2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

For Rahul, With A Hundred Crore

New Delhi, Jan 15: Staring at diminished electoral returns in 2014, the UPA is set to unleash a mega propaganda blitz dovetailed into Rahul Gandhi’s promotion to the fore of the Congress campaign.

Beginning tomorrow — the eve a widely-awaited Congress session — the government will pump in excess of Rs 100 crore into the eight-language multimedia offensive to buttress what could well become the Nehru-Gandhi heir’s debut lead in a national election.

The effort has been designed by the ministry of information and broadcasting in collaboration with Mumbai-based communications firm PerceptIndia as a six-week ad barrage that will terminate close to the notification of general elections in early March. UPA sources told The Telegraph tonight that this “final promotional push” is aimed at “correcting the imbalance between the huge achievements of the UPA over the past ten years and the erroneous perception that these have been wasted years”.

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The UPA appears unworried that the government-funded salvo could lend itself to being slammed by the Opposition as misuse of public money to serve the interests of the Congress, or, more bluntly, Rahul Gandhi. “Seven lakh crore rupees have been spent by the government on welfare under the eleventh Plan,” the sources countered, “This money is only a fraction of it, and besides, it has been lying allocated and unspent. All government have the right to speak about their achievements.” Continue reading “For Rahul, With A Hundred Crore”

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2013, New Delhi, Telegraph Calcutta

Inside the Democracy of a Dynast

New Delhi, Jan 17: As crowning dramas go, it came close to approaching the Shakespearean. Thrice did the cry ripple for the coronet to descend on Rahul Gandhi’s head. Thrice was that cry motioned to silence. Twice by queen of the court, Sonia Gandhi, the last time by the preferred recipient of the crown himself.

The laurel he was not ducking — “I am a soldier of the party and I shall take any responsibility the party asks me to take” — but wait yet. Let it be time, let it be right, let the opportunity arrive. Here was the dynast as democrat, I’ll take the throne, but upon constitutional election. “That’s what we do,” Rahul proclaimed to an intended audience many millions times the faithful gathered in the Talkatora cupola, “We are democrats, we believe in election, we believe in what our constitution prescribes.” The cry for clan has long ceased to be a thing of orchestration in the Congress; it comes from default spontaneity. That cry did not stop to ripple — “Rahul! Rahul! Rahul!” Most resoundingly from a set of young men and ladies lined along the upper tier ringside. “Rahul! Rahul! Rahul!”

The decision not to name Rahul prime ministerial candidate has been taken and it is final, Sonia Gandhi said. “Rahul!Rahul!Rahul!”

I will come and explain this thing about the prime ministerial candidate a little later in the day, please be patient, please be silent, Rahul Gandhi intervened to say. “Rahul!Rahul!Rahul!”

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The anointment of Rahul Gandhi had leapt out of the hesitations of Congress Working Committee resolutions and acquired a fullblown life of its own. And by the end of the day it had seduced no less a spokesman than Salman Khurshid: “The sense of the house clearly is that there is a whole new India out that there is looking for change and Rajiv Gandhi is the messiah of that change.” About the first messianic change he achieved: having the government raise the LPG cylinder cap from 9 to 12 within minutes of making that demand from the Talkatora lectern.

Something seemed to have kicked and altered between the change of Nehru jackets — fawn, pre-lunch, when he sat cross-legged on stage taking notes like the best boy in class and noir, post-lunch, when he came to reveal a cannon tongue and a flashing sword arm. This wasn’t a Rahul many had seen, or even expected. No family-table sentimentality, no revelation of private mummy-lessons, no ahem! ambiguity on where he wanted to head: to power, of course. Or how: by articulating an inclusive growth narrative, of course.

Corporate houses did find mention in his discourse, but once, and after a long priority list that included the underprivileged and marginalised, tribals and Dalits, the minorities and women. “I wish to congratulate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for an unbroken decade of stability that has brought about massive socio-economic change,” he said, “And I want to tell you that what we will do henceforth is to walk with everyone, empower everyone, we have done more than any government on transparency and empowerment, we promise more. You are our strength, that is what the Congress promises.”

But much of rest was a pledge that awaits redemption: I want to empower you, the grassroots Congress man, I want half the Congressmen to be women, I want gram pradhans to become members of parliament, I want India to be corruption free, I want India to be rid of poverty, I want India to be run not by the power of one man but by the power of common Indians.

A lot of the rest was also what the billion jury will pronounce on sometime this coming May: the Congress is not a gimmick, unlike other parties, indeed not even a political party, the Congress is a movement with a glorious past, the Congress is a way of thinking. We are not divisive people intent on lighting fires, we combine the philosophies of the Geeta and Mahabharat, Ashoka and Akbar. We will fight those that seek to divide us. I will lead you into battle as a warrior with his head held high and I promise I will win, we will win, I tell you we will win. We will not retreat from this battle until we have won.

