In one of the many informal chats we have had over the years, my good friend Sanjay Nirupam once spoke to me in utter astonishment about a discovery that he had made about his party president, Sonia Gandhi. Nirupam, who was a journalist before he entered politics, had first joined the Shiv Sena and developed a typical aggressive style. This style--he still carries some remnants of it--went against him when he tried to join the Congress with some partymen putting up a stiff resistance.
While he was with the Sena, he had made some uncharitable remarks about the Congress leadership. Nirupam, perhaps, expected that those indiscretions in the Sena might get in the way of his career in the Congress but he did end up getting a ticket for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and has now become a formidable Congress candidate from his Bombay North constituency. So Nirupam was taken aback to discover that he had been "forgiven" by Gandhi for his earlier indiscretions and exclaimed, "Yeh Gandhi parivar bada dayalu hai ("The Gandhi family is very generous!")
When I asked him to explain, he pointed to a particular old and infirm minister in the UPA 1 and said: "What is his contribution to the Cabinet? But Soniaji keeps in mind what he meant to the Congress and does not put him out to pasture as most other parties would have done." (That rather reminded me of the BJP's LK Advani whom his partymen are seeking to retire even before he is ready for it.) Nirupam was also impressed by the fact that Gandhi chooses to ignore personal abuse and does not hit back or seek revenge.
He should know. For Nirupam came to the Congress from a party known for its aggression and violence and had a leader not known for sweetness or lightness in criticism of, well, his critics: Bal Thackeray was ever full of venom and the most obscene and personal abuses against his perceived enemies.
The Gandhi and the Congress' style of functioning was also more genteel: the late Sunil Dutt chose to go to court to get an apology from Nirupam for heaping abuses upon him during the 2004 Lok Sabha polls; under similar circumstances, Thackeray would have dispatched goons to beat up his tormentor. While a court case is a lasting irritant, it is also an example of the gentlemanly behaviour of most Congressmen as opposed to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi referring to Sonia Gandhi in unflattering terms in 2004 as a Jersey cow and to Rahul Gandhi as her hybrid calf. That was something, again, the Congress president chose to ignore even as Congressmen burst an artery wondering how to get back at Modi. "I don't care," Sonia had told journalists in Solapur soon after. "This kind of thing only earns me the sympathies of the people."
Even Shashi Tharoor reacted in the same way when his wife was described as a multi-crore girtlfriend. The Tharoors' reaction was in sharp contrast to the uncouth Modi's. Even some BJP men had told me then that they disapproved of Modi's language, indeed many even openly sympathised with Tharoor.
So I agreed with political activist and former member of the Bombay University Senate, Tushar Jagtap, when he recently told me, in the context of the kind of violence indulged in by Raj Thackeray and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena - thankfully Uddhav Thackeray's gentlemanly demeanour has kept the Sena on a leash - that the future in this country belongs only to the gentleman (and well-behaved lady) politician. Raj, whose goons once again went on the rampage in Bombay on Sunday, gives Maharashtrians a bad name and Jagtap was concerned at how people of the state might be perceived outside Maharashtra.
"The media explosion hides none of their warts these days and particularly the younger generation wants their leaders to be decent. Soon there will be no room in this country for goons among the politicians."
I hope he is right - considering that even Uttar Pradesh recently said 'enough is enough' to a certified goonda and had him booted out of the government. I hope Maharashtra sees no more legislators who beat up policemen doing their duty and the word 'politician' soon becomes synonymous with 'gentleman' rather than with 'goonda'.
Is that too much to hope for? Thought so, too!
(The views expressed are personal. You can write to the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org .)