... Grand Rehearsal That Was a Flop ...
The legend has it that soldiers who didn’t want to fight in the war – and who really does? – would literally shoot themselves in the foot to cause a non-life-threatening injury and, thereby, escape hazards of active duty. These days there are more ingenious devices to do the same. The phrase shooting oneself in the foot also means to foolishly harm or damage one’s own cause by chance or by mistake.
We all know Rahul Gandhi is an ace shooter. Not having qualified academically, didn’t he manage admission in St. Stephen’s College in the sport quota? So, keep guessing how did he succeed so effortlessly to shoot himself in the foot, knowing very well that what are medically classified as infected wounds take an unconscionably long time to heal and even when healed, leave an indelible scar.
Before proceeding further as to what happened and how, let me tell you a small story.
Password to Success
And this is the story of a young lad, working hard to somehow complete his school education. He was (like me) not terribly good at his studies and dreaded the approaching Board examination. He requested a sympathetic teacher to suggest a quick-fix to him. The experienced pedagogue took pity and suggested a cure-all formula to him.
“I’ll help you prepare an essay that you may fit in whatever be the topic you’re supposed to write on in the School final exam,” he told him reassuringly. The boy was thrilled at the prospect of obtaining a password to assured success.
The kind teacher dictated him a 1000-word essay: “Our Cow”. It read something to this effect:
“We have a cow. We all love it and look after it. My father milks it every morning. The yield of milk is about four liters every day. We make curd from some of that yield. My mother churns the curd and gets butter from it.
Butter is very useful. It has many nutrients other than fat. It serves several purposes….. “And so on and on.
The young lad was overwhelmed to get such an infallible Brahmastra to fight the battle of forthcoming exam and assuredly win it.
To the student’s utter dismay, the exam paper read: ‘Write an essay of about 1000 words on “Benefits of Morning Walk”.’ First the young aspirant was perplexed what to do. But then he remembered the sane advice: “Try to fit this essay in whatever the subject is.” So, after a little thinking he started writing.
“Morning walk is very good for health. Yesterday, when I went for my morning walk, I saw a cow grazing in the field.”
After the introductory paragraph he reproduced, with gusto, what he had learnt by rote: “We have a cow….”
Superb effort! Isn’t it? And he thought he had sailed through.
All through the day I had looked forward to the Times Now much-publicized interview with Rahul Gandhi. Never in my life did I ever sit for two consecutive hours before the idiot-box as I did that day to hear Prince Charming unfold the Party blueprint for the future. And this is how it went.
Arnab Goswami (Times Now): Are you afraid of losing to Narendra Modi, Rahul, please answer my question as specifically as you can?
Rahul Gandhi (vice president, Congress): Rahul Gandhi wants to empower women.
Goswami: How is Narendra Modi responsible for the (Gujarat) riots when the courts have given him a clean chit?
Gandhi: Our party believes that women should be empowered.
Goswami: Is your party’s argument about putting him on the back foot on Gujarat flawed?
Gandhi: The real issue at hand here is empowering the women of this country. Does the sun rise in the east or the west? The fundamental question here is, how do we empower women?
Now, dear readers, recall the “Our Cow” analogy, that the Congress official and unofficial speech-writers had prepared for their PM-to-be for fitting into whatever be the question that is asked?
Superficial or Specific?
Towards the end of 90-odd minutes Q&A session, Gandhi termed Goswami’s questions “superficial”, and gently reprimanded him. “You didn’t once ask me questions on how we’re going to get jobs for youngsters… you didn’t ask me once about what we’re going to do for the women, for this country…”
Goswami, who excels in his fluency and pulling a real fast one in every over, countered: “This is an interview. You called my questions superficial… I feel my questions are specific.” (You know of course what the interviewer wanted to say.) Many such exchanges left the viewers like me thoroughly perplexed: did Rahul Gandhi really hear at all what he was being asked?
The interview will be talked of for weeks and months till the voters decide who is to run this county for the next five years. It might be rated as the biggest flop of the year, unless, of course, someone can, in a similar interview, nail Narendra Modi down, which appears highly unlikely.