How Rahul Gandhi would hope the billion jury of May will be of a sentiment with the Talkatora platoon he charged into battle-mode today. How he’d hope he could bring the electorate down as he did his AICC delegates with fire and brimstone this winter’s day of misted chill. Shakespeare, alas, did not script how this will unfold hereon.

 

 

 

2013, Journalism, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Kejriwal: Not About Where He Came From But Where He Could Go

New Delhi, Dec. 8: The question quite suddenly is not where Arvind Kejriwal came from to slay a three-term giant and threaten conquest of her kingdom. The question quite suddenly is where Arvind Kejriwal can go from here.

A formidable political reputation has been notarised by the public in the capital; the country’s attentions lie riveted. Are these the first steps towards a wider trampling of the existing political template? Is this the clarion of a new manifesto of change? Not from this party to that, or from one “ism” to another, but a fundamental change in the rules of the game, the overlaying of a new political ethic being righteously proclaimed as the only pure one, a takht badal do, taj badal do, beimaanon ka raaj badal do ethic.

Knowing him, Kejriwal probably isn’t terribly ruing he didn’t win Delhi; knowing him, he’s probably elated he has been spared the reins and afforded the freedom to travel beyond with the message of his big-bang debut.

It was not merely Delhi he had set out to take, it was always a place called India. That objective lies plainly stated on his Twitter handle for anyone to grasp. “Political revolution in India has begun,” it goes, “Bharat jaldi badlega.” (India will soon change.)

Among the more popular descriptors used for Kejriwal by AAP peers is “lambi race ka ghoda”, a man who’s in for the long haul. Delhi, even if captured, was never going to contain Kejriwal. Delhi unconquered is going to leave him free to run more ambitious missions.

There were those who rushed to annotate Kejriwal’s stunning step onto the centrestage with unsolicited notes of caution against casting ambitions wider. Like the BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad whose compliments at AAP’s heady hour came clipped with advice it shouldn’t hurry to look farther afield: “Delhi is one thing, India quite another.”

That may have left Kejriwal amused, had he found time from the chaotic jubilation around him to listen in.

The AAP boss framed his thoughts on that way back in 1999 when he launched Parivartan, a public-assistance NGO. Parivartan’s credo was, and remains: change begins with small things. AAP’s run on Delhi, it has been ungrudgingly conceded by the entire competing field, is no small thing.

Consider that Kejriwal hadn’t even a registered political party to call his own until eight months ago. Consider that it had no office, no office-bearer, no worker, not even a thought-out name. All it had was a cap and a credo — main aam aadmi hoon, I am the aam aadmi — but it stained by disapproval from its moral fount, Anna Hazare, who only wished a movement and never a political party.

Consider then, that Kejriwal’s AAP came close as a coat of varnish to taking Delhi, a rookie barging through veteran playmakers of the Congress and the BJP. More than 30 per cent of the vote share, 28 seats in the Assembly, a whopping 20 more than the Congress which, until today, had ruled Delhi for 15 years.

Consider also that when AAP came to be and announced its intention to contest Delhi it couldn’t name a dozen candidates it could hand out tickets to. It found 70 of them, one for each seat in the Delhi legislature, and nearly half of them won.

Many of them, like party spokesperson Shazia Ilmi, lost very narrowly; Shazia by a mere 300-odd votes. It’s not a scenario most in the party had even dared dream a couple of months ago. Shazia often tells the story of the first discussions that took within AAP.

“Most of us used to say ours is going to be a symbolic fight, we were not in it to win but to spread our message, create a base. But this man Kejriwal would always disagree, and disagree angrily. Why contest, he would ask us, if not to win? We knew Kejriwal had nothing to back him other than conviction but he infected all of us with it. We came to believe it was possible to win, very quickly he taught us that ambition.”

Delhi has now given that ambition legs, and Kejriwal will bid it to rove. A more widespread itinerary already lies signposted. AAP units in 350-odd districts across 19 states in the country — that is the party’s annexure to its sterling Delhi report card.

Don’t miss the expanded parameters of Kejriwal’s stated dare: “This is just the beginning,” he said as exhort to fellow celebrants at AAP’s camp headquarters in central Delhi as his numbers teased an unlikely majority. “I have said this is not an election but a movement, a revolution. We are going to finish this politics of caste, creed, corruption and crime, we are going to bring a new order. This is just the beginning.”

