May 10, 2009 12:35:33 am
There is a story behind the usually reserved Rahul Gandhi agreeing to hold an open press conference for the entire Delhi media last Tuesday. A week earlier,Gandhi invited half a dozen political editors to meet him. He cautioned that anything written about the interaction should be first vetted by his office. Most of the journalists had assumed the briefing was off-the-record,but one of them had taken notes and sent her copy in question-answer form for approval. Gandhis office,after clearing the piece,forwarded her notes to all those who had attended the briefing,to her understandable annoyance. Meanwhile,the Congresss media cell in-charge,Veerappa Moily,was inundated by complaints from journalists that Delhi-based English language newspapers had been given preference,while the regional press,which has a far bigger reach,was left out.
It was felt best to call a press conference. Particularly as there was a need to clear up the confusion over Gandhis comment at the earlier briefing that the party was prepared to sit in the opposition,which implied the Congress was losing ground. (General Secretary Digvijay Singh picked up Gandhis statement and repeated it in an interview,further embarrassing the Congress.) To make amends,Gandhi made it clear at the press conference that he thought the Congress would do much better than the NDA. But at the same time,his naïve remarks suggesting exploring tie-ups with opposition leaders,such as Nitish Kumar,Jayalalithaa and Chandrababu Naidu,set the cat among the pigeons. Moily,as a consequence,has lost his job.
Rahul Gandhis Hindi is not as fluent as his sister Priyankas,who gives credit to Amitabh Bachchans mother Teji Bachchan for having taught her to read Hindi poetry. Rahul adds English words to Hindi sentences,which sound awkward at times. For example,NDA exist karta hai,BJP ka mind mein (The NDA exists only in the BJPs imagination). Actually,even Gandhis public school boy English with the typically British under-statement is out of sync with the normal Indian politicians strong language. Some were taken aback when Gandhi referred to his fathers murderers with the rather mild remark,I am not particularly fond of the LTTE. Similarly,his statement on the expected performance of the Congress in the poll sounded lukewarm: I think we are going to do pretty well.
Electing to forget
The extremely courteous Rahul Gandhi was rattled only once at his press conference,when a journalist inquired why there had been no elections in the last five years to the Congress Working Committee and the Congress parliamentary board,though he claimed his aim was to bring democracy into the party. Gandhi snapped that it was a slow process and the election process had begun in the Youth Congress units in Punjab and Gujarat. The reference to Gujarat was unfortunate,since recent elections to the youth body in the state ended up in fist fights in both Ahmedabad and Surat. The police had to be called and the elections countermanded in these two centres.
A discussion at the BCCI on the discourtesy of cricketers M.S. Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh,who failed to show up for their Padma award ceremonies at Rashtrapati Bhavan ,brought to light the fact that while the BCCI had recommended Dhonis name for an award,it had not suggested Bhajjis name. It appears that Harbhajan Singhs name was pushed by Sports Minister M.S. Gill,despite his record of bad sportsmanship,including slapping Sreesanth last year. Gill exhibited a similar streak of high highhandedness in including young MPs Sachin Pilot and Deepender Hooda in the Delhi and District Cricket
Association,when he was asked by the Congress to nominate Jyotiraditya Scindia and Rajiv Shukla.
Coming into his own
Manmohan Singh did not want to fight the Lok Sabha election because he was disillusioned after his experience in 1999,when he stood for the South Delhi parliamentary seat against Vijay Kumar Malhotra and lost. Singh harbours the suspicion that his own party sabotaged his chances. The Congress was so skeptical of the PMs vote-attracting abilities that it did not make much use of the Prime Minister in the campaigns for assembly elections,including in Punjab. But the huge attendance by farmers at two election rallies in Punjab recently has demonstrated that Singh is finally a star draw in his own right in his home state. The slogans raised by the crowds were only for him,and no one else in the party.
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