As the first family of Indian politics let the cameras get up close and personal, it was Rahul Gandhi who stunned me with his manner and maturity. For years, Rahul has had to live with the tag of the prince who didn’t deserve his heredity. But in three press conferences in three weeks (the last one in Delhi on Monday), Rahul showed he has emerged out of the shadows of his family to be his own man. That prompted me to write this open letter to his mother imploring her to end his political internship. It’s a lament of a voter, who thinks the Congress has passed up an opportunity to project somebody fresh, energetic, idealistic and engaging in this election of non-choices.
I hope you saw Rahul Baba’s performance at his Delhi press conference on Monday and his two earlier ones in Kochi and Kolkata. He must have grabbed the attention of many who have been dismissing him as the “permanent PM-intern”, lacking in Rajiv’s charm and Priyanka’s assumed magic. At the Rao household, though, he got much more than attention. My wife has switched sides, I am swaying (two days before voting) and my teenage son asked me: “Why don’t they make him PM?”
Yes, Soniaji, Rahul is connecting. If he was not electric, he certainly was a revelation. He was suave, sensible, relaxed, confident and in control. He smiled warmly, joked and even took intelligent post shots at Advani-ji and the Left. He did not duck any questions and answered all with a degree of self-assuredness, which we miss in your Chosen One (Manmohan-ji). He came across as earnest, honest and engaged the viewer like few politicians can today.
Rahul put up a spirited defence of Manmohan-ji and took even the most inconvenient question – about dynasty politics – without squirming or denying (what a change from the political culture of every party and leader to deny the obvious). He said one became a politician based on who one knew, or who one’s parents were. “Hamne Punjab aur Gujarat mein yeh tod diya hai (We have broken this nexus in Punjab and Gujarat),” he said proudly. “In three to five years, you will see a new set of Congress leaders emerge, they are a brilliant set of young people,” he said with paternal pride. His eyes lit up, his chest pumped up. He even ticked off a woman journalist for being dismissive of his efforts. “It’s emotional for me,” he said. We understand, because it is not easy to rebuild the Youth Congress – that political nest for 30-plus history-sheeters of academics who fail exams just to keep their “youth” tag and hostel room!
At his Kochi press meet earlier, Rahul even managed the impossible by convincing us that Manmohan-ji is actually very youthful. “Youth is not about age. If a man can look ahead into the future, he is young whatever his age. Manmohan-ji got us the energy deal, that’s looking 30 years into the future. In 1991, he brought in liberalsation, once again looking way into the future.”
Brilliant argument, but reality hit home within minutes when Manmohan-ji took the mike. Times Now cut live from Rahul to Manmohan-ji’s press meet in Mumbai. In just three short sentences, Manmohan-ji blew the “youthful” argument away by imploring questioner after questioner after questioner: “Can you speak louder please? Can you speak louder please? Can you speak louder please?”!
You do Rahul a disservice, Sonia-ji, by letting the impression persist that he needs more grooming and allowing people to continually wonder if you should have pushed Priyanka instead. Worse, Rahul himself has started believing in this. “I will refuse to be PM, I don’t think I have the experience,” he said at the Kolkata conference.
There are two ways of looking at this experience thing, Sonia-ji.
One, it would help to remember, Sonia-ji, that even Manmohan-ji seems to be woefully short of it. Why else would he deflect every major policy issue to Pranab-da? Two, if Rahul had all the experience, what would Pranab-da do? It hardly matters, does it, if Pranab-da is heading 50 GoMs under Manmohan-ji or 100 GoMs under Rahul? If the idea is to drown Pranab-da in so much work that he has no time to think of higher office, doesn’t the Rahul option work better?
There is a third aspect to this experience argument, Sonia-ji. In his first term as PM, Manmohan-ji had to make just one stopover at 10, Janpath, on the way to work. If he becomes PM for another term, he will have to make an additional stopover at 12, Tughlak Lane (Rahul’s house). Would that not need experience, Sonia-ji? Or, is it your “experience” that backroom PMs don’t need experience?
As I said, Sonia-ji, Rahul’s consummate TV performances have caused me to sway. But my problem is this: If I vote for Rahul, I get Manmohan-ji! And Antony-ji. And Antulay-ji. And Arjun-ji. And whichever other septuagenarian-ji you choose to pull out of the woodwork-ji. So why not the octogenarian Advani-ji? (Thus I continue to sway rather than swing.)
I can’t get this, Sonia-ji. Just how long do you think Rahul’s growth phase is going to continue? As you can see, nothing, not even Manmohan-ji’s economy, can grow for ever. I know expectations are low during a recession, but at what rate do you think Rahul is growing? Can’t be the Hindu rate of growth (you are a secular party). So, if he has been growing even at the rate of the Indian economy in the last five years, that’s a fair clip and he’s quite a big boy by now!
Believe me, Sonia-ji, Idiot it might be, but the Box doesn’t lie. Rahul has earned his spurs. Rahul bada HO gaya, Sonia-ji!
(Venkat, as the author is known, takes a week off from media-bashing to write about what he sees as Rahul Gandhi’s political coming of age, because the channels almost allowed the event (the transformation of the Gandhi scion from a political novice to party’s central campaigner) pass off without much notice. Unless, of course, you think pointing that out is in itself media-bashing!)