It’s clearly a whetted appetite Kejriwal speaks from, an appetite that wants to move on from the devoured Delhi table and nibble at others. It is an appetite fed by happy takeaways. Delhi has not bothered with widely articulated scepticism about Kejriwal and AAP. That they are untested. That they didn’t have a chance in hell of taking the Delhi Assembly; a vote for them would be a vote wasted. That they spoke a language too idealistic, if not also too self-righteous.

In that language, it would now appear, Delhiites chose to dissolve both their cynicism and their weariness with the big two taking turns in power, and chose AAP as warning wand.

It remains true that AAP and Kejriwal are untested and Delhi has not offered them an opportunity. It remains equally true that their first outing has offered no evidence the party has the ability to break into the great rural heartland.

But while the substance of AAP’s promise awaits demonstration in the crucible of power politics, what the IIT-trained former income-tax officer has come to display is a new style cross sections of people — patricians and plebeians alike — may have found refreshing.

Its two key elements are participation and proximity. AAP’s campaign became evidence the leader had returned among the people — no commando rings, no bullet-proof insulation, no security moat between the leader and led. Its pick of candidates was, equally, an exercise conducted with far greater democracy and embrace. It succeeded in creating some sense among people they had a greater role than just voting candidates imposed upon them.

Such participation may not be an easy thing to replicate elsewhere, and power will inevitably, bring trappings that will create distance between the ruler and the ruled. But then, Kejriwal has only just set out, and he has a blaze following in his wake. It’s begun with small things, who knows how big it could become?

 

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Mummy, Sorry For My Behaviour, But I Am The Appointed Prince, Ain’t I?

New Delhi, Oct 3: His father lowered the legitimate Indian voting age to 18, but fairly more than twice the older, Congress vice president and prospective arbiter of national destiny, Rahul Gandhi, claimed the right today to be “young” and, therefore, naturally subject to parental reprimand and correction. “My mother told me the words I used were wrong,” Rahul told journalists at the start of a two-day tour of the hot adversary territory of Gujarat today,”In hindsight, maybe the words I used were strong but the sentiment was not wrong. I am young…”

“Mummy!” is probably the sense that should ring out loudest from the Congress inheritor’s frank, tough callow, cry. Here is the gen-next of the first family of Indian politics, of self-appointed entitlement and priority, assuming that a private cry is kosher for public consumption: Mummy, if not for your rap on my knuckles I would have railroaded into Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his elected cabinet sans apology, I am appointed pretender to this unappointed kingdom, aint I ?

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Rahul Gandhi is beginning to achieve probably the converse of what he intends in his heartrending innocence: he is appearing every inch a brattish dictator of Congress and UPA affairs in his effort to send out word he is responding to democratic sentiment.

It is a little ironical he seemed to plead his case when he had just used the the ovarian lottery of his famous name to hector the government into submitting to his sudden rash of realisation that the ordinance on tainted politicians stood on the wrong side of extant public opinion. “I have a right to voice my opinion,” he humbly submitted, “A large part of the Congress party wanted it, why am I being penalised for raising my voice on something that was wrong? Was I wrong?”

It must be lost on very few that the luxury to raise their voice in the Congress belongs to so few they make a minority of fingers on a palm.

What Rahul has achieved with one fleeting fit of impetuosity at Delhi’s Press Club of India the other afternoon is this: trigger hyperactive action in a government that had so far taken the charge of paralysis in its stride. It is unlikely anybody else in the UPA, other than “Mummy”, who was clearly disapproving of Rahul’s chosen style, could have carried off such a feat.

“Mummy”, for the record, has had her share of differences with the government she has played regent to for the last decade. But never once has she found occasion fit enough to throw a public fit as her son chose to, or could afford to get away with. Sonia Gandhi did have her reservations about the slow pace of acceptance a slew of NAC-advised social welfare measures — the MGNREGA and the food security bill included — found with the Manmohan Singh dispensation, but she chose a more muted and patient tack to push her case

But the grand old lady of the ruling coalition may well have expected such an outburst from her appointed heir. The Nehru-Gandhis, after all, have not made a name for themselves as deferential democrats; they have, on the contrary, often conducted their affairs as possessed of divine right.

