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Blaming the question paper

What the nation wants to know is, how does Rahul Gandhi propose to achieve what he and the nation want?

Published:February 14, 2014 3:16 am
What the nation wants to know is what Rahul Gandhi and his UPA team have done to “change the system”. (PTI) What the nation wants to know is what Rahul Gandhi and his UPA team have done to “change the system”. (PTI)

Rahul Gandhi cannot get away with wandering generalities on empowering women and changing the system

By any yardstick, Rahul Gandhi’s maiden interview did little to improve his image. Viewers were perplexed and bewildered by his persistent refusal to give a single direct answer to questions asked by an uncharacteristically polite Arnab Goswami. In a pitiable attempt at damage control, Mani Shankar Aiyar has vented his ire in an astonishing article (‘What Rahul wants’, IE, February 11). He begins by viciously attacking Arnab as the “most superficial anchor on English TV” and proceeds to call him banal, trivial and an imbecile. After heaping scorn on the anchor for one-and-a-half columns, Aiyar proceeds to extol the virtues of the panchayati raj, which have apparently been understood only by three Indians — Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul and, of course, Aiyar himself.

Aiyar, surprisingly, blames Rahul Gandhi’s media managers for having “chosen” Goswami for the maiden interview. Did his media managers ask Arnab to conduct the interview? Why did they fail to choose other, and presumably less superficial, anchors? Aiyar, who is frequently interviewed by other channels, was unfortunately not consulted. Rahul’s media managers must now make a careful survey of all Hindi and other regional language anchors. Only those who can “plumb the profound”, and hitherto hidden, depths of Rahul Gandhi’s vision, must be chosen. After all, the nation must know what Rahul really wants. Aiyar’s article in this newspaper will, sadly, be read only by the tiny English-speaking twittering classes and not by the broad masses that speak Hindi and regional languages.

Mani Shankar Aiyar, like Rahul Gandhi, has failed to understand the elementary difference between an interview and a lecture. Despite being repeatedly asked to give a specific answer, Rahul did not do so. If Rahul Gandhi is asked about his view on Narendra Modi and the Godhra riots, that question must be answered. Questions, even from a superficial, banal and imbecile anchor, at least deserve a brief pit-stop of an answer. The answer to a question about the Sikh riots in 1984 simply cannot be about the need to empower women and “change the system”. Aiyar’s anger reminds one of the student whose failure is sought to be justified by blaming the question paper.

To be fair, Rahul Gandhi’s interview did bring out his anguish over corruption in Indian politics. His role in scrapping an atrocious ordinance will help keep several criminals out of our elected assemblies. What Rahul wants, as came out sincerely in the interview, is to change the system that has “trapped the energy” of India’s youth, that is unfair to the people and has failed to empower women.

But what the nation wants to know is what Rahul Gandhi and his UPA team have done to “change the system”. Rahul Gandhi wants India to be a manufacturing superpower. But does Rahul Gandhi have any idea what steps should be taken to achieve this much-needed goal? Has he reflected, even for a brief while, on how India’s manufacturing sector has been ruthlessly killed by a ridiculous tax system? Has Rahul Gandhi wondered why the RTI-MGNREGA paradigm, as he put it, has neither tackled unemployment nor created national assets? Why is the economy lurching from crisis to crisis and continuously in intensive care? And this, despite having a finance minister who undoubtedly knows more about economics than can be written on a postage stamp.

Aiyar’s claim is that India’s salvation lies in the panchayati raj and seeks to give Rajiv Gandhi credit for the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments that introduced Part-IX and IX-A in the Constitution (Articles 243 to 243G) in 1991. But Article 40 of the Constitution, in existence from 1950, mandates the need to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as are necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government. What prevented Rahul’s great grandfather and grandmother and successive Congress-led coalitions from making panchayati raj a reality? Aiyar has an incredible answer: an indifferent and uncaring bureaucracy, which is “deadly opposed” (sic) to the devolution of power. And what prevented Congress and UPA ministers from implementing panchayati raj? Aiyar’s answer now transcends the incredible: the wicked, wicked bureaucrats played on the naivete of these ministers and frightened them off!

What Rahul really wants is also what every Indian wants. A change in the way our entire system works, a change in the way our legislature, executive and judiciary function. What the nation wants to know is, how does Rahul Gandhi propose to achieve what he and the nation want? What the nation does not want are wandering generalities about empowering  women, inclusive growth and changing the system; what the nation wants to know are the meaningful specifics that Rahul Gandhi has to offer.

Aiyar fails to acknowledge that our Constitution has indeed “given the tools” to our politicians, but they have miserably failed to “finish the job”. (Sadly, Aiyar does not acknowledge Churchill’s 1941 broadcast for these words.) In the end, nothing can better explain the anger that most Indians feel for the last decade that has been wrecked by the UPA than by paraphrasing Emerson: “Do not tell us what you propose to do because what you have done thunders so loudly in our ears that we cannot hear you to the contrary.”

Arvind P. Datar. The writer is a senior advocate of the Madras High Court

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