The media has been buzzing after Rahul Gandhi’s impromptu and sensational appearance at a Congress press briefing yesterday. He spoke for a few minutes; but he generated opposition and media chatter lasting several several hours! Such is the power of this man, a power he has a declared disdain for, that as soon as he makes a move, he draws the attention of the entire world to himself.
Rahul Gandhi spoke what he had to speak, and left the scene to enjoy the after effects. The media and the opposition were confused, not knowing what had hit them. For a long time, they kept harping on the “Rahul v/s PM” line, in a reference to the attack he had apparently launched on his own PM and cabinet. An alternate theme was “Rahul the outsider”. Media sensationalism being what it is, the raging topic of debate changed by the evening to “Should the PM resign”. And lastly “Has the old guard (Sonia Gandhi) been replaced by the new”. But just as media’s excitement was peaking, and the BJP was going into some sort of a heady trance, the real import of Rahul’s statement started to emerge.
First the PM’s statement from the US dashed all hopes for an immediate climax. “The Congress VP has also written to me on the issue and also made a statement. The Government is seized of all these developments. The issues raised will be considered on my return to India after due deliberations in the Cabinet”. There…..a cold wet blanket on the public revelry that was going on! Prompting even a grudging Tarun Vijay to acknowledge that the PM had behaved in a very dignified manner (imagine this, from a BJP leader!).
As if this was not enough, NDTV soon got hold of Rahul’s letter which the PM referred to in his statement. Barkha Dutt tweeted the following lines from the letter “My views on ordinace not in harmony with cabinet & core group. I have highest respect for you….hope you understand the strength of my own conviction. You are providing leadership in extremely difficult circumstances. I know my stand would be exploited by our political opponents”. Now this letter was sent before his press conference intervention, proving that a) he expected the opposition’s attack b) that he had the highest respect for the PM and c) he knew the “core group” had taken the decision. There was no attack on the PM at all. There was no “caught with his pants down” embarassment that he had forgotten Sonia had blessed the ordinance. There was no surprise that the BJP would immediately attack. Rahul knew all this when he intervened. There was something smart going on! There was an attempt to correct what Rahul thought was wrong. That leaves the opposition with only a minor point to crow about: Why didn’t he act earlier? Fair point, but it is hardly something that will occupy centerstage for long.
What will occupy centerstage for long are the following points, and this is where Rahul has really turned the spotlight:
1) Is the opposition any different?: Read carefully, and you see a direct, frontal attack on the opposition. TOI reports Rahul said “we (my organization) need to do this because of political considerations. Everybody is doing this. The Congress does this, the BJP does this, the Samajwadi Party, the JD(U) does this”. Well, the Congress has now officially distanced itself from the ordinance; and the Bill lying in Parliament as well. Will the others do the same? Can they? (See point 3 below)
2) BJP’s deceit won’t fly for long: The BJP claims that it has already distanced itself from the ordinance. In fact, it was claiming that its “strong” position made Rahul intervene. This is a typical BJP style, being technically correct but factually wrong, for it is well known that the party fully supports the move to overturn the SC order. It merely opposes the ordinance route! In recent TV interactions, its party spokespeople have refused to clarify the party’s position on the issue; preferring only to clarify their position on the ordinance. What will they do now? Ask that the SC’s order is followed? What about the All-party meeting in which all of them were united in demanding that the SC’s order be scrapped??? It’s going to be embarrassing for all!
3) The BJP and its allies have the most criminals: Data freely floating on twitter yesterday showed that the BJP had 31% of its MPs/MLAs (from 2004-13) facing criminal charges, 13% serious charges. The same stats for the party’s most reliable ally, the Shiv Sena? A chart-busting 75% and 31% (highest on both counts, ahead of even Laloo’s RJD which has only (!) 46% and 26% respectively). Its erstwhile partner of 17 years, the JD(U) is 3rd on the list with stats of 44% and 28% (and the two didn’t split because of this!), while the one it is wooing, TDP had 36% and 14% facing criminal charges respectively over the same period. The Congress in contrast had a much lower 22% and 8%, occupying the 4th best position in a table of 20 parties. Its allies, the NCP and RLD were both better placed than BJP. In what position is the BJP in to attack?
4) Why is Narendra Modi silent? Its amazing how the one who cannot stop speaking hasn’t spoken at all on the ordinance! He’s tweeted on everything from “Congress mukt Bharat” to the Gujarati film “The Good Road” to repeated references to some imaginary “BJP wave” to “welcoming the SC’s decision on Right to Reject”, but he’s not spoken a word on this ordinance. Why is the great leader so silent?
5) Here is why Narendra Modi is silent: The poor great leader will now finally have to sack his water resources minister Babubhai Bokhariya for the verdict in the illegal mining case against him. If the BJP cared so much for the SC’s order against convicted leaders, why did they not sack Bokhariya earlier? In fact, why did they not sack their 31% leaders facing criminal charges? Narendra Modi’s tolerance for corruption is already well established, what with his smart maneuvers to prevent a Lok Ayukta from being set up in his state for 10 years, and with his refusal to sack Bokhariya. Guess what media will be asking next?!
Too much attention has been drawn to what the PM will do next. Wait and watch. The PM will have a successful US trip, concluding some important deals there. He will be publicly endorsed by Obama, no less, and media will once again be guffawing about him. There will be no battle inside the Congress, for the party knows how to settle such issues. But the battle outside the Congress will now start in right earnest!