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RaGa bowls a decent over

Rahul Gandhi never enjoyed the mass appeal his father Rajiv had. He is often dismissed as a handsome young man with limited intelligence and a restrictive attention span. Those close to him say he means right; but in politics, you have to be a marathon runner, not a sprinter.

The trouble for Rahul is he is never judged on merit. Today, in India, political antagonism runs so divisively deep that even sensible men break relationships, over a perceived dig at their political heroes. 

Rahul recently was at the University of  Berkely and what he spoke there, according to impassionate watchers, made sense. Should he have spoken frankly in a foreign soil? Should he have ventilated his criticism to non-Indians? These questions we will reserve for another time. 

Here are Gandhi’s six takes. 

1.On the Congress:  “the vision that we laid in 2004 was designed at best for a 10-year period.  It was clear that by the time we arrived in 2010-11 this concept was not working anymore. Somewhere around 2012, a certain arrogance crept into the Congress party, and they stopped having that conversation.”  If he is saying the Congress stopped being bothered about the people, it is astonishing candor and you must compliment him.  If you ask why he did not step in to stem the rot, it’s a question best answered by him.

2. On dynasty politics:  “most parties in India have the dynasty problem Akhilesh 

Yadav is a dynast. So is M K Stalin. Even Abhishek Bachchan is a dynast. By the way, the Ambanis are running their business. So don’t get after me because that’s how India is run. The real question is: is the person capable, is he sensitive?” Personally, I would give Gandhi a thumbs up for having the gall to say it as it is. And if it has hurt many back home, it’s because he hit the nail on the head. Mark it, Rahul, contrary to what some have been suggesting, never said he justifies it. 

3.On Modi’s foreign policy: “whereas I completely agree with their positioning as far as the ties with the US is concerned, I think they’re making India vulnerable because, if you look at Nepal, the Chinese are there. If you look at Burma, the Chinese are there; if you look at Sri Lanka, the Chinese are there; if you look at Maldives, the Chinese are there. So on primary direction of the foreign policy -- friendship with the United States.. I agree. But don’t isolate India, because it gets dangerous.” I think the statement is unexceptional and I believe the speech-writer did a good job. 

4.On religious polarisation: “the politics of polarisation has raised its ugly head in India. People are being lynched because they are Dalits. Muslims were killed on suspicion of eating beef. This is new in India and damages India very badly. Hatred, anger and violence can destroy us. Such politics of polarisation is dangerous.” Not much of what he said can be faulted. There are also acrimonies against the majority community and wantonly. That makes the point that much stronger.

5.On demonetisation, GST: “ignoring India’s tremendous institutional knowledge and taking such decisions is reckless. The government’s economic policies -- demonetisation and hastily-applied GST -- have caused tremendous damage. Millions of small businesses were wiped out, farmers who use cash were hit incredibly hard. Agriculture is in deep distress and farmers’ suicides have skyrocketed.” Personally, I may disagree with much of what Rahul said as the after effects, for I believe demonetisation is for the good of the nation, but the jury is out on the issue with famed economists sitting on either side of the divide. 

6.On Modi as Prime Minister: “I’m an opposition leader. But Mr. Modi is also my prime minister. Mr. Modi is a very good communicator. He understands how to give a message to three or four different groups in a crowd. So his messaging abilities are very subtle and very effective. What I sense is that he doesn’t converse with the people he works. Even BJP members of Parliament tell me that ‘Sunte Nahi Hain’ (he does not listen to us).”  This charge is what hurt the BJP most because it came tantalising close to reality!

All told, I didn’t find anything objectionable, except that he made this speech to an alien audience. All told there was little reason for men like Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad to drop everything in the sink and turn up at pressers to pour scorn.  

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