If there’s one thing you expect of those who could be prime minister it’s a sense of judgement. Last week I realised that our two most likely candidates don’t seem to have it. Worse, they make a public spectacle of displaying their lack of judgement. It’s an ominous portent.
Let’s start with Rahul Gandhi. I have no doubt his criticism of the government’s ordinance ‘protecting’ convicted legislators is correct. It was also necessary. The problem is how he delivered it, where and when.
It’s immature if not also inexplicable for an aspiring prime ministerial candidate to criticise his government and prime minister in public. To do so in a cavalier fashion by barging into someone else’s press conference is simply bizarre. And to do it when the prime minister is in the US, hours away from meeting Obama and preparing for a summit with Nawaz Sharif, is not just thoughtless but damaging of India’s credibility. Rahul Gandhi is guilty of all that.
If he had judgement he would have spoken to the prime minister quietly. If he had judgement he would not have embarrassed the government — not to mention his own mother — by his intemperate outburst. If he had judgement he would not have weakened India’s hand as its chief executive meets the American president and the Pakistani prime minister.
So even if what Rahul Gandhi said was correct and the scrapping of the ordinance desirable, how he went about it not only diminished him but raised damaging questions about his capabilities. He’s dealt himself a debilitating blow he will find difficult to recover from. The best he can hope for is forgiveness.
Now come to Narendra Modi. As an opposition leader he has every right to criticise the prime minister and it’s his prerogative to do so where, when and how he wants. But if the facts he relies on are wrong he will only show himself up. That’s exactly what Modi did.
Would a wise man rely on a Youtube clip of a Pakistani journalist’s comment on a private meeting held behind closed doors to publicly criticise the prime minister? Should a prime ministerial aspirant have been so impetuous and rash?
If Modi had judgement he would have sought corroboration of Hamid Mir’s comment before accepting its veracity. If Modi had judgement he would have felt restrained by Barkha Dutt’s forceful disclaimer and denial. But he was so keen to embarrass the prime minister he rushed headlong into an error of his own making.
Unfortunately, he did it twice. He also ridiculed the prime minister for projecting India as a poor country to President Obama. He claimed the PM was marketing poverty. Once again, he was wrong.
In his statement to the media the prime minister said “I explained to the President that India is a poor country”. He added that India’s basic task is “to get rid of mass poverty, ignorance and disease” and “improve the standard of living of our people”. First, India’s poverty is a fact. Second, the PM’s words do not amount to marketing.
The nautanki Modi enacted was meant to ridicule Manmohan Singh. Instead, it made the Gujarat chief minister look silly. Worse, it corroborates the belief he gets his facts wrong.
It may sound odd but both men need to grow up. Few would disagree in Rahul Gandhi’s case. But isn’t Modi’s desperate desire to humiliate the prime minister equally infantile? Adults behave differently.
Frankly, neither man deserves to be prime minister.
Views expressed by the author are personal