The politician who does not know how to say sorry
Speaking grandiosely, if not pompously, he declared at a press conference, “My name is Gandhi and Gandhis never apologise to anyone.”
I find the quirks and ironies of fate fascinating. When you least expect events to contradict you and, indeed, show you up, they do. Colloquially, it’s called Sod’s Law. In the hands of a playwright like Shakespeare, it transforms into the hubris his great tragedies are constructed upon. Either way, it’s a moment that reveals us as “the playthings of the Gods”.
That’s what happened to Rahul Gandhi last week. Speaking grandiosely, if not pompously, he declared at a press conference, “My name is Gandhi and Gandhis never apologise to anyone.” Unfortunately, he said this just as it was becoming clear he owed two people an apology. A fairly explicit one. And certainly made in public.
The first apology is owed to Dr Manmohan Singh. In 2013, Rahul Gandhi tore up an ordinance passed by Dr Singh’s government calling it “complete nonsense”. The irony is that if the ordinance had survived, it could have prevented Gandhi’s disqualification from Parliament. This is because the ordinance legislated that “if an appeal or an application for revision is filed… within a period of ninety days from the date of conviction”, the disqualification that immediately follows a Member of Parliament’s conviction with a sentence of at least two years will be held in abeyance.
What Gandhi didn’t realise in 2013 — but, presumably, cannot forget today — is that even if a court eventually stays his conviction, he will have missed several weeks of a sitting Parliament. That’s not just a personal loss. More importantly, it means his constituents in Wayanad will have been unrepresented during that time. Indeed, you could even argue it diminishes Indian democracy because a viewpoint that would otherwise have been articulated in the Lok Sabha will now not be heard.
In 2013, Gandhi only saw the ordinance as a crude and, even, unethical attempt to protect Lalu Prasad Yadav. He was unable — or unwilling — to see greater merit in it. Perhaps his vision was conditioned by the popular uproar against the ordinance. Now, his own plight has revealed how horribly wrong he was.
Worse, he deliberately humiliated the then prime minister by publicly displaying his criticism. “It should be torn up and thrown out.” That was a nail hammered by a Brutus. It damaged and weakened Dr Singh. That’s why Rahul Gandhi owes him a full and public apology.
The second apology — if it happens — will reveal what sort of person Gandhi is. It’s a test of his character, even his moral integrity. It’s, therefore, both more difficult to make, but also more necessary.
At the March 25 press conference, Gandhi was arrogant and rude to a young journalist who asked for his opinion of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s allegation that he insulted the Other Backward Classes (OBC) community. Instead of answering a perfectly justified question, Gandhi attacked the reporter. “Why are you working for the BJP so directly… have you been given orders… if you want to work for the BJP, then bring a BJP flag… a symbol… and put it on your chest... then I will answer you in the same way that I answer them. Don’t pretend to be a pressman.”
If this embarrassing loss of sangfroid wasn’t bad enough, Gandhi went on to gloat. As the next question was asked, he audibly added “hawa nikal gayi (you’ve been deflated).” The smug grin on his face only made the moment worse.
What Gandhi said was indefensible. I doubt anyone would disagree. Yet, will he apologise? This is not a rhetorical question. It’s a measure of Gandhi’s personality and moral character. To be honest, it’s a test of what sort of man he is.
A wise politician with a conscience would. And the apology would enhance Gandhi’s stature and our respect for him. But he’s already foolishly boasted “Gandhis never apologise to anyone”. If that remains his stand, even when an apology is necessary and due, his braggadocio will become an indictment. He’ll become the politician who doesn’t know how to say sorry.
Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
The views expressed are personal