“Would you agree that sometimes Rahul Gandhi can be his own worst enemy?” Pertie’s question, I suddenly realised, was perhaps the correct explanation for Rahul Gandhi’s recent behaviour.
It’s more than adequate, if not actually perfect, for the things he’s said in his recent speeches or the earlier press conference that scuppered the government’s ordinance.
Take, for example, his Indore speech where he suddenly and mysteriously revealed that an intelligence officer had told him that some 10-15 Muslim boys in Muzaffarnagar had been contacted by Pakistani intelligence and could fall under its influence. This statement raised several concerns Rahul Gandhi could not have intended.
First, why were intelligence officers briefing him? As a mere MP, who hasn’t taken an oath of secrecy, he is not entitled to intelligence briefings.
Second, as vice-president of Congress, was he merely reporting the development or has he also done something about it?
Third, and most importantly, his statement seemed to convert Muslim victims of communal violence into potential perpetrators of Pakistani-inspired terror. No wonder so many reacted angrily.
The paradox is that Rahul Gandhi intended to be sympathetic. He is genuinely concerned about the Muslim community. But that’s not how it turned out. Had he thought more carefully about what he wanted to say he may have spoken differently or not spoken at all.
Or he might have spoken more fully thus clarifying what he meant. Instead he ended up raising questions about his intentions and annoyed those he wanted to reach out to. Isn’t that a classic case of being your own worst enemy?
Rahul’s reference to his grandmother’s assassination is another example. He spoke of his anger when his grandmother was assassinated by ‘friends’ who had taught him badminton.
No doubt his intention was to talk about the trauma of loss and the senselessness of communal violence whilst suggesting he shares the pain of others who have similarly suffered. But, in the process, he exposed himself to the question ‘Was he equally angry when thousands of Sikhs were butchered on the streets of Delhi at the alleged instigation of Congress MPs and workers, as many believe?’ He should have known this would be asked.
No doubt Rahul is right when he accuses the BJP and Modi of seeking political gain from communal violence but he forgets that in 1984 his father’s behaviour was no different. In the elections that followed Congress advertisements asked ‘Do you want the border to move to your doorstep?’ and ‘Are you scared of the taxi driver at night?’, a thinly-disguised allusion to the Sikhs. HKL Bhagat served in Rajiv Gandhi’s Cabinet despite concerns about his role in the killings. And Rajiv himself was the author of that chilling explanation ‘When a big tree falls ...’.
Politicians need to be circumspect. They need to be careful with their references. Their analogies need to be well-considered. Rahul, instead, raises questions, if not doubts, about himself. It first happened at his press conference which provoked damaging questions about his judgement. Since then it has recurred frequently. Is that not being your own worst enemy?
Consequently, the image he has created is not comforting. Often unshaven, his sleeves roughly rolled-up, his manner hectoring, he comes across as an angry middle-aged man, not the reassuring politician one hopes could lead the country out of its present crisis.
Pertie is right when he suggests this is of Rahul’s doing. He can change it whenever he wants. But will he?
(Views expressed by the author are personal)