Call it poor timing. Why didn’t Rahul Gandhi disappear before last year’s general elections? Had he gone away then and returned as he has now with a quicksilver tongue lashing the BJP, he may well have doubled his party’s contribution to the Lok Sabha from 44 to 88 MPs. The Congress must be rueful and the NDA relieved that Rahul “baba” has found his voice so late in the day.
Not that they’re enjoying the sound of him, by the looks of it. When the camera panned to the treasury benches in the Lok Sabha, Tuesday, during Rahul Gandhi’s speech on the land acquisition bill, they were staring at him like Macbeth did at Banquo’s ghost — with horror (Lok Sabha TV). L.K. Advani, solitary in the front row, seemed dazed, Union Minister for Rural Development Birender Singh bemused, a frozen smile on his lips.
Since his return in April, Rahul G is enjoying himself in Parliament; earlier he gave the impression of being there on sufferance. Where he was once stiff, grim and a reluctant speaker, he is now relaxed, grinning and fluent. He’s acquired self-confidence — and a thick skin. On Tuesday, he took the BJP’s barbs in his stride (“boliye, boliye”) and shushed Sonia Gandhi with, “relax Mom”. He pulled out what have now become his stock phrases — a trick he may have learnt from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who used repetition so effectively during last year’s election campaign — “suit-boot ki sarkar”, “udyogpati dost”, “crony capitalists” (“ha ha”, roared the BJP), “kisan virodhi, garib virodhi”.
That he also made errors — shaky on net neutrality, the Amethi food park, for instance — has dented his performance in Parliament but in the race of one-upmanship and perceptions, he’s Lewis Hamilton to the government’s Nico Rosberg (Formula 1’s leading drivers). It’s as though the BJP knew how to ridicule and handle the old Rahul G but have been disarmed by the reinvented Gandhi, momentarily at least. Well might they say, come back Rahul Gandhi of old, all is forgiven.
Lok Sabha TV runs the day’s highlights in Parliament each evening and if you watch the one-hour show, you may get to hear Hema Malini on the plight of the aged. Rajya Sabha TV does the same.
It also has a highly watchable nightly news bulletin and intelligent, sober discussions on subjects seldom discussed on private news channels — for example, the regular foreign affairs programme with journalist Bharat Bhushan. Discussions on international issues beyond China and Pakistan are few and far between on private news TV — are we that insular?
Nepal was struck by another earthquake on Tuesday, but mercifully the loss of life and property was much less this time. That may explain why Indian news channels didn’t catch the next flight out to Kathmandu but sensibly carried Nepal TV footage of the shocks and their aftermath. Instead, they concentrated on the tremors in India — CNBC Awaaz was in Jaipur, while News 24 visited Laxmi Nagar in Delhi, where it found three-four tier structures divided by the narrowest of lanes. If a high-intensity earthquake strikes, where will people run?
Recommendation: watch EPIC channel. Shows like Dharmakshetra and Kahi Suni go back to Indian myths in an entirely new format.
Dharmakshetra is set after the battle in the Mahabharat and asks the main characters to defend their actions — an old-fashioned Aap ki Adalat. Kahi Suni revisits places like Chitrakoot, which are the stuff of legend, and recreates their for us with the help of scholars.