It was a drama played out in full public glare. And it was a story that the media so loves. After all it is not every day that the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi calls a decision taken by the Union Cabinet led by none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as ‘nonsense’. And it is also not everyday day that the scion of Gandhi family barges into a press meet, drops a bombshell, leaving journalists stunned and sending his party leaders scurrying for cover.
Whether what Rahul did on September 27 at the Press Club of India was stage-managed and pre-planned or not is a matter of conjecture but if one can see the lighter side of it then it was downright hilarious. Just imagine – before the Congress VP gate-crashed at the press meet being addressed by Ajay Maken, the party’s newly appointed chief media manager was busy defending the controversial ordinance cleared by the Cabinet to protect the convicted lawmakers from disqualification and to negate Supreme Court’s verdict. Then Maken got a phone call, to be told that Rahul was on his way to the venue and lo and behold, in a matter of minutes, the Congress leader had to do u-turn and take a completely opposite stand to what he had taken earlier. A perfect example of how you can be left red-faced and not be able to do anything about it.
And it was not just Maken, senior leaders like Kapil Sibal, who had been attacking the main Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party for their double speak and going hammer and tongs in favour of it, refused to say a word to the media on hearing that Rahul said the ordinance should be torn and thrown away. But probably the worst hit was Manmohan Singh, away in the United States to meet President Barack Obama and address the UN General Assembly. The man who is increasingly looking hapless and not in control as far as his government is concerned, must have been left flummoxed for a while when appraised of what was happening back home.
Manmohan Singh did issue a statement on the matter and said that Rahul had written to him and that he will take up the matter on his return to India but the fact is, what the Congress vice president has said has put the PM in a fix and has undermined his position as the leader of the country to a certain extent. It will not be misplaced to say that maybe the Opposition has a point when they say that the PM has been humiliated. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is solely responsible for Manmohan Singh occupying the top post of the country has never publicly spoken in the language that Rahul did, even though there have been reports of a rift between the two of them in the past.
Anyway, the moot question is whether what was enacted at the Press Club was rehearsed or not and whether it was done with the sole aim of projecting Rahul as a hero. By all means, the above appears to be true and in the process, if the PM was made the fall guy, then so be it. It is said that the Congress VP was gathering feedback from many quarters about the adverse impact of the ordinance and a day before he walked in on Ajay Maken`s press event, Rahul’s close aide Milind Deora had tweeted against it. So, while it may appear that what Rahul did was impromptu, in all likelihood, it was well thought out.
Rahul has been accused of surfacing in the public arena on and off and then going underground. He eats at a poor man’s house in Uttar Pradesh one day, travels on the local train in Mumbai the next and then vanishes for months. He talks about power being poison and people’s dreams being his dreams but his words do not seem to be translating into action. Many question as to what his vision for the country is. And he has been reluctant to take on any position of responsibility so far.
He has not spoken in Parliament since his ‘game-changer’ speech on the Lokpal Bill and has been silent on a host of issues concerning the country – scams, corruption, price rise, inflation, slow economic growth and so on and so forth. He has also not spoken as far as 2G scam, CWG scam, coal scam, Railways recruitment scam and others are concerned, which has seriously damaged the image of the Congress party to a large extent.
Thus, it can be safely said that Rahul’s ordinance moment was by and large aimed at gaining political mileage and projecting before the people of India that he means business and can take on his own party and his own government if need be. It was also aimed at taking the wind out of the sails of the Opposition and prevent them from taking the high moral ground. The Aam Aadmi Party had denounced the government’s move and the BJP had met President Pranab Mukherjee asking him not to sign the unconstitutional ordinance.
And then there was the growing revulsion amongst the people who saw the ordinance as an attempt to shield criminal and tainted politicians, the likes of Rajya Sabha MP Rasheed Masood and Congress ally RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. So it was only a losing proposition for the Congress at a time when it is faced with an arduous task of facing the electorate after a decade of anti-incumbency.
Predictably, after Rahul’s so-called grandstanding, most of the Congress leaders fell in line and termed what he did as right and one which would change the discourse of the politics in country. However, it has left many wondering as to how much will Rahul gain by projecting himself as the eternal outsider and as someone who is determined to change the system. Many ask if he is not part of the system and if he wants to change it, then what is he waiting for? Is his party not in power and is his government not ruling at the Centre? If he wants the people to see him as different then he has to enumerate how exactly he is different and what are his ideas for the country, which he has not bothered to do in the past. Flitting in and out of a press meet will really not help.
Rahul also has to answer, notwithstanding all the public posturing against the ordinance, as to what took him so long to react on it and why the belated intervention. Was he not aware of the Cabinet decision earlier and if he was why did not try to scuttle it quietly, rather than air his views via the media? Like he had done in the case of bill to amend RTI Act and he is also seen as instrumental in the Land Acquisition Act seeing the light of the day. Also, it is said that the Congress core group headed by Sonia Gandhi had decided to go for the ordinance after Lalu had met her. Was Rahul not aware of this too and if he was then, has he taken on his mother too publicly apart for the PM?
Rahul could also have taken the PM into confidence before making the grand announcement and he could have called a press conference of his own rather than hijacking Maken’s interaction with journalists. However, what’s done cannot be undone. Now, the question is – will Rahul benefit politically from what he has said and done and what will the long-term ramifications of it be? One can safely conclude, that the last word on the ‘nonsense ordinance’ has not been heard, especially with the Opposition lapping up the fresh ammunition that Congress vice president has given them.