India. He was also supported in Parliament by Kanimozhi of the DMK, who said, “We respect the PM’s Make in India initiative. Unfortunately, Make in India is not happening and women in the country are being raped. This is a concern.”

Support for Rahul has since emerged in the warehouse of opinions that is Twitter, with the hashtag #ShamelessSmriti and #YoSmritiSoDumb. These supporters say that the BJP should have been more outspoken a few months earlier, when members of their own party were accused of several crimes including rape. Smriti Irani, they claim, had stayed silent for months while BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar was accused of kidnapping and raping a minor in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh. It was only after the vehicle the girl was travelling in was hit by a truck with blacked-out number plates, that Sengar was eventually expelled from the party.

There also hasn’t been much of an internal outcry about Swami Chinmayanand, a BJP leader who has been accused of raping and physically assaulting a 22-year-old law student for over a year. While a SIT investigates the case, he continues to be part of the BJP.  Another BJP leader was caught at a Hindu Ekta Manch rally held to defend the Kathua gang rape and murder accused, and went on to be awarded a ministerial berth in J&K.

Even so, the plan that the BJP has so carefully executed since about 2013 had come in handy once again. Now that the rest of us divert our attentions to whether Rahul Gandhi was trying to defame the image of India internationally, or introspect and admit that we do genuinely have a rape problem that needs to be tackled — a debate that frankly doesn’t warrant any kind of debate — we’ll forget all about the fact that two states in India (maybe three, who can even tell anymore) don’t have any internet connections. Now all we can do is wait for tomorrow’s hashtag.