Key to success lies in presenting one challenger on a united platform.

 

Okay, granted that Rahul Gandhi has gained in confidence, and no longer seems to suffer from stage fright. His rambling 50-minute speech in the Lok Sabha during the recent debate on the no-trust motion seems to have given supporters the reassurance they were desperately seeking that the Gandhi scion, at last, has acquired the minimum essential speaking skills, though the performance was barely college grade. A politician minus the talent for public speaking too can become Prime Minister, a la Manmohan Singh, but cannot hope to earn the post off his own bat.

But public speaking is only one part of the personality package required to become a leader. In politics, the messenger, the message and how it is delivered are all important. In the fragmented polity it takes far more to attain the highest executive office. Rahul has to work much harder and much longer for him to be able to occupy the Prime Ministerial gaddi. However, it did not prevent the newly-constituted Congress Working Committee, teeming with new and old leaders, to anoint him a Prime Ministerial candidate in its maiden meeting under his chairmanship.

Not many people seemed to have noticed that a day after the CWC had declared that Rahul is ready to be PM, the party was forced to backtrack, with Mamata declaring her intention to lead the federal front, whatever it may mean, and try and claim the Prime Ministerial crown. Not to be left behind, the BSP supremo, most appropriately named, Mayawati, reiterated her ambitions. Now, the Congress reverted to the trite old tack, asserting that the priority was to remove Narendra Modi. However, the problem with such a negative approach is it does not impress anyone.

Recall the winning slogan of 1971: Woh kahtey hain Indira Hatao, mein kahti hoon garibi hatao. In reality, Indira Gandhi did precious little to live up to that heady slogan, but Modi in the last four years has been engaged in taking relief to the doorstep of the poor. For the first time, a Central government can reel off names of various schemes and programmes which are actually aimed at the delivery of basic goods and services to the underprivileged. Bank nationalisation was a costly gimmick, which only scammed the poor out of their votes. Modi has been fixing the broken plumbing to provide incremental relief and welfare to the poor.

Therefore, mere speaking skills without a positive message cannot take Rahul far. A couple of days after his Lok Sabha “performance”, Rahul met a group of women journalists in an informal setting at the India International Centre. Though the meeting was off the record, from what has trickled out in bits and pieces it leaves no doubt that clichés and a few catch phrases cannot hide an empty top. Most of his interlocutors were under-whelmed by the one-on-one with the wannabe Prime Minister.

Going back to his Lok Sabha speech, if that is all he has to offer, then, we must say, he has got very little to say. To parrot a scripted phrase about Modi dealing in hate, while Congress offered love, without sounding a wee-bit Bachchanesque might have come straight out of a B-grade Bollywood movie. It was revealing that within hours of his mouthing that trite-sounding phrase, his party put up posters in Mumbai claiming who was a merchant of love and who of hate.

The undisguised attempt to play the religious card to soften the Congress’ image as a Muslim-leaning party hostile to the interests of the Hindus was unlikely to fetch electoral dividend, either, because, as they teach in business school, people prefer the genuine article rather than a counterfeit one. It requires skill to balance the interests of various castes and communities, a skill the Congress boss seems to be lacking as evident from the fall-out of his recent meeting with a group of Muslim “intellectuals”.

Forced on the defensive, his party now protested that he did not claim the Congress was “a Muslim party”. During the Gujarat elections, he was a janaeu-wearing Hindu, and a devotee of Shivji to boot. He now wants to play the same card with the Muslims. It might leave his party bereft of the support of both the communities. Voters have a knack of judging the sincerity of its leaders.

As for Rahul regurgitating the charge of corruption in the Rafale deal, the effort fell flat. There was a clear bribe-taker in the Bofors deal, also a clear bribe-giver. We know how Ottavio Quattrocchi, based in Delhi for decades, had swung scores of such deals exploiting his proximity to the Gandhis. He shared the loot and prospered, that is, until Bofors happened.

In the Rafale deal, who is the bribe-giver and who the bribe-taker? Name and shame them. Flinging charges in the air is unlikely to help establish equivalence between the Congress and the BJP. Rival bidders for the supply of combat aircraft have their own powerful lobbies. Who among the losers is instigating the charge is not known, but it might end up torpedoing the deal. The Indian Air Force is several decades behind in inducting the fighter jets in its arsenal. This is lost on politicians who indulge in mud-slinging.

SONG AND DANCE OVER PERSONAL WOES

Rahul Gandhi was a special guest at TV anchor Karan Thapar’s book release function the other day at a five-star hotel in the city. Thapar in his book, Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story, blames Modi for the boycott of his eponymous show by the BJP leadership. To bolster the charge, he has named a couple of BJP leaders who allegedly told him in complete confidence that they were asked to stay away. Thapar claims the three-and-a-half minute interview with Modi which the latter boycotted when he was seeking a second term as Gujarat Chief Minister was the cause of the boycott. That interview was in 2007. Modi became Prime Minister in May 2014. And BJP leaders continued to be regulars on the Thapar show till well into 2015.

Could it be that Thapar’s need to have the BJP biggies on the show increased immensely as his contract came up for renewal? The contract was not renewed, and Thapar, who does make a rather pugnacious but nonetheless a professional interviewer, finds himself without a platform. But his tale of woes is hard to believe. Besides, it is not the birthright of any journalist that a politician appear on his show. Just as us print journalists cannot complain if a minister or a GOI secretary refuses to talk. Two, the first thing that is drummed into the ears of a journalist is you don’t reveal the source of what is told to you in confidence.

Reading Thapar’s long account of all that he did over an extended period of time to have the BJP lift his boycott makes one feel sorry. Why should it be so important for any TV anchor or, for that matter, any print journo if a party or a politician boycotts you? Get on with your job, regardless.

THAROOR’S LAMENT OVER COWS

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who has overnight become rather most loquacious, commenting on everything under the sky, has come up with the latest quotable quote: In India, cows are more precious than human lives. Is he right? We think not. For, some cows do get killed, don’t they, Shashi?

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