At the risk of coming across as fixated on the issue, let me complete my trivial trilogy on Congress Party vice president Rahul Gandhi’s damning pronouncement against his own party government’s decision to issue an ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers.
Sitting so far from the scene of action one can’t do much more than second-guessing his motivations. The form may have been bad but the substance of what he said certainly was commendable. But then is it necessary to get hung up on the form? Perhaps in public life it is. In my widely published comment on the IANS wire yesterday I had used the words “churlish and unbecoming”* to describe the way Gandhi castigated the ordinance. I still maintain my view.
However, since the objections Gandhi raised go to the very heart of India’s polity, it may be worthwhile to speculate on what set him off. There are several plausible explanations. One is the most obvious one which is that he felt so genuinely exercised at not having been able to preempt the ordinance that the most honorable he saw to make himself heard was ultimately through what he did. His dramatic appearance at a routine party press briefing did shake up things quite a bit and in the process gave him the kind of visibility that he has chosen to avoid. Intrinsic to this obvious explanation is also the point that he said what he did out of genuine conviction and that was the reason he decided not to finesse his language.
But beyond the obvious explanation, which is sometimes the most accurate one, we all want to read deeper, sinister meanings where none may exist. So let’s try a couple of more scenarios for sheer fun.
Scenario one is that this was Rahul’s way of breaking free from the shadow of his mother, party president Sonia Gandhi. It was as much a political rebellion as it was a familial one. There were shades of his late father, Rajiv Gandhi who too used to display such aggressive impatience against entrenched practices early in his career. Talking of a familial rebellion, I don’t see the need for it unless there are behind-the-scenes tensions between the mother and son that we are not privy to. Sonia Gandhi may have chosen to go along with political expediencies in agreeing with the ordinance but Rahul could have felt compelled to oppose out of genuine convictions. Since he did not get his way, this is how he gets even.
Scenario two could be that this was an elaborate performance where all the major players, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, were in on it. The logic behind this speculation would be that as a coalition government Dr. Singh’s cabinet had to reach out for some compromise in order to retain the support of tainted but powerful political figures who may have been affected by the Supreme Court ruling barring convicted politicians from continuing in public life. But simultaneously, it had to create a pressure group within the Congress Party that rejects such expedient moves in a message to the coalition partners. So while the coalition cabinet did what it had to do, behind-the-scenes the Congress Party with a clear understanding among the mother and son Gandhis and Dr. Singh had already agreed on Rahul firing this salvo.
Since Rahul seems to believe in candor, he should hold a major press conference on this subject with a detailed opening statement. Perhaps he should candidly discuss his frustrations at having to deal with the skullduggery that goes on in all political parties. That may yet separate him from the rest of the crowd and give him precisely the kind of transparent national platform that he can make his own. For all you this may truly be his coming of age moment. Forty three may seem a bit old to come of age but in India’s politics it is still considered rather youthful. Dr. Singh, incidentally, is 81.
Long years in my profession have kept me drowned in the marinade of cynicism. It is entirely possible that what Rahul Gandhi did was prompted by a sincerely felt need to break the mould and start afresh.
*Even by the grudgingly accepted journalistic standards of self-absorption, quoting oneself the very next day is excessive.