Fall between two stools

Fall between two stools

Two stories have had a parallel run this week. One is L’affaire Venkaiah Naidu, which is a self-inflicted wound for the BJP leader.

Two stories have had a parallel run this week. One is L’affaire Venkaiah Naidu, which is a self-inflicted wound for the BJP leader. The other is Rahul Gandhi going underground, which is a professional compulsion for the Congress party’s crown prince.

Venkaiah Naidu is not good at Hindi, though he has been around the national scene for more than two decades. Like it is said of Ghantasala that in whatever language he sang, the song sounded like a Telugu song, Naidu’s Hindi-speak is mostly a play of words in a sing-song fashion that brings smile to every Telugu face. He enjoys his act, and, in fact, takes pride in telling the uninitiated in public speech that his audience from Nellore to Najafgarh laps up Naiduism. I distinctly remember one such Naidu word play.

Addressing a rally at Kadapa during the days of the agitation for separate Andhra, he said the state must get rid of snakes (Pamulaparti Narasimha Rao, the Chief Minister of the day) and scorpions (Tella Lakshmikantamma, who was said to wield much influence those days). His audience thoroughly enjoyed his dig and lustily cheered him.

Over the years, Naidu has perfected his pun laced around Telugu idiom as any reporter on the BJP beat can testify. Consider this Naidu-speak in the Lok Sabha on Feb 25 while on the issue of development. “Without creating wealth, if you distribute the wealth, it will not work. Telugu people say ‘Panchaali, panchaali’, which means ‘Distribute, distribute’. I say, ‘Penchaali, penchaali’, which means ‘Increase, increase’ production. If you do ‘Panchaali’ without ‘Penchaali’, you will be left with ‘Puncha’ which means loincloth. This is a reality”.

Needless to say, his audience was in splits cutting across party lines. It was an occasion that demonstrated that one need not be a Naidu camp follower to enjoy his banter even when he tells the TRS to take VRS. Also demonstrated was an increasing inability of the Congress to enjoy a joke at its own cost, more so when it involved the heir–apparent. It is this inability that made Naidu eat his words. Well, he committed blasphemy of sorts when he said, “If they could not introspect here they should go somewhere far” though he didn’t directly refer to Rahul Gandhi going underground for a “chintan” on the Congress future.

Politicians are known to go underground when they plan to directly challenge the authority of the State and usher in a ‘revolution.’ It is no body’s case that Rahul Gandhi is cut in that classic mode. So it is difficult to venture a guess about the result from his ‘sabbatical’ for ‘a few weeks’, which coincided with the beginning of the budget session of Parliament. Where he has ‘disappeared’ remains a Sudoku.

Some say he is in the hills of Uttarakhand even as speculation is ripe that he is abroad somewhere in Venezuela or Colombia. For the record, the party maintains that Rahul would utilise this period to come out with a blueprint to revive the family fiefdom.

When the 44-year-old Nehru-Gandhi scion was made Congress Vice-President in the Pink City, many had expected him to take over from his mother within days, if not weeks. Congress members were hopeful that Rahul would provide the kind of leadership that the party urgently needed to remain a political force. But he failed to generate much enthusiasm among the cadres or raise an army of energetic mid-level leaders. He did come up with some fancied ideas like, for instance, selecting candidates on the American pattern of primaries. All those chosen through that method had lost the election.

As Aarti Ramachandan says in her “Decoding Rahul Gandhi” (Tranquebar Press 2012), he remained an enigma all these years “between the adulation and sycophancy of Congressmen on the one hand and the ridicule and contempt of the Opposition on the other. Sobriquets like reclusive and reluctant politician served him well and inability of the media to decipher him became his USP till troubles started with the downhill journey of the party.”

Political pundits attribute the Congress party’s troubles to Sonia Gandhi’s penchant not to disturb the status quo in the party, which inter alia means, allowing the party to be run in the traditional way. Digvijay Singh, the self-anointed “Raj Guru” of Rahul Gandhi, has lent credence to this theory. “Rahul wanted to adopt the Kejriwal methods but he was not allowed to do,” he said and thus put an ideological spin on the palace intrigue.

Kamalnath, given his grooming in the Sanjay Gandhi School, is more direct and to the point. “The Congress is falling between two stools,” he said in an interview. He declared that diarchy is not working, and made an open call for “full command” to Rahul. But the Jayanti Natarajan’s chargesheet against Rahul has a different message; it is that Rahul and his youthful cronies have been in full control of the party affairs in the run-up to the last Lok Sabha election and even afterwards.

Simply put, there is more to the story than meets the eye. The likes of veterans like Veerappa Moily are batting for an active role for Sonia “as before” but there is no plea, as yet at least, for induction of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. It reflects a new shift in the loyalties, and pops up the question: Are some leaders seeking to acquire power? If so, for what purpose, when the Delhi verdict has clearly demonstrated that AAP has acquired the Congress space. This enigma will continue till the AICC session takes place.

For the present, true to her style, Sonia Gandhi is not speaking her mind. Young Turks of the party. Her mood should have silenced the critics, like in old days. But it has not. In fact, they have gone to the town demanding that some senior office-bearers – one of them a known trusted Sonia aide – be changed. For the next act in the play, we have to await Rahul’s return from the underground.

By: Malladi Rama Rao

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