BJP leaders, including Narendra Modi, might dismiss Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s toffee and balloon analogies as the obsession of a child. But, I believe, at least the toffee question needs to be answered. Gandhi does make a relevant point when he says one can get only a toffee in India for `1 and an industrial house in Gujarat has been sold acres of prime land at just `1 per square metre. I can see that neither Modi nor his acolytes have a serious answer to that challenge.
Coming to the balloon remark, I first heard it from NCP president Sharad Pawar. He made a similar remark last year when Modi was making a case for himself as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. “His is a phuga (balloon) which with one tochni (pinprick) will run out of gas,” Pawar had said in Marathi. The Congress vice-president’s remarks are only a polished English/Hindi version of the same.
Pawar’s remarks can certainly not be dismissed as the obsession of a political novice. Though the Maratha strongman is not contesting the Lok Sabha elections this time, what he says and does has to count for something. So we have one political formation — the UPA — which has a combination of youth and experience with the youngest and oldest leaders making a concerted bid to return to power.
On the campaign trail, I was surprised to see how the Congress and the NCP — barring a couple of exceptions — are pulling together. Obviously instructions have gone down from the Congress leadership that the NCP president should be an important part of the UPA campaign. So even when Pawar is not present at a meeting, Congress candidates are acknowledging and talking about Pawar’s contribution to the UPA government. Even if Pawar was opposed to it, Congress leaders are stressing that the NCP president was the person behind the farm loan waiver scheme during UPA 1. Even chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who is not a fan of Pawar, has been showering praises on him and lauding his role in bringing relief to farmers during the recent hailstorm. Rahul Gandhi at various meetings stressed that the government, on Pawar’s advice, promptly released `4,000 crore for relief to farmers.
So at least I would not see any dissension on the part of Pawar when his helicopter conveniently developed a snag and he chose not to share the dais with Rahul Gandhi at Bombay on Sunday. It was earlier meant to be a joint rally with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. While Pawar has conquered his ego enough to cede first place to the Congress president at their joint rallies, I do not see how either the Congress or the NCP could have sorted out this matter differently when it came to the Congress vice-president.
Should Pawar, one of the senior-most political leaders in the country, have played second fiddle to Rahul at the other end of the spectrum? I do not think so. Moreover, clearly, the Congress, unlike the BJP, is not a party that disrespects or humiliates its elders. So I do not think even Rahul would have had problems with the fact that Pawar opted out of the meeting and sent junior leaders who better suited Rahul’s political stature instead of sharing the stage with him.
In the past, I have seen Sushilkumar Shinde while he was chief minister cede right of way to Pawar in terms of protocol. Shinde was clearly conscious of the fact that he began his political career under Pawar and could never tower over him. Earlier even BJP leader LK Advani and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would step back to offer Bal Thackeray precedence for they knew very well who held the masses’ attention.
Between Rahul and Pawar I do not know who might have been more spell-binding – neither is known for his demagoguery. It is just as well, then, that Pawar’s helicopter did not let him down. It was a very opportune technical snag, I should think!