By Aditya Sinha/Mid Day
I’ve changed my mind about Rahul Gandhi. The Congress vice-president was often in the crosshairs of my writing during the past decade. He publicly threatened a lawsuit against me for a story I did that questioned his 1994 Cambridge MPhil. I published his marksheet and he countered with his degree, signed 2004.
His mom Sonia is also wary of me. Shortly after the 2008 Mumbai attack, I wrote a satirical column about the way the then Home Minister Shivraj Patil kept changing his clothes while visiting scenes of the attack; I said he wanted to impress his party president with his sartorial charm. They threatened another lawsuit. I repeatedly referred to Rahul as a ‘princeling’, a term used for Chinese Communist Party brats.
Not only have I travelled a distance, but my view on Rahul has undergone a paradigm shift. It is not a result of hearing him at Berkeley, California, last week, though clearly he did well there. He critiqued the Government of India without resorting to insult or abuse. Rahul was so disarmingly candid that the BJP government in Lutyens Delhi panicked and held a press conference to hurl personal insults at him.
The final straw was the assassination of activist-rationalist-journalist Gauri Lankesh (the CCTV cameras indicate she was killed in a planned manner by a trained shooter). Enough is enough. The gang in power must go.
Others are still shaking their heads. They are impatient with Rahul for not acting fast or decisively to revive his party to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah in the 2019 Parliamentary election. They perhaps buy into the BJP narrative that Rahul’s not up to the job or lacks the grey matter for it. Hopefully, they will soon snap out of it.
My reassessment of Rahul is not because of the ‘anyone is better than Modi’ argument, though that is a given. It is also not a calculation that Rahul will lead the next government, given Modi’s self-inflicted fatal injury of demonetisation that has pushed the economy into free fall, and given Modi’s broken promises of job creation (no wonder the youth are voting against his Sangh Parivar, if the campus elections in Delhi, JNU and Guwahati are anything to go by).
It is a no-brainer to say that Rahul Gandhi is more dignified than the crass and nasty Modi. Perhaps no one noticed it because of Dr Manmohan Singh’s quiet dignity. In any case, it is obvious to increasingly more voters that Modi’s taunts and abuses were mistaken in 2014 for toughness and determination.
Modi’s reliance on clever acronyms makes clear his disdain for wisdom. It reinforces the suspicion that demonetisation was not deliberated or calibrated, but an ill-advised move that he blindly jumped into.
Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan felt that demonetisation would hurt the economy in the short-run without long-run benefits and was not offered the usual two-year extension of tenure; Modi prefers his own decisiveness to expert advice.
The BJP rumor machine manufactures lies about Rahul (and he mentioned this at Berkeley). They say he is disinterested, he is reluctant, he would rather holiday abroad, that his sister is smarter, etc.
The nastiest lies have been disproved in court, but unemployed trolls like Subramanian Swamy nevertheless continually recirculate them. To Rahul’s credit, he does not get bogged down countering each and every bit of calumny.
I think Rahul is basically an introvert. This is not meant as psycho-babble to generate sympathy, but as a fact of life. Some humans are introverts. Perhaps Rahul would have stuck to investment banking had he not belonged to a political family.
Despite being an introvert, he still manages to attempt a shake-up of India’s oldest political party or to address massive election rallies.
And he’s not a bully. At Berkeley, he honestly answered questions from the audience. Modi, on the other hand, doesn’t even meet the press, disparaging the media with such vehemence that his troll machine takes the cue and substitutes abuse for argument. Heck, Modi doesn’t even take questions from his own partymen, as Member of Parliament Nana Patole said a fortnight ago.
Clearly, Rahul will not hesitate to take aboard some strong hands when he forms a government. (I hopes he makes Rajan finance minister.) This is a clear contrast to Modi, an insecure man who can only head a Cabinet of duds. Even fellow traveller Arvind Panagariya had to leave.
A pessimist might say that even if Rahul as PM did absolutely nothing, he would still be better than Modi. But I am optimistic. The Delhi deputy chief minister who worries there will be no alternative to Modi in 2019 will be proved wrong. It is likely that Rahul’s government will never plumb the depths of incompetence we currently see. Thus, I’ve changed my mind about Rahul.
(Aditya Sinha is a senior Indian journalist, editor and novelist)