Monday, January 27, 2014

Missing the Point, Repeatedly

Congress Vice-President and heir to the Nehru-Gandhi throne, Rahul Gandhi, gave his first full-length interview in history today to Arnab Goswami, a reporter who is otherwise known to impose his views on guests without listening to them. This time however, the tables were turned as it was Rahul Gandhi who seemed clueless as to what he was being asked. Not only did he fail to give any substantial answers, he created more controversy.

For one, the entire interview seemed to have been rehearsed. True, he is entitled to prepare for the interview - but that means he should be prepared to answer a multitude of questions, not give the same answer to every question. Where it suited him, he chose to subvert the judicial system; and where it didn't, he chose to stand by the judicial process. That's why the 2002 riots were an act of the Gujarat government despite the Supreme Court having found otherwise, while 1984 was a more private affair, although the courts are still deliberating that issue. What's worse is that the answers actually seemed sincere - which means he has fooled himself into believing his party's own propaganda!

And that self-indoctrination was clear from the irony of Rahul Gandhi accusing the BJP of being a party that concentrates power in one hand. He seems to be oblivious to the fact that his dynasty has held power over the Congress party, and hence the national government, for most of Independent India's history! He says concentration of power is a bad thing without realizing that the Congress party does exactly that, and does it best at that! He appropriates the RTI legacy to his party, forgetting the key facts that it was the Left that forced Manmohan Singh to enact RTI as well as NREGA; and that the Manmohan Singh government has made every effort so far to dilute the act, inviting civil society outrage every time. Indeed, Rahul Gandhi speaks as though he has entered a political vacuum, as though he carries no legacy and no baggage, but is always quick to point out the personal tragedies that his family has gone through and somehow use them (rather shamelessly) as symbols of his own credentials. And yet, despite his enthusiastic inheritance of his family's credentials, he does not think the Sikhs of 1984 deserve an apology from the son of the man who said '...when a big tree falls, the earth shakes.'

Rahul Gandhi, in answering questions on RTI, showed utter illiteracy in basic Civics. He argued, thoroughly unconvincingly, that RTI was a grand achievement that should not be applied to political parties because 'the rest of the system does not have it and it will cause an imbalance.' What imbalance this will cause seems impossible to understand. Thankfully, he gave up on the point of bringing the press under RTI when Goswami pointed out that the press does not run the country, but he insisted that the judiciary should be brought under the RTI, which runs counter to the principle of judicial independence and is in any case a very funny thing to say, since all judicial verdicts are matters of public record that law students and lawyers study all the time, and the money that the judiciary gets is approved by Parliament and not ordered by the judiciary itself. It would be a real surprise, even to his most ardent critics, if he did not know these facts and is still somehow, according to the Prime Minister, perfectly suited to become the leader of the nation.

The one phrase that stood the test of Mr. Goswami was 'women empowerment,' which he used to answer virtually every question no matter how irrelevant it was. At one point, it seemed he was not even going to listen to the question and the interviewer had to repeat it several times, only to get a vague answer. I actually pitied Mr. Goswami, who otherwise knows no limits when it comes to his temper, when he had to drop topics when he found that all he was going to get is rhetoric. Agreed, India is not going to be a manufacturing superpower (his phrase) without women being empowered, but how is that related to 2002, 1984, RTI and what-not?

In his defense, Rahul Gandhi did talk about some important issues - or at least, he tried to talk about them. The closed political system, political dynasties (with his own sitting right at the top), manufacturing... these are all important issues that, as he rightly said, the media does not discuss but prefers to talk about superficial matters. The questions were all tough but none of them really touched upon his economic and political vision for India, which should not be too surprising given the choice of the news channel. However, it seems even Mr. Goswami was aware of this, no doubt because of the endless rhetoric, but pointed out that in an interview, you do not get to blow your own trumpet but have to answer direct questions, none of which may be of your liking. Rahul Gandhi has plenty of opportunities to make speeches and discuss issues on his own terms, but in an interview, he has to answer questions. This is something that Narendra Modi also needs to learn.

To conclude, what I understood from this tragic interview was that Mr. Gandhi has been brought up rather insulated from political India, somewhat enamored by the West. He is surrounded by cronies who do not let him be exposed to what people really think about him - that he is a pampered prince who has the freedom to behave as though he is a revolutionary, selectively choosing to use history when it suits him and woefully unaware of how governance works. He has taken his position for granted, believes that what he is doing is charity for India that the country should be grateful for. So indoctrinated is he that he does not see the irony in his own words, that he does not see that speaking in the third person is not going to absolve him of the collective sins of the party that he effectively leads. He gives us the impression of a man who would be dangerous in an official public position of power, not because he has the wrong intentions (he has the right ones) but because he is hopelessly easy to fool and manipulate. We've had that with Manmohan Singh (and even Akhilesh Yadav). No more. 

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