Reluctant Rahul


Men, Matters & Memories
M L Kotru

I couldn’t believe my eyes, my ears, seeing and listening to the paens rendered by Congress Party loyalists to herald the arrival, as it were, of their own oracle, drawing a word-picture of a future looking at once bright, promising to the core. Nothing short of that, if you were to go by what the ever faithful party spokesmen had to say of their party heir-apparent’s performance during his 90-minute interview with a prominent national TV channel.
Rahul, to go by their accounts may well have set the airwaves on fire. And yet it was, to me at least, one of the most insipid exchanges, marked by evasions rather than frontal assaults.
In terms of communication there was hardly anything inspiring or new about the exercise. More like I had seen Rahul doing the previous week when he had a round of informal chats with select groups in places like Bhopal. It was more of the same, at least the larger part of it.
There were bits and pieces of his Jaipur and New Delhi AICC perorations : we gave you the right to information and a few grandmother and other Mama-Papa tales. Of course, he spoke of the new vision he had of India, of overhauling the “system” to which he attributed all the ills besetting the country. He, as the sycophants put it, spoke with humility, honesty of purpose, sincerity, passion and commitment to changing the “system”.
To me or to any lay listener, even as he was probably spelling out his manifesto, there was very little concrete to go by in both his informal chats, with groups big and small and in his TV debut, except that he usually like to ended up by demanding that of those he was talking to give him “just one line” which he would include in the party’s manifesto. A boring exercise it must have been for those summoned to attend these informal get-togethers. And party manifesto? Wonder, if any of our political parties put any store by such documents. The manifestos are rarely taken seriously. They continue to be mere ruses.
For the most part, the entire TV interview, somehow failed to grip attention. May be the expectations were high. But, then, as the interviewer, Times Now’s Arnab Goswami, did try manfully to bring him back to matters of substance he simply refused to, his refrain largely being the need to change the “system” or the “empowerment” of women.
With apologies to Shailaja Bajpai who runs a weekly critique on the visual media in the Indian Express I am tempted to repeat her summing up of the interview : In his first formal interview, he and his questioner Arnab Goswami, seemed to be speaking in different languages Ms. Bajpai reproduces flashes of the interview thus: “Arnab Goswami: Are you afraid of losing to Narendra Modi, Rahul, please answer my question as specifically as you can? Rahul Gandhi: Rahul Gandhi wants to empower women. Goswami: How is Narendra Modi responsible for the (Gujarat) riots when the courts have given him a clean hit? Rahul Gandhi: Our party believes that women should be empowered. Goswami: Isn’t you party’s argument about putting him on the backfoot on Gujarat flawed? Rahul Gandhi: The real issue at hand is empowering the women of the country.”
This about sums up the tone and content of the interview though it might be said that Rahul was thinking more in terms of the future than the context (of upcoming general election) in which the interview was taking place. This became evident towards the end of the marathon interview when Rahul Gandhi complained that Goswami had not asked him one question on “how we are going to get jobs for youngsters-you did not ask me (even) once about what we are going to do for the women of this country.”
To me as a viewer it looked as if Rahul was not hearing what he was being asked. And when he did (on 1984 anti-Sikh riots) he seemed oddly unable or unwilling to say the right thing.
Pinned down and asked if he would apologise, Rahul once again did not answer. And his response I felt should have been “Yes, I feel sorry”, or “I regret” or repeat something which the Prime Minister and his own mother had done much earlier by apologising for the anti-Sikh riots which had resulted in the killing of 3,000 innocent people. That is unless he believed in his father’s reaction to the killing of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, immediately after her death that “when a big tree falls the earth below shakes.”
Most of his men in his party, I suppose, must have wondered why Rahul was reluctant to repeat what the Prime Minister had already said. Or, for that matter the unconditional apology which the President of the country then, Giani Zail Singh, had offered soon after the Operation Blue Star.
To sum up, while Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s reluctance to take on Narendra Modi, when the door for it was opened by the interviewer, may reflect his refusal to turn the election into a clash of individuals he did not even explain their diverging philosophies or to present his party’s vision for the future – apart from women’s empowerment, that is.
His biggest failure would remain his inability or unwillingness to engage with questions that agitate the electorate, be it secularism, redistribution of wealth, employment, corruption or the price rise. In the surcharged political atmosphere of the day his concern for the youth or giving them access to political structure and empowerment of women do remain unexceptionable but these, at the same time, are apolitical themes.
And, if he believes so strongly in inner party democracy as he seems to suggest how come the competition does not extend to his party’s leadership including his own position as the powerful Vice-President, his mother being the President.
Frankly, his assertions about inner democracy in the party and its reluctance to name a Prime Ministerial candidate as a consequence of that commitment, does not make much sense. As young leader he could afford to be more forthcoming on that.
As Rahul Gandhi speaks more to the public and media in the coming weeks, the run up to general elections, the least one can expect from him(for his party’s sake) is to provide specifics, build a case, and minimally attempt to persuade an undecided voter. It is a tall task given the overwhelming atmosphere of sycophancy pervading in every nook and cranny of the Congress Party.