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Rahul’s Interview by Arnab: A Missed Opportunity

 Cartoon: Courtesy Sudhir Tailang

Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of the Congress and the face of the Party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, came forward to sit in front of a camera for a long interview with the angry-young man of the Indian media, Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of the Times Now. The interview, the first in last ten years of UPA, was a sublime opportunity to the heir-apparent of the Congress to change the tone and tenor of our current socio-political discourse but, sadly, the man failed to rise to the occasion. Once again, he proved he was the biggest disappointment of our era. He has neither decibels nor substance; he’s just a dud.

The Congress is leaving no stone unturned to project the man as a youth icon and is spending fortune on his image make-over overtures. But, in absence of a political vision and a solid idea in him to take the nation to the next level of systemic and institutional changes, such overtures will hardly make an impact. As a leader, Rahul Gandhi is supposed to talk of change. He’s supposed to come up with few path-breaking ideas that could alter the political environment of the nation; he’s supposed to put forth few radical concepts that could revolutionize the way our institutions operate. But, he failed to rise to the occasion and to turn himself into a leader India wants him to be. Instead, he chose to remain stuck up into the same muddy ground his party has chosen for itself over the years. Today’s India wants to swim to the new waterfronts of opportunities but Rahul chose to slosh around the cesspool of dying ideas. In fact, he’s ended up being a morbid prisoner of his party’s legacy of stale ideas.

In the interview he chose to put all the blames of our current socio-political entanglements on the system. But, the point is who is responsible for degeneration in the system? Who has brought it to such a level of misery that it brings abhorrence and apathy in the consciousness of a common man? It’s your party Rahul, that is presiding over the system since last ten years and that has ruled the nation for close to 5 decades. If there is corruption, there is misgovernance, there is inefficiency or there is misuse of power then you’re responsible. If the system has become dysfunctional it’s you to blame. You must stand up and take the blame. But, you chose to remain silent on those scams and turned a mute spectator during the brazen loot of natural resources and of national wealth. Even in the interview, you failed to owe the blame. It was a golden opportunity Rahul to owe the responsibility and, like a mature leader, to talk on solutions. But, you let the interview pass by.

It was not the right occasion to point finger at the system rather it was the occasion to come up with solutions. You’ve identified the source of reigning ills but now you must display the vision and the guts to take on those ills. History tells us that all changes have come from few determined individuals who have carried a vision and have had steel fitted in their spines to implement those visions. A leader must carry conviction in his heart and clarity in his mind to transform the nation and society. Rahul Gandhi, unfortunately, has failed so far to display that clarity, conviction and spine. The interview gave him the golden opportunity to bandy about such ideas; but he showed, to our consternation, that he had none. He talked of empowerment all through the interview and cherished to make it a tool of socio-economic changes for the underprivileged and the women. But, where is the determination, Rahul? With the kind of position you’re in, the kind of goodwill under your belt and the kind of resources at your command, you’d have brought in an unimaginable revolution. But, in absence of a commitment to these causes displayable through actions on the ground, such utterances get reduced to nothing more than tutored homilies.

The 80-minute interview, as anticipated, was destined to get overshadowed by Arnab’s carefully designed questions on Narendra Modi that were few but disproportionate in connotation sure enough to draw the nation’s attention. Here, Rahul evoked the horrors of the Gujrat riots and tried to score a good few brownie points by pinning the blame on Modi. But, Rahul didn’t realize that he was hitting a self-goal in so much as any accusation made by his party at Modi on Gujrat riots brings the spotlight back to the anti-Sikkh riots of 1984 where the congress party has many skeletons to hide in its cupboard. The congress is accused of a pogrom of the same nature and the same administrative passiveness in dealing with it. Thus, by evoking the horrors of 2002 riots Rahul has created a mess for itself where the congress is being subjected to a renewed scrutiny on its actions during the riots. This was certainly not Rahul would have meant it to be in the election year.

