How will you react if someone told you that you are immature, slow-witted? Of course, most angrily, wouldn’t you? And rightly so, for that is being downright rude. Well, last week in Parliament Rahul Gandhi was virtually told all of those things, though not in the same language, but the poor fellow was left fumbling for an adequate response. Why? Because his scriptwriter, you see, was not on hand to pass on a chit for him to read from.
Last week the leading lights of the ruling dispensation very nearly pronounced the most important leader in the most important opposition party foolish. The irony is that Rahul Gandhi and his praetorian guards found themselves in no position to murmur a word in protest. A couple of hours after the Gandhi scion spoke in the Lok Sabha from a well-rehearsed script, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his Facebook post made a play on Rahul’s physical and mental growth, the latter not a necessary concomitant of the former.
A day later, it was the Prime Minister’s turn. On live, national hook-up of the Lok Sabha TV he lit into the heir apparent: “…the case with some people is that they do grow older but their minds don’t… They take a long time to understand. And because they can’t understand, the only thing they can do is oppose and make fun…” The Gandhi scion squirmed in his seat, an angry but helpless mother making the boy-wonder to sit down even as his instincts led him towards the door.
The difference between two speeches was stark. The dynast had inherited the mantle of leadership. He was no match for the one who had come up the hard way, from the grassroots up. Gandhi did not seem to be a genuine article, reading from a prepared text, his barbs and sallies lacking the punch precisely because they were rehearsed.
Modi, as is his wont, spoke extempore, and pummelled the Congress leader without sounding bitter or aggressive. It was a battle of unequals, one was an amateur, another a pro. Besides, Modi had a better case to argue. Gandhi had to carry the deadweight of ten-years of UPA and fifty-plus years of the Congress. Had Gandhi followed the simple adage about those living in glasshouses not throwing stones at others, he would have refrained from accusing the PM of concentrating all power in his own hands. As the controlling heir of a party—Gandhis are Congress, Congress is Gandhis—which not long ago had chanted “Indira is India and India is Indira”, he would not have accused Modi of being autocratic. Assertive and autocratic, if he must know, are not synonyms.
Besides, for someone who had publicly humiliated his own Prime Minister, tearing the ordinance while calling it “nonsense”, it was rather rich to advise Modi to listen to others. While the NDA ministers he had dragged into his script to buttress the charge of unilateralism against the PM promptly denied his claim, next day Modi tore into him the way only he can. Cleverly, with a mischievous smile playing on his lips, the PM shamed the Gandhi scion with killer barbs, sometimes with simple allusions.
Particularly nasty was the appeal to the Gandhis to allow talent in their own backyard to flower, implying that the mother-and-son duo remain in fear of being outshone by their own party leaders if they were allowed to speak in and outside Parliament. It was a masterly act. Yes, the MGNEGRA was a Congress scheme, but CAG had panned its implementation for theft of funds when they were in power. The NDA had plugged the leaks, increased the spend and ensured that the works undertaken proved productive for the larger economy. Yes, tens of thousands of new toilets were being built now, but only because the Congress, while in power for decades, had failed to take care of the basic needs of the people.
Often statesman-like, Modi struck a note of conciliation, seeking the cooperation of the Opposition, to discuss and debate rather than disrupt and obstruct the functioning of the highest temple of democracy. Modi said he was accountable to every MP, to every citizen, but the dynasts sitting across the aisle felt no obligation to explain themselves to anyone. It was the inferiority complex which forced them to obstruct the working of the Government. They did not want him to deliver. In sum, there was no comparison between the two speeches. Politician Rahul Gandhi is still a work in progress while Modi is an accomplished pro. Pitting them against each other is unfair.
DELHI’S LYING MACHINE
The BJP has called Rahul Gandhi a “lying machine”, but in our view, Arvind Kejriwal fully deserves that title, though thanks to the gullibility of the voters he seems to have got away thus far. Hopefully, not for long.
We can enumerate various falsehoods uttered with a straight face by the AAP boss. From not living in a large bungalow, to not taking black money, and not wanting ACs in his home—even if the electricity bill is over Rs 1 lakh a month—Kejriwal has founded his politics on an unending litany of hypocrisies, hoodwinks, evasions and plain lies.
Thanks to a former Delhi Congress MLA we know that even his latest claim about honesty was false. Kejriwal claimed a saving of Rs 121 crore on the elevated Mukarba Chowk-Madhuban Chowk road. It was opened by the Delhi CM with great fanfare, with full-page ads making the false claim about the non-existent savings. An RTI question by the Congress leader, however nailed the lie. It revealed that the Sheila Dikshit government had successfully brought down the cost from the earlier projected Rs 319 crore to Rs 279 crore.
However, Kejriwal claimed the estimate was Rs 421 crore, while the work was completed at Rs 300 crore, saving Rs 121 crore for the people of Delhi. The truth is that Rs 20 crore over and above the sanctioned amount. Why would be mention Rs 421 crore when the actual tender given by the Dikshit government was only for Rs 279 crore? And how does he explain Rs 20 crore spent over and above the tendered sum before he could claim giving a “gift to Delhiites” on behalf of his party? Time the Delhi CM stopped treating people as gullible fools.
NO FAVOUR TO FORMER COLLEAGUES
This was one inequity several Finance Ministers had allowed to pass unchecked. While most professionals, such as chartered accountants, architects, engineers, even journalists, were liable to pay service tax, lawyers, some of whom rake in bushelful of money on a daily basis, continued to be exempt. Even when the budget each year extended the ambit of service tax to cover more and more people, lawyers continued to be a privileged lot. No longer, though.
It is creditable that the Finance Minister, who has undone the discrimination, is himself a former lawyer who too had a huge practice till he gave it all up to become a full-time politician. For the sake of a level playing field making lawyers pay the service tax was justified. However, Arun Jaitley could not have not endeared himself to his former colleagues in the Supreme Court bar by imposing, at long last, service tax on all those lawyers whose annual income exceeds Rs 1 crore per annum. Incidentally, there are lawyers who earn Rs 50-60 crore. And some in this lot still get caught stealing taxes or stealing stuff from five-star hotel rooms.