Four years ago when Rahul Gandhi raised the issue of drugs in Punjab, I recall everybody laughed and poked fun at the Congress vice-president. “He must be hallucinating,” one sharp comment made the rounds on social media. Today, particularly after Pathankot, there is no doubt that drugs are a serious menace in Punjab.
Then, again, in 2013 Rahul was also lampooned for talking of ‘escape velocity’ in terms of bringing the Dalits out of penury and backwardness into wealth and progress. “He must be spaced out,” social media gloated. If only Rahul’s detractors had bothered to read up, they would have known that ‘escape velocity’ is a term being used more and more, often by economists, around the world as the new buzzword in macro-economics these days. Probably Rahul — or at least his aides — had been reading up far more than the rest of us and he was spot on again.
I, however, held my silence for it was very difficult to escape the kind of overwhelming lampooning of Rahul across all platforms. However, I have no hesitation in admitting that after last week’s interaction with the Gandhi scion in Bombay, I found him quite not spaced out.
Perhaps in need of better media management because even though he went all out and answered every question shot at him from all sides, he kept it strictly off the record — I am sure he could have gained much mileage had he allowed it all on air and in print.
“I will clam up if you want it on record,” he said, and I thought that was the essential problem with Rahul — the lack of confidence to take on the world without having to hide behind off-the-record interactions and the resultant malicious misrepresentations.
For example, after I tweeted my remarks about Rahul, I was snowed under with very nasty comments from his detractors, who gleefully told me that he did not know that Steve Jobs did not work for Microsoft. What happened was this - Rahul had been speaking to management students and what he actually said was: “You will be the Steve Jobs and the Microsofts of the future…” It was easy to secure the clippings of that on-record interaction and point out that there was a world of difference between ‘and’ and ‘of’ or even ‘in’ in terms of phonetics as well as grammar.
Rahul was in Bombay for a padyatra in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, where his father, Rajiv Gandhi, had been before, first as AICC general secretary and then as prime minister. I was a rookie reporter in those days and was just beginning to learn about politicians and their crowd-pulling tactics. Rajiv was always mobbed by thousands — the streets were jammed with delirious people and he walked all the way shaking hands with some, holding the hands of others, sometimes even little babies of ecstatic mothers — but what struck me is that Rahul should also draw the kind of crowds that his father did.
But both at the interaction and the padyatra, I thought something was missing — and then I got it over the weekend. I had walked with Rajiv all across Bombay when he started the padyatra style of campaign, particularly after he had ceased to be prime minister. When he was in office, I covered practically every event he attended in Bombay. At every point older than Rahul is today, charm oozed out of his every pore and he won hearts without difficulty.
Rahul, on the other hand, was as sincere and very earnest — but charming? Umm… well, I could have turned cynical in these decades but I think he needs to work on his charm offensive. With some escape velocity of his own!