Rahul Gandhi is back, and so is the silly season in the media. One of the silliest things we do (this writer included) is to ‘rate a speech’. Yesterday, I gave six out of ten to Rahul, and then wondered: is this some examination which we expect our politicians to pass every day, and would we subject other MPs speaking in parliament to similar tests? To be honest, there is only one true metric to judge the politician and that is at the ballot box. The rest is the surround sound which is part of the 24 x 7 media circus. And that’s what chasing Rahul has become: a ‘circus’ over the last eleven years.
I tracked him during his first election in 2004. It was one of the most excruciating experiences of my journalistic career. In the heat and dust of Amethi, we followed him like a shadow, only to find ourselves being constantly pushed away by the fearsome SPG force that protected him. Rahul seemed to rather relish the idea that journalists were baking in the sun while he remained the elusive neta zooming away in a carcade. We chased him for three days and barely got a soundbite from him. Frankly, little has changed. We still chase him like an army of frenzied footsoldiers only to find him race away into the comfort of his Land Cruiser. Our self-respect is constantly denuded by the pushing and shoving but we still keep at it in the belief that every word from Rahul is like manna from heaven.
The time, I dare say, has come now to judge him by his actions. A 23 minute speech in parliament — only the third in eleven years — the odd hand wave, the dimpled smile, will not determine his future. It’s time we judged Rahul like any other political leader by his ability to take up issues, to engage in public debate, to build a rapport with the voter. Judging him by cameo appearances will do no justice to either him or to us as journalists. If we judge Narendra Modi by his track record over two decades in politics, then we must apply the same standards to Rahul. Yes, we need a little more excitement in our politics, but let’s not get too caught up in the sudden aggressive body language of a neta who remains a mystery wrapped up in a suspense novel. Frankly, where Rahul went on his 56 day leave of absence should matter less than why did he choose to do so at the start of a crucial budget session. It’s time to ask the hard questions rather than be taken in by the lure of our very own political royalty.
Post-script: last night, I interviewed Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia on the 9 pm news. I found him erudite and pugnacious in his responses. Which is what prompted me to ask him why he couldn’t be the next Congress leader. His response was typical: we are all happy to work under Rahul’s leadership. I guess he has little choice but to say that: the top job in the Congress is ‘reserved’ for the First Family, For the rest, be it netas or journalists, we must simply wait our turn in the queue.