Congress Party vice president Rahul Gandhi
I am trying hard to believe that Congress Party vice president Rahul Gandhi’s seemingly impromptu expression of outrage at his own party government’s decision to issue an ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers is a real moment.
My world famous body language reading skills are falling short to make a clear determination whether this was genuine or carefully calibrated political grandstanding. If I put aside my almost kneejerk journalistic cynicism, then Rahul’s unscheduled appearance at a news conference comes across as a truly impromptu move.
For him to call the executive order “complete non-sense” which should be “torn up and thrown away” is quite a stinging indictment of the Manmohan Singh government. It is the sort of stuff that in politics separates men from boys.
"It is time to stop this nonsense, political parties, mine and all others….If you want to fight corruption in the country whether it is Congress Party or the BJP (main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party), we cannot continue making these small compromises. Because if we make these small compromises, then we compromise everywhere,” a visibly riled up Rahul said.
For those of you who may not keep track of such political-legal developments in India, in July the country’s Supreme Court barred convicted politicians from holding public offices. The Supreme Court ruling is fraught with serious implications in a system where an estimated 30 percent federal and state lawmakers face criminal charges.
It is particularly difficult for the coalition Singh government whose two key political figures face the prospects of losing their seats because of the ruling. Lalu Prasad Yadav, a former chief minister of the politically powerful state of Bihar as well as a former cabinet minister, and Rasheed Masood, a former health minister and member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, both are caught in legal troubles. In fact, Masood, who is a ruling Congress Party member, was found guilty in a case about corruption in nomination for seats in medical schools. Yadav, who has his own party but is among the most high profile backers of the Singh government, is facing possible conviction in a scam about an alleged misuse of his state’s funds to provide fodder for nonexistent livestock.
There is a strong opinion that holds that the Singh government’s clumsy effort to push ahead with the ordinance was motivated by a wholly political wish to protect such politicians. In fact, Rahul went so far as to publicly reveal some details of his own party’s internal debate which clearly say that the ordinance was brought forward for “political considerations.” If that is the case, then this could well and truly be an instance of genuine political rebellion. What inhibits me though is the unassailable position that Rahul enjoys as the Congress Party’s vice president as well as its most talked about prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections.
It is odd that someone of his influence and standing was unable to force the government to abandon an executive order he considers “complete non-sense” and bad enough to be “torn up and thrown away.” It stretches credulity to a breaking point to think that if Rahul wishes, he cannot preempt something which is potentially so damaging. That’s why I am unable to decide whether his outrage was genuine or part a carefully orchestrated move to lend him an aura of rebellious independence.
Why would he embarrass his own party’s government unless he genuinely felt upset by the ordinance? That’s a fair question. I don’t have the answer. May be he has decided within his own very tight knit circle of advisors that it is time to dispel the impression that he is a reluctant politician who does not have the stomach to take on the more abrasively confident prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, Narendra Modi. This is a great opportunity to swim against the current and bolster his credentials as an outsider. But then there is no greater insider in the Congress Party than Rahul. So how do we reconcile the two? One is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt but these days the benefit of the doubt runs so low it is becoming harder to do so.
Let’s just say for the sake or argument that this was Rahul’s way of breaking free from the constraints of politics of expediency and fashion a new course for his party. We will find out soon enough, when he decides the kind of candidates for the parliamentary elections, whether this was just grandstanding or provably reformist.