The interview had given him an opportunity to rise up to the occasion and turn into a statesman of our era by putting forth a pragmatic view on Modi and 2002 riots. He had this opportunity to come forward and to say that the riot, whether 2002 or 1984, was definitely an unfortunate event but since the judicial process is on we should respect the same and should try to move on to focus on some more constructive issues of our time. He could have stolen the heart of the nation by refusing to get embroiled in the hackneyed and much despicable debate of riots. This way he would have largely been successful in changing the political discourse of our time and would have been credited with bringing about the politics of development back into focus. It would have been a tectonic shift in our era of politics and would have brought a bout of fresh air in the electoral arena of 2014. Of course, the Congress has many important things to pick from its 10 yrs of rule and to brandish the same before the nation. But, Rahul Gandhi failed to talk on the highs of his own governance; he failed to emphasize the achievements of his own government by being overshadowed by the discourses of riots. Thus, he failed in bring forth the tectonic shift.

The interview had brought him an immense opportunity to go for his desired image make-over. But, Rahul squandered this historic opportunity to turn himself into an adorable statesman from the imminent loser of his time.

A missed opportunity, of course.

KrishnaKumar@ThoughtPourri, 2014

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Rahul Gandhi raises communal bogey in attempt to hit the BJP where it hurts most

Rahul GandhiAfter days of vacillating on it, Rahul Gandhi raises the communal bogey. In a public meeting at Churu, Rajasthan, Rahul came hard on BJP and in a head-on collision course it blamed BJP for inciting communal riots in the country which, he said, ultimately leads to terrorism. Thus, by putting the blame for communal riots and terrorism squarely on the main opposition party in the nation, he has tried to play the communal card with rich political dividend in sight.

To paint the BJP in communal colours has been the long-standing strategy of the congress party and it has worked many times in the past. But, Rahul Gandhi, in the run up to the 2014 elections, had been desisting from invoking it so far. Maybe because he understood that by talking of development and issues related to poor and youth he will be able to pull his party through in the coming elections. But, with pre-poll surveys across the spectrum repeatedly projecting the party to get the drubbing in the 2014 elections, desperation has started getting the better of him. Therefore, under the grip of panic, he chose to play the trump card of communalism hoping to polarize the nation along communal fault lines and sweep the windfall of minority votes.

But, the strategy is perilous – it carries the risk of communalizing the political discourse of our times. As it goes to ruffle the feathers of the BJP, the latter would certainly have a bone to pick with the Congress on this sensitive accusation. Though, the BJP of course is a party which has blotted its copybook by the demolition of the disputed Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and by many other actions that casts it in communal mould, it certainly would like to question the credentials of the congress in the communal-secular debate.

So far the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee, Narendra Modi treaded a cautious path by skirting the issue of communalism and he talked about positive issues like strengthening the bureaucratic-administrative functioning to lead development, economic growth and changes; he talked of creating structures for sustaining equitable growth that promised the fruit of development to the urban and rural societies alike. He talked about the issues of the middle class and the youth and tried to reach out to the Minorities promising them development and growth which had eluded them so far. He took the issues of corruption, nepotism and crony capitalism that has bled India in the past decades and promised a clean and efficient administration on the lines of his home state Gujarat where he’s been ruling since 2001. It connected him instantly with the middle class, the youth, the poors and to some extent, even with minorities. He talked tough and assured that he meant business.

The resurgent, restless India lauded him and the crowds cheered him with frenzied applause wherever he went. Over the time, his personality took the status of cult among his followers. This gave sleepless nights to Congress strategists who have always sought upmanship in the personality-centric politics of India.

In this tug of war, Rahul Gandhi found his grip slipping and this made him desperate. He has overexploited his welfare-oriented policies like Food Security Bill and MANREGA but finds the prospects of these policies returning votes very dismal. He knows he has nothing to talk on the development plank as each policy of his government is blotted by a scarier scam. Thus, the congress think-tank went overdrive to cut the BJP to size by playing the communal card. By slinging the mud of communalism on BJP they hope some of it would stick with them. Thus, they have chosen to strike the BJP where it hurts most.