Pretty early in the interview, Rahul Gandhi referred to “the system” six times in as many sentences. Thereafter I stopped counting. Did you continue? The much-maligned hydra-headed monster called the system has been discussed day after day. Let’s not forget it was Rahul Gandhi’s great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru who adopted the system lock, stock and barrel, bequeathed by the departing British rulers. Nothing in the world prevented him from having a hard look at it with a view to substantially changing it to suit governance of the country rather than ruling over it as the British did.
The words that Rahul Gandhi kept repeating were: empowerment, women, youngsters, RTI, deepening (of) democracy (whatever it means.) He avoided like the plague questions on Modi, 2002, 1984, and corruption. Why didn’t he say straightaway: “These questions are out of syllabus!”
Amid linking of anti-Sikh 1984 riots when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister and the 2002 Gujarat riots, when Modi was chief minister, Rahul said, “The difference between the ’84 riots and the riots in Gujarat was that in 1984 the Government was trying to stop the riots… In Gujarat, the opposite was the case. The Government in Gujarat was actually abetting and pushing the riots further.”
Pressed further by Goswami, Rahul admitted some “Congressmen were probably involved” and “some Congressmen have been punished for it”. And this opened the Pandora’s box which is going to haunt the Congress in the months to come.
The Congress as well as other political parties have to remember that TV is a merciless medium. Not only does it reach your message to hundreds and thousands, it enables viewers to judge you ruthlessly. A twitch of your lip, contraction of a facial muscle, a sudden tonal change, the cadence of your voice tell them if you mean what you say, how sincere you are in articulating your thoughts and feelings. After you have finished you leave behind an impression of your very being – an impression that carries weight far beyond the spoken word. How you dodge a question, what sophistry you resort to build an impression, are imperceptibly known to your views. Pundits of body language and communication are analyzing what you say and what you mean.
Recently, Outlook carried a learned, well-researched piece entitled “Manwatching Mister Modi” by Rukmini Bhaya Nair. The study repudiates the Bard who believed “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.” Desmond Morris’s classic People Watching builds a case against the Shakespearean thesis. Ms Nair made a study of Modi and concluded:
Nearly 50 per cent of Modi’s gestures consist, instead, of just two noteworthy indicators: one, the highly assertive upraised finger, routinely interpreted as a domineering fight gesture, and two, the rather ambiguous ‘self-touch’ hand-on-face-or-mouth gesture. This last signal has an unusually high representation amongst Modi’s hand movements and is associated with thoughtfulness and on-the-spot decision-making on the one hand but also with lack of self-confidence and commitment and, sometimes, deception, on the other.
No one has so far made a similar study of the performance of Rahul Gandhi. Does he look confident and self-assured or nervously diffident? May be some communication experts have been commissioned to undertake an analysis. Let’s wait. Meanwhile, Rahul didn’t convey self-confidence.
“The mannerisms – avoiding direct eye contact, sweating etc. showed lack of confidence and a sense of uncertainty which match his personality,” said a senior psychiatrist with a government hospital in the Capital who didn’t wish to be named.
It is undeniable that Rahul Gandhi is as inept as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in dealing with the media. Neither has he an inclination to catch the bull by the horns.
Inevitably, whenever Modi is talked of, the 2002 communal riots and Modi’s role there in, is discussed. (Mysteriously, what is left out is the Godhra train burning - an incident that occurred on the morning of 27 February 2002, in which 58 people including women and children died in a fire inside the Sabarmati Express train near the Godhra railway station. The official commission set up to investigate the train burning spent 6 years thoroughly going over the details of the case, and concluded that the fire was arson committed by a mob of 1000-2000 people, mostly Muslims. That is what triggered the riots.)
Rahul Gandhi drew a sharp distinction between 1984 and 2002 communal riots:
The Narendra Modi government was responsible for “abetting and pushing” the 2002 Gujarat riots while the Congress government tried to stop the 1984 riots, Rahul Gandhi said but offered no apology for the anti-Sikh violence.
