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Triumph of public opinion

Triumph of public opinion
Highlights

Triumph of Public Opinion. Yes. It is nonsense. Shielding politicians who are convicted is truly nonsensical. But undermining a Prime Minister who is on a very important foreign trip with a rude snub is utter nonsense. Ordinance Bill, Rahul Gandhi, K Ramachandra Murthy Review

If we have to thank any one, besides Rahul Gandhi, for the U-turn of the UPA-II, it is President Pranab Mukherjee who was skeptical about the move and summoned three Cabinet Ministers who have not opened their mouth ever since they visited Rashtrapati Bhavan

Triumph of Public Opinion  Yes. It is nonsense. Shielding politicians who are convicted is truly nonsensical. But undermining a Prime Minister who is on a very important foreign trip with a rude snub is utter nonsense. The way the objection was raised by the scion of the ruling family is complete nonsense. How to make sense of this nonsense? The most sensible thing that has happened, after all, was the triumph of public opinion in favour of the Supreme Court judgment.

The Court was right in calling Section 8(4) of the Representation of People Act, 1951, as unconstitutional. Section 8(4) states that an MP or an MLA cannot be disqualified from Parliament or State legislature on conviction in a criminal case if he or she files an appeal in the appropriate court within three months and the court stays the conviction. Circumventing the SC judgment would have been a travesty of the Constitution and democracy. The rollback enacted by the UPA-II on the unpopular Ordinance meant to safeguard convicted lawmakers is a healthy development although it could have been done in a dignified manner.

Something good has happened to Indian democracy. A wrong has been averted in time. But the way it happened was in bad taste. Withdrawing the controversial Ordinance and deciding to kill the Bill, which was aimed at diluting the Supreme Court judgment and which would have given a leeway to shady politicians, has to be welcomed. The dissent expressed by Rahul Gandhi (RG) is quite understandable. But the idiom in which he did it is not.

RG could have forced the UPA-II to withdraw the Ordinance without throwing tantrums. He could have spoken to his mother and the Prime Minister. He could have met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh soon after his return from New York, which in fact he did, and explained the need to take the dirty Ordinance back. That would have spared Singh humiliation when he was on a very important and delicate mission abroad. The young man should have offered apology to the PM for the furious critique. He expressed only regret. It reflects poorly on RG, not Singh.

Triumph of Public Opinion

Why did RG do what he did? The impetuous intervention at Press Club of India last Friday may have been a desperate act intended to control the damage to the party and to deny credit to the Opposition for stopping the Ordinance in its tracks. But the grandstanding by the Prime Minister-in-waiting completely undermined the authority of the incumbent who was on a prestigious tour during which he met President Obama of the US, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh.

Rahul barged, so to say, into the “Meet the Press” programme and made his colleague Ajay Maken, media manager at the AICC, eat his words. He virtually roasted Singh, cut him into pieces and served them to stunned media persons at their own club. All this in a few minutes and fewer words! Ajay Maken who was explaining to journalists the need for the Ordinance and its constitutional validity and political propriety received a call from RG. Maken went out and returned to the meeting with his boss. RG spoke briefly, saying bluntly with a straight face that the Ordinance is “complete nonsense” and it deserved to be “torn up and thrown out”.

He repeated it for effect. He thus rubbished an executive decision of the Cabinet presided over by the PM and approved by the Core Committee headed by Sonia Gandhi, his mother. If he was so upset with the content of the Ordinance and keen to purify politics, he could have objected to the Bill before it was tabled in Parliament or to the Ordinance before it was sent to the President.

As Singh reportedly told RG Wednesday morning, the Bill was discussed first and the Ordinance later. It was cleared by the Core Committee. Singh is understood to have asked RG where he was when the Bill and Ordinance were debated at the highest level. He has also said that, without express permission of Sonia Gandhi, the Cabinet could not have prepared and approved the Bill or the Ordinance. Singh has his own gentle way of putting across his opinion. He does not believe in scoring points. He told media persons who were traveling with him on his way back home from New York: “I think that is what democracy is about. I don’t think we are an authoritarian structure where one person lays down the line all the way and, therefore, my humble feeling is that when a point of view has been expressed, we must sit together and understand what is agitating the mind of the person who has raised the issue and what we can do about it”. So, the PM must have seen the “strength” in RG’s argument and agreed to abandon the Ordinance. The fact that President Pranab Mukherjee also did not approve the way the Ordinance was sought to be promulgated must have reinforced the argument against it.

