By Siddharth Srivastava in New Delhi
Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi has a reputation of appearing without warning and disappearing without a trace! Which is not easy given ubiquitous 24-hour news channels, citizen reporters, conspicuous Z+ security, CCTV cameras, social media activists, etc.
Still, Gandhi manages to parachute (not literally) into a Dalit household from nowhere especially when UP election are round the corner or can simply vanish, for example, when the Uttarakhand tragedy happened or when India rose in protest against the December Delhi gang rape.
This makes it very difficult for journalists covering the Gandhi beat to go about their job. This is unlike those following MS Dhoni. Everybody knows the Indian cricket captain would be biking around Ranchi or playing with his dogs during free time. Those keeping tabs on Salman Khan know the actor is sure to lose his temper in public whenever a Shahrukh Khan movie (like Chennai Express) does well or new pictures of Katrina Kaif with Ranbir Kapoor together are leaked in the media.
Khan recently obliged those who follow him by hurling a fans cell phone. Not a very good Idea, sir, when you could be joining Sanjay Dutt or Lalu Yadav soon.
Predictably, when Rahul Gandhi chose a nondescript press conference to rubbish an ordinance protecting convicted legislators, it caught many napping – Manmohan Singh in America, for one, beat correspondents, but surprisingly also the rest of the country. It was unexpected. Gandhi’s comments and speeches are usually followed by many self-styled social media satirists for fresh PJ ideas, like they keep track of Rohit Sharma, Rajnikant or even Manmohan Singh.
This time even the PJ writers paused for a second to also mark another historic moment. This was perhaps the first time in the annals of press conferences anywhere in the world that an important politician, namely Ajay Maken, spoke for and against an issue (the ordinance) during the same interaction with hacks. Tough call it is to be a member of the Congress party where only the Gandhis matter.
The arguments did get confusing. Congress leaders backing the ordinance till the other day said Gandhi has said what they had been wanting to say all along, but actually had been saying the opposite. Shashi Tharoor said his thoughts were against the ordinance and now that his and Gandhi’s thoughts matched, he too is speaking his mind which he always does. I am sure if Gandhi makes a turnaround tomorrow on the ordinance (in India anything is possible in politics, cricket and now Rahul Gandhi), Congress leaders will again echo his words.
On TV, the eloquent Rajdeep Sardesai said, this is Gandhi’s “eureka moment,’’ though the delivery could have been slightly more urbane than usage of words such as “nonsense’’ or “torn up.’’ After all, Gandhi has been to Harvard briefly.
Still, nobody is sure where, why, when and how exactly enlightenment dawned on Gandhi – fear of Modi, President Pranab Mukherjee refusing to sign the ordinance, public opinion, surveys that Congress will lose next elections, traveling in a train, tub, under a Peepal tree or did Rahul watch Lunch Box that touched an entirely different sensibility that he did not know existed.
For those who believe Rahul has lowered the prestige of the office of the Prime Minister, they are wrong as there has been no honor left in the office of the PM for some time. It cannot be diminished further.
For those who believe that Manmohan will resign, they have read him completely wrong. If the PM was so inclined he would have quit a long time back following any of the scams – CWG, telecom, coal, missing files, real estate etc etc.
For those who say Gandhi is accused of insubordination as VP (Indian National Congress) is a lower position than PM (India), they are absolutely incorrect. In India, hierarchies mean nothing. In cricket, for example, captain (Team India) has to report to President (BCCI). Virender Sehwag has to report to Virat Kohli.
Rahul is boss by virtue of being born with a Gandhi spoon. Don’t be misled by Barack Obama walking Manmohan to the door of the White House recently. Obama should have actually walked up to the waiting car given the multi-billion dollar deals promised by India in the nuclear and defense fields.
Americans, as we all know, can be very good sales men, especially with China around the corner to snatch the goodies.
This brings me to the last part of my piece. What now for Rahul Gandhi? If you ask me there is no change of heart as some have estimated. Indian politicians, Gandhi included, continue to be opportunistic, parochial, narrow minded, if they can get away with pseudo secularism, minority appeasement, Hindutva, polarization, communal violence or some such concoction to win votes. However, they have no option but to change due to emergence of powerful public opinion that they perform or perish.
(Formerly a journalist with the Times of India in New Delhi, Siddharth Srivastava is based in Gurgaon. He blogs as Mocking Indian)