Debating India

Mentoring for Rahul G, please

Nilanjana Bhaduri JHA

Friday 11 June 2004

It is heartening to note that Rahul Gandhi can shoot from the lip when a peeved Amar Singh labels the 34-year-old a kid. Then again, it is not a pretty sight to see the leader of GenNext netas having to chomp on his words.

? Goofing up is part of the game. Everyone does it. Ask Pramod Mahajan and company, architects of the biggest goof-up this season also called early elections 2004. Most can be avoided. Some must be avoided. ? Like Rahul Gandhi letting it all hang out when he declared grandiosely in Amethi this week that Mulayam Singh’s UP government had to go and that it would be done. Now it is no secret really that the Congress will dump Mulayam sooner or later in UP, if only for survival in the state. It is also no secret that SP trouble shooter Amar Singh has been frantically cosying up with the NDA. ? But you just don’t say those things out loud in haste. Someone, gently no doubt, suggested to the Congress heir apparent that such things were matter of strategy and not to be discussed with the world at large so soon, for only a day later, the youth icon was assiduously eating his words. ? Then, of course, since the prince cannot to be wrong, came the damage control. It was not a goof-up at all, but a trial balloon from 10 Janpath to check the temperature in UP, was the word. Fair enough.

Rahul did also did make up for it with some refreshing candour and some pretty smart repartee for Amar Singh who snidely called him a kid. The world loves royalty so it shall forgive Rahul his gaffe. But the next one has to be nipped in the bud.

What Rahul Gandhi needs is political mentoring. Actually the entire batch of new, young MPs does. Landslide victories brought them to Parliament, but they’ve been largely on their own since. No little pep talk on Parliament etiquette. No wise advice on what to say on TV channels clamouring to showcase the young and the beautiful. ? There is a very thin line between sounding smart and sounding foolish. Especially in politics, where words often end up meaning much more than they were meant to. That art has to be taught - even to a Gandhi, probably born reading an oath of office. ? The Gandhi kids have the advantage of an entire party fawning and tripping over each other to be of service though Rahul’s younger sister Priyanka, a natural, could actually give some lessons on how to talk political. What Rahul should have is someone on the job constantly, not intermittent advice from here and there. ? There is family retainer Satish Sharma, for long been entrusted with planning the Gandhi GenNext’s advent into politics. There are the likes of Jairam Ramesh and Rajiv Shukla, flavours of the season. Any one, even the suave Salman Khursheed or the politically correct Ghulam Nabi Azad could be given the task. The family also has the advantage of loyalists like Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda at hand to advise.

It’s not just about Rahul. Promising youngsters were signed on by the truckloads to contest elections, which proved to be a very good thing. Only once they were on the political bandwagon there was no effort to groom them for the new role. This was most obvious when industrialist Navin Jindal joined the Congress. ? Though Ramesh and Khursheed worked to induct him into the party, his first press conference showed the lack of basic guidance. Jindal spoke from the heart and ended up praising Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A small rehearsal could have helped avoid what triggered many sniggers. ? Then there is the unpredictable Navjyot Singh Sidhu. No sooner had he been sworn in as BJP MP that Singh was on national television solemnly declaring that in his view nothing short of a conviction should disqualify one from becoming minister. ? His party was only then embarking on what would soon be the first big issue of the 14th Lok Sabha a protest against "tainted ministers" with criminal cases against them. Clearly, no one had told Sidhu that his view only mattered when it was in line with that of the party. ? There is always the argument of course that politicians like Narendra Modi, Vinay Katiyar, Mayawati seem to have managed well enough without being taught to be correct politically or otherwise. But then, it is a different kind of politico we are talking about.

See online : The Times of India


in The Times of India, Friday, June 11, 2004.

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