But, by playing the communal card Rahul Gandhi runs the risk of exposing his own party’s records to closer scrutiny. The congress has many questions to answer on the front of secularism. One would be tempted to ask about Congress party’s support to organizations like Muslim League, Jamaat-e-Islami and SIMI and about its track records in various communal riots like that of Bhagalpur, anti-sikh riots of 1984 and the recent Assam riots. One would like to highlight the communal agenda of the party by upturning the SC judgement on Shah Bano in 1987, by standing behind the terrorist encounter of Batla House, by its plan to give the Muslims reservations in government jobs, by its recent administrative instructions to state governments to not arrest the members of minority community in matters of terrorist investigations and by its proposed legislations like the Communal violence bill where it shamelessly attempts to put criminality on the majority community in a riot situation and subjecting the members of the majority community to harsher criminal procedures for the same crime. The history of the Congress party in the post-independence India is a chronology of facts how the party has fomented, nourished and sustained communalism by exploiting the communal fault-line to its own political advantages. Rahul Gandhi would find himself on a sticky wicket if he is invited to talk on communalism in India and the role of political parties in it. Maybe, partially because of his banal oratorical skills, he would never be ready for such a public trial. Thus, he sees virtue in making ambushes from the sidelines.

Thus, short of ideas on development and change and with an aim to deflect attention from issues of corruption, price rise, unemployment and misgovernance, Rahul Gandhi pushes communal agenda to the fore. But, in the process, the positive discourse of the 2014 elections runs the risk of being hijacked by the chancy talks of hate.

As the cyclone beats a retreat, the congress jockeys for position

As the devastating cyclone fizzled out the congress party moved in swiftly to claim credit for the massive evacuation efforts that resulted in remarkably lesser number of human casualties during the thick of the calamity. In a hurriedly called press conference at the party headquarters, the central minister for science and technology, Mr Jaipal Reddy patted the back of the UPA government and took all the credits for managing the disaster in a better way.

Notwithstanding the fact that the situation at the ground level was managed in an outstanding manner this time, the attempt of the congress to own the success singlehandedly runs contrary to the facts and amounts to politicizing a natural calamity for narrow political gains.

One may not be in disagreement with the claim of the minister that the government has made huge investments over the years in augmenting the technological capabilities of the metrological department. The minister must be speaking by the book when he said that the government invested rupees 750 crores that went into purchasing supercomputers, sophisticated radars and satellite warning systems that modernized the department making the job of metrological forecasting reliable. This certainly gives some merit to the minister’s claim that the UPA government was responsible for the successful evacuation of the masses enabling them to escape the fury of the cyclone.

Yet, the assertion of the congress needs to be taken with a pinch of salt because it is improper and wrong on two fundamental counts – facts and ethics.

Why the congress is wrong in taking credit of the evacuation drive is the fact that evacuation of such large number of people counting to 1 million can’t be possible without tremendous effort of the local administration, police and other state agencies. The state government administration personnel of both the states put in tremendous efforts to save the people. The Odissa government set an inconceivable target of zero death and it really meant it. People, like the collector of the Ganjam district who went without sleep for 72 hours to ensure relocation of nearly 1.5 lac people to safer places, are the real heroes whose herculean efforts helped the state governments in getting their ducks in a row. Hence, the attempt of the congress to take credit of the success singlehandedly without giving any credit to the BJD government is factually not tenable.

Further, it is ethically not proper to rake the issue of taking credit at a time when the dust raised by the storm has not yet fully settled. The governments still need to put in tremendous efforts in terms of manpower and resources to bring the cyclone affected areas back to track. All the people who are relocated from their homes are to be rehabilitated and, as most of them are terminally poor, they need to be set on their feet. Hence, this is certainly not the time to indulge in credit business. If the central government feels that it has invested in weather forecasting technologies, it is good; it is exactly what is expected out of a government. It is their job. To raise a hue and cry over a job which is expected out of the minister is nothing else but a sinister attempt aimed at taking political mileage out of a calamity. It shows desperation.

It is time to demonstrate our expertise and technological prowess in the field of weather forecasting to the outside world in an apolitical manner. It is certainly not a time to indulge in political rhetoric on what is essentially a non-political issue.

Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri 2013

A Political Mess Called Telangana: It’s Congress to blame

When important political decisions are made on the basis of ulterior electoral designs then what ensues is a mess. Today, Telangana is one such mess created out of sheer electoral miscalculations that is now boomeranging on its creators. What had once been a genuine mass movement of the people of Telangana, aimed at creating a separate state out of Andhra Pradesh, had been most callously left to degenerate into a political slugfest of the worst kind where no one looks to emerge the winner. The architect of this mess is the central leadership of the Congress which uncaged the tiger of Telangana only to reap few political dividends.