Rahul’s iconic great grand father was known to publicly admonish unpalatable entreaty. He once banished a delegation from Phulpur, his Lok Sabha constituency near Allahabad, telling them he was the Prime Minister of India, not just another one of 500-odd Lok Sabha members mandated to nurse and sweep about a woebegotten east UP constituency. Grandmother Indira’s carriage was altogether more imperious, such that wreaked upon India the singular memory of the Emergency, such that her minions came to publicly equate India with Indira. Father Rajiv, for all his cherubic charm, sacked a foreign secretary in a press conference broadcast live. And, when he reluctantly joined politics, justified it saying “Mummy needs me!” Not the nation, not its people, not the Congress party, but Mummy. Uncle Sanjay’s untimely and tragic departure from the scene (which occasioned Rajiv’s entry into public life) is considered by many an act of divine favor to Indian democracy; he did worse than impose the five-point programme, medical proscription of the right to parenthood was part of which. He is known to have, in one fit of rage, slapped his high-nosed mother across the dinner table over an argument. Rahul is infinitely better brought up; he has pleaded guilt to Mummy’s morality, though wielded his ovarian advantage nonetheless.

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Manmohan Stares Down Rahul’s Torpedo

New Delhi, Oct 1: Rahul Gandhi’s torpedo strike at the ordinance on tainted politicians has left the Prime Minister he deeply respects fuming.

Clearly peeved by the Congress vice president’s abrupt offensive, Manmohan Singh has set up a hard-talk date with top Congress and cabinet colleagues tomorrow to pick a credible way out of the raging public embarrassment the UPA has inflicted on itself. As he flew home tonight after key bilateral and multilateral engagements in the United States, a key prime ministerial aide told The Telegraph that Singh had been “taken aback” by Rahul’s intervention and “left upset”, but also that he was “firmly of the view a final decision had to be thought through in consultation with the party and government allies”.

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Quitting the job is far from the Prime Minister’s mind; questioning the causes of his current discomfiture is a closer description of his mood. “…When I go back I will try to find out the reasons why it had to be done that way and how do we handle it,” Singh told journalists on the special back from the United States, making it plain that Rahul’s positioning had both stumped and mortified him. When asked if he had been hurt that Rahul had torn into the ordinance while he was abroad, Singh said, “Well. I am not the master of what people say…I have been used to ups and downs and don’t get easily upset.”

Continue reading “Manmohan Stares Down Rahul’s Torpedo”

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Theek Kiya? Singh Stings the Opposition Again

New Delhi, Aug 30: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emerged from his Rajya Sabha joust this afternoon springy of step and momentarily cheeky of tone. “Theek kiya?” he wondered to an aide, affording his deadpan demeanour the most fleeting relief of a wry smile: Did I do the right thing?

He’d be told soon, stepping into Parliament’s Central Hall en route to his offices from the upper house. He was instantly gobbled up by a gaggle of junior ministers and Congress MPs gushing in felicitation: Just right, Sir, slammed them the way they deserved to be, was the sense of the ecstatic hubbub. Ram Kirpal Yadav of the RJD joined in as rep of ally benches. “Kamaal kar diya sir, chup kar diya, aap hamesha bina kagaz ke bola keejiye.” (Splendid job, sir, you silenced them, you should always speak without a prepared text.) The Prime Minister seldom walks casually into the Central Hall; he hovers there even less, preferring to fox-trot the stretch when he has to. Today, he may have had intimations ovation awaited him.

Singh, actually, did have a prepared text, although he appeared not to speak off it; it was a text simmering in his head. He had come ready to spill it on the Opposition, to give back some of what had been heaped on him. Continue reading “Theek Kiya? Singh Stings the Opposition Again”

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

The Lamb’s Turn to Slaughter; Waxen Manmohan Drips Hot on the BJP

New Delhi, March 6: Slaked by rambling and protracted criticism, the usually waxen Manmohan Singh today dripped hard and hot on the BJP, taunting its frontrunners as proven failures and daring them with the prophecy of another electoral defeat. “In 2009 they (the BJP) fielded their Iron Man Advaniji against the lamb that Manmohan Singh is and we all know what the result was,” Singh told the Lok Sabha, to rippling applause from treasury benches packed behind him, “The BJP will lose again because of its arrogance…I am convinced that if people look at our record, they would repeat what they did in 2004 and 2009.”

For the record, Singh was replying to the motion of thanks to the President’s address, but for those that heard him, this was as close as it could come to a declaration of candidacy for a third successive term as Prime Minister. There is time yet for the battle for 2014 to gather steam but Manmohan Singh may have already picked up the war bugle.

Read with Congress scion Rahul Gandhi’s recent remonstrations against being touted as the party’s uncontested choice for the top job, Manmohan Singh’s off-the-text pugilism in the Lok Sabha left few in doubt he was not merely ready for another round but being backed by his party bosses for it. Among the most fervent bench-thumpers for his combativeness this evening were Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, president and vice president respectively of the Congress. Continue reading “The Lamb’s Turn to Slaughter; Waxen Manmohan Drips Hot on the BJP”