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Talk to the hand

The Congress has a designated list of 17 spokespersons. Another one joins them and they could jolly well give the 18 MPs-strong DMK a run for its money, writes Indrajit Hazra.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2010 00:42 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times

The Congress has a designated list of 17 spokespersons. Another one joins them and they could jolly well give the 18 MPs-strong DMK a run for its money. (Well, not the DMK's kind of money, but you know what I mean.) Their job is primarily to issue statements, appear on telly, conduct damage control and make flaccid conversations sound like powerful powerpoint presentations. But even the hypnotic pointillistic technique of Abhishek Singhvi ("I have 42 points on why the JPC is unnecessary. One...") has been unable to come to the rescue of the Dimpled One (Praise Be Upon Him).

Which is a pity, because for a change, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi (PBUH) has come under fire for uttering something that's not as incredulous as it's being made out to be. According to the latest round of WikiLeaks made public by the BJP-friendly Julian Assange — just kidding, although I can just see the 17 Congress apostles considering that line of defence — American ambassador to India Timothy Roemer wrote in a classified cable to the US State Department on August 3, 2009, that Gandhi (PBUH) had told him at a lunch hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two weeks earlier that "the growth of radicalised Hindu groups" "may" be "the bigger threat" than that of supporters of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba "among certain elements in India's indigenous Muslim community".

The deluge of quote marks in the last sentence is important. I can't really hear Gandhi (PBUH), perhaps over a bowl of cream of tomato soup, use the phrase "India's indigenous Muslim community". But more importantly, what everyone is frothing about is based on the headline carried by the Guardian, one of the papers that have been running the WikiLeaks: ‘WikiLeaks cables: Rahul Gandhi warned US of Hindu extremist threat'.

Ah, the sweetie charms of the anti-anti-Islamicist, anti-capitalist, anti-Antichrist Guardian sub-editor. Reading that headline and then reading all those others that faithfully picked it up can give the idea of Gandhi (PBUH) dropping a fork and then leaning over to tell Roemer that the real threat to secular India isn't the LeT, but it's those 'indoo fundoos. The fact of the matter, however, is different. Roemer had asked Gandhi (PBUH) about what he had heard about the LeT's activities in India, to which the Congressman replied that "the risk of a ‘home-grown' (Roemer's single quotes) extremist front, reacting to terror attacks coming from Pakistan or from Islamicist groups in India, was a growing concern, and one that demanded constant attention".

Now, what's so radical or Pakistan-smooching about that statement? Hey, I want Mayawati to take over from Manmohan Singh one day, but I would have echoed what Gandhi (PBUH) had wikiportedly told Roemer. Among India's Hindu majority, there are enough people who could be tired of taking it from ‘those lot', and out of this critical mass there could be some folks with retributive violence on their addled minds. Unless, of course, the Gujarat anti-Muslim massacres of 2002 and the destruction of the Babri masjid in 1992 that was followed by sectarian killings never happened.

But none of the 17 Congress spokespersons went down this road for fear of getting politically booby-trapped. Yes, I know that the timing is awful. Coming days after Digvijaya Singh's genuinely dangerous join-the-dots exercise of (re-)linking the death of 26/11 victim and chief of Maharashtra's anti-terrorist squad Hemant Karkare with Hindu fundamentalists (something in line with the tin-pot logic of the CIA-Mossad being behind 26/11 cited by one of Digvijaya Singh's aides), WikiLeaks does come with an awkward back story for the Congress. Gandhi's (PBUH) aluminium-pot logic of finding "little difference" between the Students Islamic Movement of India and the RSS (the former desperate to be noticed as ‘avengers', the latter keen to be known as affable chaps is one fundamental difference) recently didn't help matters.

But was the anodyne press release of "Shri Rahul Gandhi's view is that... terrorism and communalism of all types is a threat to India... We need to remain vigilant against acts of terrorism of all kinds, no matter who commits them" the best the 17 apostles could come up with? Even Miss Worlds come up with better lines.

All this much doo-doo about nothing can be taken care of in one whoosh if Congress spokespersons shut up for a minute and if, at some juncture during the ongoing Congress plenary session, Rahul Gandhi (PBUH) becomes his own spokesperson. A nice little press conference to clarify matters that I've just clarified on his behalf shouldn't be too above him now.

First Published: Dec 19, 2010 00:37 IST