Kathmandu controversy Wake-up call for Rahul Gandhi

Anil Anand

This controversy kicked by former Congress president, Rahul Gandhi’s Nepal visit to attend a journalist-friend’s marriage could not have come at a time worst than this. It comes in the backdrop of his sudden disappearing act from the scene in the midst of the party top brass led by Congress president, Sonia Gandhi engaging with poll strategist Prashant Kishore to rejuvenate the party. And it came ahead of the crucial ‘Chintan Shivir’ to be held in one of the remaining Congress bastions-Rajasthan- to find answers on how to stop the downward slide.
The Kathmandu controversy makes it abundantly clear that Mr Gandhi is not short of ideas to court controversies and his arch rival BJP ever ready to grab the opportunity, go hammer and tong and spice it up before blowing it out of proportion. And the fully-prepared section of the media was ever willing to abet this propaganda at the cost of giving a go-bye to the facts even this time around.
There has always been an ongoing debate about public life versus personal rights in the context of Indian politics. There are no two views that politics is a 24×7 proposition in India which has been further strengthened by the style of politics pursued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi or as is being projected.
The question that is still repeatedly popping up is whether the political leaders have any personal rights or the politics gets precedence over anything else forcing them to do many things on the sly and away from the public gaze. To be fair to Mr Gandhi he has not been hypocritical about what he does or not.
This debate has been triggered afresh by this latest controversy. The question of personal rights is one aspect of the episode surrounding Mr Gandhi and there is more to it which he should examine and analyse at leisure.
Politics and morality were never known to co-exist in politics even during the good old days. This formulation has further nosedived with easy availability of technological gadgets where even manipulations know no boundaries and the niceties have been thrown to the wind. Everything is fair in politics seems to be the dictum now with new brand of politics in vogue.
Yes, certainly there is no harm in Mr Gandhi attending a friend’s wedding in Kathmandu and attending party in a pub. This is true under normal circumstances but not when he and his party are countering an existential crisis of the worst kind and that too in the face of a traditional Indian public mindset. And more seriously, he is faced with a political rival pursuing a new and aggressive brand of politics mostly based on “churning out” stories, not necessarily based on facts, through social media platforms and sundry news channels. This is purely a headline grabbing business on a particular day in which the BJP expectedly excelled and Congress miserably failed even to timely counter it by stating facts as fast as the controversy was generated by their rivals.
This phenomenon was best explained by the manner in which the controversy was sought to be created through a 12-second video clip showing Mr Gandhi in a pub with a mongolide featured woman. The daggers were immediately drawn with fully armed battery of BJP spokespersons describing the visuals as the Gandhi family scion sitting with a Chinese diplomat to hatch a controversy against the country.
And lo and behold! It was no coincidence that the irrepressible TV-star turned politician-Union Minister, Samriti Zubin Irani landed in Kerala’s Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency which Mr Gandhi represents in the Lower House of Parliament during the same time. She had her task cut-out to pin-point the shortcomings in this VIP constituency with reference to his “fun and frolicking” trips abroad and at the same time rendered a psychological blow to the tottering Congress.
As it turned out that the woman in the video was a famous Nepalese singer and not a Chinese diplomat, in came the follow up story. The BJP IT chief, Amit Malviya comes up with a Tweet: “Rahul Gandhi was supposedly at the wedding of Sumnima Udas, a Nepali diplomat’s daughter, who actively supports Nepal’s claim over regions of India’s Uttarakhand. From China to Nepal, why does Rahul have ties only with those who are challenging India’s territorial integrity?”
Is not the Government of India still engaging with both China, despite incursions on the LAC, and Nepal to improve relations? Yes a firm action should be taken against anyone going against the national interest but based on tangibles and desist from making bilateral relations as domestic political football match. It seems the BJP’s ploy in targeting Mr Gandhi particularly on China is part of the persistent effort to divert attention from the LAC developments apart other domestic problems.
Mr Gandhi was not the only person from India who attended the wedding of Ms Udas who is CNN International’s Delhi based correspondent. There were others also cutting across partylines as the reports suggest. It seemed they were not news worthy as compared to Mr Gandhi.
Were not the other prominent invitees from India attending the wedding of the daughter of the same person who according to Mr Malviya “actively supports” Nepal’s claim over some Indian territories in Uttrakhand?
No nothing of the sort will happen as it neither makes catchy headlines nor accrue any political dividend to the ruling dispensation. But if Mr Gandhi has committed a heinous crime by attending the wedding of the daughter of such a person, then the others in attendance should also be viewed in the same light. But that is neither the point nor the intention behind raking up this controversy.
It is now almost eight years since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 that Mr Gandhi has been subjected to a strategically planned vilification campaign to render the Congress defensive and further demoralised. And the plan has succeeded primarily because the Congress leader, ostensibly, refuses to draw a lesson and the BJP strategists have understood the gullibility of the public mindset with no penchant for facts.
All these eight years there has been no strategy by the either the Congress or Mr Gandhi and his coterie to counter this campaign. Leave alone focusing on action first, the beleaguered party has abysmally failed to even properly react to such episodes. Usually the response is delayed and weak though facts are most of the time in Mr Gandhi’s favour notwithstanding certain glaring grey areas.
He also has his fair share of blame for making himself more vulnerable to BJP IT Cell’s attacks. His reluctance to take a firm decision on whether to become the party president again or not and instead bestow upon himself the status of de facto chief, has made him more prone to attacks from political rivals.
The Kathmandu controversy should act as an eye-opener for Rahul Gandhi and not merely brush it aside as an act of nicety. Rather conveying a feeling of helplessness and the belief that the controversy will die its own death, he and his party must get into an attack mode.
Be active rather than sheepishly reactive.