Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sanjaya Baru: The inheritor as insurgent // Santosh Desai: The leader who isn’t

The voters of Andhra Pradesh had been so loyal to the Indian National Congress from the very first general election that even when large parts of the country threw the Congress out after the Emergency was lifted in 1977, the Telugu people stood by Indira Gandhi. She wielded so much power that she could overlook the claim of every senior party leader and appoint the diminutive T. Anjaiah as chief minister. So beholden was Anjaiah to the Delhi durbar that he spent more time in Delhi than Hyderabad. He was loyalist par excellence.

Then one day Rajiv Gandhi landed at Hyderabad's Begumpet airport, wagged his finger at Anjaiah, admonished him for some reason on the tarmac, in full view of the state's council of ministers and the media, got into his plane and flew away to Delhi. Poor Anjaiah was reduced to tears. The media captured that unfortunate moment. That photograph, of Rajiv admonishing Anjaiah and Anjaiah's pathetic expression, was splashed across every newspaper in the state the next day. The revulsion of the Telugu people at New Delhi's arrogance generated a sympathy wave for Anjaiah, which N.T. Rama Rao immediately took advantage of. NTR swept to power on Anjaiah's bent back.

Those who have inhabited Delhi's durbar have always been given a reality check every now and then by the ordinary people of this subcontinent. If Rajiv had good reasons to upbraid Anjaiah, he could easily have done that in private. Why did he have to do it on an airport tarmac in full view of the media? Everyone concluded that Rajiv was either arrogant or immature. The Anjaiah episode sprang to mind as I watched Rahul Gandhi seek to project himself as the angry young man of the Congress Party rebelling against the sleaze and the corruption of his seniors... 

Santosh Desai: The leader who isn’t

Rahul Gandhi’s dramatic and altogether strange public intervention in the ordinance issue makes it clear that he cannot conceivably be the leader of any future government. It is also likely, given his actions over the past some time, that he has in fact no desire to do so, and this is just as well. In this case, the cause was worthy and his intervention important, but the timing and manner in which it happened raises many questions.

There are many who read his public outburst as a calculated gambit, seeking to convert what would probably have been a huge embarrassment for the government had the President refused to sign the bill into a huge embarrassment for the government (but a personal triumph for Rahul Gandhi). It is seen as a desperate political move that seeks to deny the BJP credit for opposing the ordinance, while establishing Rahul’s credentials as a free thinker determined to do the right thing. If this is indeed so, and it is certainly possible that it is, then perhaps Rahul should get some credit for being a shrewd political opportunist, willing to take high-risk bets in order to salvage a lost cause. 

The trouble with this is that it suggests that Rahul Gandhi took a deliberate studied view and acted decisively, if surprisingly. What does not fit is the notion that he was fully in control of his actions, and knew exactly what he was doing. Given that there were any number of options available to him if he wanted to intercede, including the choice of manner and language used, it does seem that the act of crashing a Press Conference and speaking with such pent-up disdain suggests that he acted out an untethered impulse. A seasoned politician would have played things differently; it would have been possible to generate the same effect with considerably greater finesse. In fact, had Rahul Gandhi been a power-hungry aspirant for the top job, he could have waltzed into the role anytime he wanted. .. 
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