Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rahul Gandhi’s interview rattles the BJP….

BJP bhakts, who clutched at the weak straw of Rahul Gandhi’s inaccessibility and shyness, were in for a big shock when he decided to reach out to media. Not to any ordinary “friendly” media types, but to some of the biggest and toughest – Dainik Bhaskar and Times Now. Shocked and awed, BJP trolls could only criticize Rahul for the way he spoke, not for what he spoke. Clearly they were rattled.

Rahul’s areas of focus were spelt out repeatedly (so much so that #BJPrattled complained about that also!). Clearly, women’s empowerment, providing youth with opportunities, fighting corruption, making India a manufacturing superpower and sharing power with people are Rahul’s theme for his party.

Now this is not the first time he’s spoken about these subjects. He has  been demanding 33% reservation for women in Parliament for long. His party even got the legislation passed in the Rajya Sabha a few years back. (Incidentally, in today’s speech, Obama also spoke of women’s empowerment). He has repeatedly said that if our women remained behind, “only half” of India would progress, and he’s not interested in this kind of India. Obama made similar sounds.

On opportunities for the youth, we know that that has been Rahul’s obsession for long. He has transformed his party’s youth bodies in ways which allow the youth to enter and actively participate in politics. Equal opportunity to all is what is close to the heart of the youth, and that’s what Rahul has delivered in his previous job as President of Youth Congress. He is now doing that for the larger AICC.

On corruption, Rahul came out strongly. Rahul is the one who brought in the Lokpal. Till the day he announced that he would make it happen, the Lokpal bill was rotting in Parliament. As soon as he announced it, it became law within days. The BJP fell in line, the entire opposition fell in line. If the BJP had had their will, there would be no Lokpal today. Anna realized this duplicity of the BJP when it first promised to include Lok Ayuktas within the Lokpal bill, only to later use the garb of “federalism” to go back on its word. We know how Narendra Modi actively connived to deny Gujarat a Lok Ayukta for 10 long years. We also know that the BJP has not supported the grand vision of Rahul on cleaning up politics – his “six pending bills”. Earlier, Rahul wanted to give the Lokpal constitutional status, but the BJP didn’t allow that too. At all points, the BJP has used corruption only to crib and complain and badger the Congress with; but has shown very little interest in actually doing anything constructive. In fact, it went ahead and diluted the Gujarat Lok Ayukta Act giving its CM even more control over the watchdog. Fighting corruption has become Rahul’s calling card; not something that he runs away from.

This is the “new system” that he repeatedly referred to in his interview. A system in which a Sheila Dixit will have to face the courts if that’s what the evidence indicates; a Kalmadi will have to resign when there is prima facie evidence. And a system unlike what the BJP wants when it decided to bring Yeddy back into the party. Rahul may well be compelled to ally with RJD because of political reasons, but at least he doesn’t bring corrupt people back into his party.

His spiel on making India the manufacturing hub was part of his government’s long term promise…. His party’s visionary Delhi-Mumbai Industrial corridor is all about manufacturing growth, of creating new smart cities….things that Modi has tried to usurp. His government’s New Manufacturing Policy is all about increasing share of manufacturing to 25% of the GDP from some 16% at present. His government’s focus on infrastructure is also about increasing manufacturing.

Now to some specifics. Arnab tried to provoke Rahul by asking he was afraid of Modi. Rahul was cool. He first said that he was afraid of nothing, given his tryst with personal tragedy in the past. But anyone with even little intelligence (and that clearly excludes BJP trolls) should know by now, that he is THE PM candidate….his party’s ad campaign foregrounds him. Only dimwits would continue questioning if he is the PM candidate. If there were any doubts, Rahul clarified that if his party failed, he would take responsibility. Has Modi ever said that? Why….Modi didn’t even go to Karnataka to campaign, knowing his party would lose. He ran away from a tough fight. But he was all over in Gujarat, MP, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan….states where the BJP was expected to do well anyways. Running away is not new for Modi. He ran away from Karan Thapar’s interview as well!

Importantly, Rahul drove home the difference of his party with the BJP. The BJP wants “concentration of power”, while the Congress stands for “giving power to people”. This is so true. In Gujarat, no one even knows who the 2nd leader is after Modi. Rahul promised empowerment to women. Modi stalked women. In the past, we’ve seen Rahul’s liberal credentials. His fight against Sec 377 is well know. In contrast, BJP wants to keep the country in the 17th century. The Cong’s difference with the BJP on communalism is well known.

On 1984, I think Rahul handled the issue head-on. He accepted some Cong men were possibly involved. Has the BJP ever admitted that any BJP people were involved in Babri/Gujarat riots? Nah….not until the courts declared them guilty. Rahul also made a correct distinction; that the Congress govt never supported the anti-Sikh riots. The regrettable carnage took place possibly because the government had been shaken with the loss of its PM. But in Gujarat, a CM-in-harness either willingly allowed and fanned the carnage, or at the very least, sat twiddling his thumbs while his state’s Hindu zealots brutalized the minorities. It is because of this difference that that the Sikhs have forgiven the Congress, voting it to power for almost half the time since 1984 in Punjab. The Muslims have never forgiven the BJP. The BJP only wins in states which have <10% Muslim population. The Congress is full of Sikhs. Modi still continues to deny Muslims seats. BJP trolls can compare 1984 with 2002, but there is nothing comparable at all.

In the end analysis, Rahul spoke well, confidently and gently. It is this gentleness that BJP trolls are panning today. I don’t blame them. They are so used to the uncouth, crass, and guttural conduct of their PM candidate that they have forgotten what gentleness can achieve. They need to only remind themselves of Mahatma Gandhi’s gentle style, and what it did to British bullies.

The real truth is that Rahul’s interview with Arnab was a powerful “coming out” moment for him. He could have chosen a “softer” journo, but he decided to sit across the bully Arnab. He could surely have done better in body language, and he will improve. But what he spoke about is what we should focus on. His vision of an inclusive India (he hates “unfairness”), an India that provides opportunties to its youth and its women, one that fights corruption with sincerity, is what we should remember. There was no bluster in Rahul’s talk….even Arnab conceded that Rahul’s heart was in the right place. It is this that has the BJP rattled. It is this that has BJP trolls attacking his interview….

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