The creation of Telangana was an event just waiting to happen. It’s just an undoing of what had been done nearly 60 years ago in 1956 when the state of Andhra Pradesh was created merging the Nizam territories of Telangana with the newly created Andhra state. Hyderabad was made the capital of this newly created state. The people of Telangana never resigned to this merger and a passive movement for bifurcation of AP started which continued well into the 21st century. In 2004, the congress had made a promise to create Telangana state but it kept on sitting over the proposal till 2009 when suddenly the then Home Minister, Mr. P. Chidambaram woke up to this issue and announced to begin the process for creation of Telangana. Honestly, the congress never meant it. It was just a political gimmick. Just few days later, when protests erupted in Andhra against the decision, the congress backtracked. Then, in July 2013, just months before the general election, the Congress Working Committee passed a unanimous resolution to bifurcate the state of AP and sent the proposal to the government for beginning the modalities.

What happened suddenly that changed the heart of the congress?

Actually, the seed for the creation of Telangana lies in the internal political dynamics of the congress party in AP. Here, after the demise of the YSR, his son Jagan Mohan Reddy had, about the same time in December 2009, started pushing for his claims on the chief minister’s throne and to put pressure on the party he broke away to form YSR congress. To deflect the issue and to take wind out of Jagan’s sail, the congress in Dec, 2009 declared to begin the process of creation of Telangana. However, after protests erupted in Seemandhra (the remaining Andhra Pradesh areas comprising coastal Andhra and Rayalseema regions), the Congress dragged its feet. Thus, the reckless dabbling of the party in the affairs of Telangana had begun. However, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) leader K. Chandrashekhar Rao had licked the blood and he intensified the movement. Thus, between 2010 to 2013, many people died in the movement and many students immolated themselves for the cause of Telangana. Then suddenly in July, 2013, the announcement came from the Congress to form the Telangana State.

The real reason behind the decision is the political calculation of the congress to cut the support base of Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is poised to make Congress lick the dust in the coming elections. Reddy, who hails from Andhra had earlier supported the creation of Telangana in the hope that the state would be never created. Thus, on this issue, the Congress wishes to expose Reddy of his double standards and by doing so it tries to cut its losses in the Seemandhra region which returns 25 MPs in the parliament. At the same time, by creation of Telangana it hopes to win support of the TRS in the Lok Sabha election and eyes to sweep the 17 Lok Sabha seats of the Telangana region. Moreover, the congress also hopes to cut Chandrababu Naidu to size who, also coming from the Seemandhra region, had earlier given his written support to create Telangana. Now, by opposing the creation of Telangana both these politicians from Semmandhra have opened themselves to the attack that they are running with the hare and hunting with the hound.

Creation of small states is a necessity and there is no denial from the fact that Telangana, despite its resources and riches, has suffered at the hands of the rest of the Andhra and hence, creation of a separate state is the only authentic solution to its backwardness and exploitation. At the same time, the people of Seemandhra too have genuine concerns regarding revenue, economy, their employment opportunities and their claim on the Hyderabad. Hence, what was required was to do a proper home work and to try to build consensus by smart negotiations before embarking upon the complex issue of bifurcation which the congress didn’t do. It is obvious that in its zeal to plunder political dividends, the Congress implemented its Telangana policy by fits and starts. The Group of Ministers (GoM) that has now been created to look into the settlement of legal, economic and administrative issues is nothing else than putting the cart before the horse. With election round the corner it is for everyone to see what this GoM is able to achieve within this small period. Of course, the Telangana issue is going to be one among those many legacies of this government which the next government will have to deal with.

Today, the whole of AP is in real mess where no one has the clue for a solution. After the announcement of Telangana, the Seemandhra region has been thrown into the cauldron of violent agitations with no hope of an impending solution. No one knows how to put the tiger back into the cage. Today, the people speaking the same language and following same culture have been put face to face. Language and culture no longer are the sacred territories to keep people together; today people are willing to cross over their cultural-linguistic boundaries in search of better opportunities.

Krishna Kumar@ThoughtPourri 2013

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