On The spot
It would be a dereliction of my duties as a political columnist if in the week that Rahul Gandhi chose to give his first interview ever on national television I chose to write about something else. This interview is the biggest political story in India whether you are a Congress supporter or not because Rahul speaks so rarely to us hacks. The man who has inherited the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi has never before in the ten years that he has been a politician deigned to give a formal interview. He has preferred in his relations with the media to take the shoot and scoot route perfected by his mother. What this involves is making a prepared statement and then departing before anyone can ask the first question. You can count on the fingers of one hand the interviews that Sonia Gandhi has chosen to give in the decade she has been India’s de facto prime minister. And, she has personally selected the interviewer and arranged in advance that certain questions be avoided. It appears that Rahul Gandhi may have come to some similar agreement because Arnab stayed away from asking him tough questions about his economic vision, his ideas on foreign policy and avoided probing him deeper on the limited political views he expressed.
So when he repeated more than once that he wanted to ’empower’ women and young people Arnab never asked him how he planned to do this. Did he believe that it was something that could happen only when women and young people have access to halfway decent government schools or did he have some alternative idea in mind? Could he explain why none of the prime ministers from his illustrious family had built the quality state schools India so desperately needs for Indian women and her young people to be given the smallest chance of becoming ’empowered’? These were obvious follow-up questions that Rahul should have been asked when he rambled on and on about empowerment but Arnab did not get around to asking them and it is this that left me with the clear impression that he was chosen for this ‘scoop’ of an interview on the understanding that he would not harass the Congress Party’s candidate for prime minister.
He let Rahul off the hook even on this by allowing him to babble on about how the prime minister is chosen by the party with the largest majority in the Lok Sabha. Perhaps, Rahul has not been informed that there is nobody in the Congress Party who does not know for sure that he will be prime minister if Congress is in a position to choose after the next general election. When P. Chidambaram was asked by the editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, recently if he was a candidate for this job he said that the party had decided that this job belonged to Rahul.
In fairness to Arnab he did try to corner Rahul on the Congress Party’s constant charge that Narendra Modi does not qualify for the prime minister’s job because of what happened in Gujarat in 2002. He repeatedly asked Rahul why Congress should not be similarly held responsible for the violence that happened within days of his father becoming prime minister in 1984. His persistence paid and Rahul admitted that some Congress politicians could have been involved in the pogroms against the Sikhs (or the seekhs as he called them) but said the difference between 1984 and 2002 was that the government had tried to stop the violence in 1984 while the government had perpetrated the violence in 2002. At this point Arnab could have reminded Rahul of his father’s justification of the violence but chose not to.
What intrigued me most about the views expressed by Rahul was his repeated condemnation of ‘the system’. It was this system, according to him, that had killed his grandmother and father and it was this same system that prevented ordinary people from entering politics because the political parties chose candidates behind closed doors after consulting no more than 500 people. For Rahul to have said this indicates that he has learned almost nothing in the ten years that he has been a politician or he should have discovered long, long ago that ‘the system’ currently is his mother. Nobody can get a Congress ticket unless she personally approves and this has been the system since the time Indira Gandhi decided to raise the interests of her family above those of the Congress Party. Those who dissented with this were forced out of Congress and it was renamed Congress (I) for Indira to make things brutally clear to those who wanted to join the party.
After listening to the entire interview more than once what became painfully clear to me was that Rahul had not been taught the history of the Congress Party. What little of it he knows he has picked up from his own life so he sees himself as a sort of poor little political heir who never had any choice but to become a politician because of having been forced to inherit the mantle handed down to him. This is quite simply not true and someone needs to tell him this so that if he is serious about rebuilding the ‘structure’ of the Congress Party he can do it keeping in mind that in imitation of the example set by his family nearly all of the party’s younger MPs have inherited their seats from their daddies and mummies. Has he not noticed this?
The other thing that Rahul made painfully clear by giving his interview was that he has become singularly adept at picking up buzzwords like empowerment without fully understanding what these words mean. So the only economic idea he expressed was about India’s failure to build a strong manufacturing sector and admitted that he had heard about this from visitors who came from abroad. If he had paid more attention to this failure he may have noticed that it is the ‘socialist’ policies followed by his own government that have made it impossible for India’s manufacturing sector to acquire the muscle that communist China has been so skillful at building. Before giving his next interview Rahul Gandhi would be well advised to take a few lessons on politics, economics and most importantly history. He may discover that he is not indispensable to the Congress Party and certainly not indispensable to India. So there is no harm in giving up the ‘poison’ of power.