If we have to thank any one, besides Rahul Gandhi, for the U-turn of the UPA-II, it is President Pranab Mukherjee who was skeptical about the move and summoned three Cabinet Ministers who have not opened their mouth ever since they visited Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Kapil Sibal, talkative and ebullient Minister in charge of law was, unusually, silent on this score. RG’s outburst may have had something to do with the stance adopted by the President.

No doubt, the idea of the Ordinance was unpopular. People and the media, in particular, were totally against it. The BJP, the principal Opposition, did not object to the content of the Bill though it forced the government to refer it to a Parliamentary committee and consistently opposed the Ordinance. Its secret wish was that President Mukherjee would sign the Ordinance so that it could rail against the ruling party in the election campaign. In a way, RG saved the party by his intervention. Otherwise, the Congress would have faced the wrath of the people in the five States that are scheduled to go to polls in November. BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad was seen upset over the turn of events when he went on saying that the dynasty was more important than the Prime Minister or his Cabinet.

Singh, who has been bearing the cross for almost a decade to keep the dynasty in power, was humiliated by a person who is younger than him by 40 years, and in a way that no Opposition leader had done.

BJP leaders have been calling him inefficient, spineless and shameless. That was only expected of the Opposition. But getting stabbed in the back by a young man who happens to be the son of the lady who put him on the throne to be her proxy was something unimaginable. It was a bolt from the blue; more so when the person is the one for whom he has kept the seat warm and under whom he is willing to serve the party.

The smile or the humility visible on the face of RG is perhaps cultivated. The real characteristics of the person are revealed when he is off guard. Crudeness and intemperate rage may be his natural attributes. It is in his blood. Old-timers remember the way Rahul’s father, Rajiv Gandhi, humiliated Anjaiah and Veerendra Patil when they were chief ministers. Rajiv openly insulted his own foreign secretary whom he dismissed at a press conference.

Venkateswaran, who is now 87 and living in Bangalore, was present at the press meet where Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in 1987, told a Pakistani journalist that soon he would be talking to a new foreign secretary. Venkateswaran, an upright and erudite diplomat, quit the service the same day. Rajiv’s jibe at Jyoti Basu boomeranged. He also called the Planning Commission a bunch of jokers when its deputy chairman was none other than Manmohan Singh. That was why the PM said, during his chat with media persons, that he is used to ups and downs and does not get easily upset. Sonia has a better sense of balance than the father and son. In an attempt to apply balm on the grievous wound, she thundered at a public meeting in Karnataka on Monday, “I want to tell them (BJP) that the whole party stands behind our PM.” She is the glue which has been successfully keeping the UPA intact.

Rajiv was on a learning curve for some years and soon caught up with the nuances of political management. After his Haryana faux pas "Naani yaad Dilaayenge”, he was not found again with foot in his mouth. Rahul, on the contrary, has been around for almost ten years and he does not seem to have learnt a bit. His public appearances and utterances have been clumsy, to say the least. The hit-and-run tactics adopted by the unshaven “angry middle aged messiah whose wisdom would follow, not precede, his anointment”, as described by senior journalist BG Verghese, do not enhance his image. Political communication is all about the leader’s ability to imprint his policy, style and character on the people. It is a continuous and dedicated engagement. A civil servant-turned-politician who has been working closely with RG told me in Delhi recently that “Rahul Gandhi would make the best Prime Minister the country ever had”.

RG has not yet convinced the people of this country of his ability to understand and solve issues. He has not given any evidence of a vision on any of the myriad problems the country is facing.

There have been so many crises faced by the country in the last nine and half years that his family has been at the helm, but he has never intervened in any of them. Nor did he make any serious attempt to find a solution.

He does not give an impression that he is involved in grimy world of realpolitik. He tries to paint himself outside it. But some day or other, he has to get into that world and master the tricks to continue the family legacy.

It was RG who insisted that secret ballot had to be held to elect chief minister of Karnataka. Siddaramaiah was elected by Congress MLAs and not nominated through a sealed cover from Delhi. The person with whom I interacted in Delhi told me that RG is a task master and would make his team work very hard to meet the set goals and to keep to the timeline. Had he taken up one burning issue and resolved it, the people would have believed in him.

In the wake of the developments in regard to the Ordinance, we have to assume that there is a method in RG’s ostensibly unorganized ways. There was a sense in his calling the Ordinance a “complete nonsense”. By his intervention, he did a great service to parliamentary democracy in the country.

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