Did the Government try to stop the 1984 riots? This is an outright lie. Arnab Goswami was being too gentle not to call a spade a spade. Let’s look at the facts.
Indira Gandhi was shot dead in the morning, but the first riots started in the evening. During the day the Congress leaders – Arun Nehru, H K L Bhagat, JagdishTytler and Sajjan Kumar – had met before Rajiv Gandhi arrived from Kolkata. They coined the slogan ‘khoon ka badla khoon’. The first riot thereafter took place near INA market in the evening.
The same evening Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in without Congress party meeting to elect him a Prime Minister, which Rahul Gandhi tells us is the Party procedure.
By the late evening the situation was worsening by the minute. According to Tarlochan Singh, the Secretary to President Zail Singh:
“The President wanted to speak to the PM about the large scale arson and violence in Delhi. The PM did not get back to the President. All night he tried over telephone. Nobody responded. In the morning, he tried to speak to Home Minister Narasimha Rao. He was told that we are all busy in making arrangements for the funeral. He was told that the Lt. Governor and the Police Commissioner are taking control. The whole of next day, neither the PM nor the Home Minister took any interest in defusing the situation or help the victims,” he alleged.
Tarlochan Singh said it was curious that although Army was available in Delhi cantonment, forces were called in from Meerut. “They came by road. They were ordered not to shoot and just to march. The police in Delhi on the other hand was totally with the rioters and even killed Sikhs,” he alleged.
Asked pointedly about the taint of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots (which erupted after his grandmother and then PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination), Rahul admitted some “Congressmen were probably involved” and “some Congressmen have been punished for it”.
Asked specifically about certain issues, Rahul narrated the family story and his own philosophy of life:
“In my life I have seen my grandmother die, I have seen my father die, I have seen my grandmother go to jail and I have actually been through a tremendous amount of pain as a child when these things happen to you, what I had to be scared of losing I lost, - there is absolutely nothing I am scared of. I have an aim, I have a clear aim in my mind and the aim is that I do not like what I see in Indian politics, it is something that is inside my heart. It is like in our mythology when they talk about Arjun, he only sees one thing, he does not see anything else, you asked me about Mr. Modi you ask me about anything and the thing that I see is that the system in this country needs to change, I don't see anything else and I am blind to everything else. I am blind because I saw people I love destroyed by the system.”
Rahul claimed during the interview exclusive credit for getting both the RTI and Lokpal Bill passed.
I have spoken about the six bills in parliament. I have spoken about the Lokpal Bill and I have pushed the Lokpal Bill. I was involved in the RTI. We worked together to bring the RTI. So as far as transparency in the political party is concerned I am absolutely for transparency. There are questions about the RTI that need to be discussed and thought through. The real question is that our system is based on different pillars. And the question is which ones of these pillars should have RTI…Am I for opening up? Am I for bringing RTI into as many places as possible? Absolutely.
Rahul Gandhi kept a very discreet silence on the issue of corruption and the scandalous scams that his Party has been charged with. With a school boyish innocence he pleaded:
My position was that I report to the Prime Minister. Whatever I felt I had conversations with the Prime Minister. Whatever I felt about the issues I made it abundantly clear to the Prime Minister. I was involved in the legislation, RTI legislation. And now I have helped pass the Lokpal Bill. I bring you back. The real issue here is participation of people in politics. It is bringing youngsters into the political system; it’s opening out the political system. That’s where nobody wants to talk. Everybody is perfectly happy with 500 people running the entire system in India. Nobody, none of you want to raise that issue. The fundamental issue: How do we choose candidates?
Breathtaking indeed was Rahul Gandhi’s stand on the proposed Congress-Lalu alliance which demonstrates conclusively how adept he is in shooting his foot and then going into the electoral battle with a bandaged foot:
Our alliance in Bihar is with a political party, with an idea, not an individual; we are making an alliance, and it is not certain that we are going to make an alliance, we are in process of talking to people and our alliance is with an idea, with a party, not an individual.
When was the last time you heard a politician talk about ideas? Great nation-building ideas!