Tag Archive for 'Rahul Gandhi'

Rahul Gandhi’s first TV interview

Rahul Gandhi, the reticent Congress party leader who has never before given a sit-down television interview, on Monday faced Arnab Goswami of Times Now:

Part 2 here

Part 3 here

In The Times of India: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has drawn a distinction between the 2002 Gujarat riots and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots on the grounds that while the violence in Gujarat was aided and abetted by the Narendra Modi state government, in the 1984 riots the government tried to stop the violence.

Asked in an interview why certain Congress leaders like Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler were facing court cases if the Congress government, indeed, tried to stop the 1984 riots, Rahul didn’t respond directly, but eventually acknowledged that some Congressmen were probably involved in the riots. More:

Full text of interview

 

The Sanjay Gandhi story

Vinod Mehta on Sanjay Gandhi. In Outlook:

While Sanjay and Indira were fighting legal battles in court, at home the two brothers and the two wives were barely on speaking terms. Relations between Rajiv and Sanjay were always “chilly” and between Sonia and Maneka “frigid”. Indira Gandhi sought to remain neutral, desperately trying to maintain some semblance of family peace. One morning, B.K. Nehru and his wife Flori were breakfasting with the Gandhis. “Sanjay went into a rage and threw his plate across the room when Sonia failed to cook his eggs in the precise way he had ordered.” Indira did not say a word to Sanjay.

In January 1980, Indira Gandhi won back power from the Janata clowns, who gifted her the prime minister’s chair meekly. Morarji Desai led the strange cocktail which had dethroned Indira. Instead of concentrating on governance, they set out to ‘punish’ their nemesis by hook or by crook. This publicly stated goal was combined with vicious infighting. It would be fair to say the Janata leaders fell on their own swords with great facility. Indira Gandhi stood and won from two constituencies, Rae Bareli and Medak; Sanjay was elected comfortably from Amethi.

With mother and son back in power, furious speculation raged in early 1980 as to what role the mother had planned for her son. Also, whether both had absorbed the egregious lessons of the Emergency—primarily excesses in the family planning and slum clearance programmes. Would a measure of civility replace the dreaded midnight knock in public life? Indira Gandhi admitted some excesses might have been committed by sycophants and overzealous ministers, bureaucrats and assorted flunkeys, but her son, she insisted, was innocent and not involved. She characterised the excesses as “gross exaggerations” spread by the media and long-standing Congress enemies. This defence, repeated ad nauseam, suggested that Sanjay and his merry men would resume from where they had left off. Privately, Indira conceded the no-smoke-without-fire hypothesis, ie., there must be some truth in the sundry allegations. But her formal position was to live in denial.

On March 31, 1980, Maneka gave birth to a son. He was named Varun. Indira was over the moon. Now, she had three grandchildren, one from her problem son. Alas, Varun’s birth did not ease the tensions between the brothers and their respective wives. Rajiv and Sonia retreated into their private space. It was as if they were hermetically sealed from the hectic goings-on at India’s most politically active house. More:

Interpreting Sonia Gandhi

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

In Zareer Masani’s recent memoir of his parents, And All is Said, he quotes a letter written to him by his mother in 1968. “Yesterday we went to Mrs Pandit’s reception for Rajiv Gandhi and his wife,” wrote Shakuntala Masani, adding, “I can’t tell you how dim she is, and she comes from a working-class family. I really don’t know what he saw in her.”

And All is Said was widely reviewed when it was published, but no reviewer seems to have picked up on this comment. Shakuntala Masani was the daughter of Sir J.P. Srivastava, once one of the most influential men in India, an industrialist with wide business interests and a member of the viceroy’s executive council besides. Shakuntala’s husband, Minoo Masani, was a well-educated Parsi from a family of successful professionals, who was himself a leading politician and writer. By upbringing and marriage Shakuntala Masani was a paid-up member of the Indian elite. Hence the condescending remarks about the working-class Italian whom Rajiv Gandhi had chosen as his wife.

The object of Mrs Masani’s contempt has, for some time now, been the most powerful person in India. How did she achieve that power, and what has she done with it? Sonia Gandhi’s rise in politics has been at least as unlikely as Barack Obama’s. Moving to Cambridge to learn English (but not at the university), she met and fell in love with Rajiv Gandhi. He brought her to India, where she lived a life of quiet domesticity, bringing up her children and attending to her husband. Through the turmoil of the 1970s, through the Emergency and its aftermath, Rajiv Gandhi stayed well out of politics. His stated ambition, at this stage, was to be promoted from flying Avros between Delhi and Lucknow to piloting Boeings on the more prestigious Delhi-Bombay run. More

When Bilawal met Rahul

Jim Yardley in New York Times’ IndiaInk, on the differing style of two hereditary politicians

It did not take Bilawal Bhutto Zardari long during his first visit to India to show he is a very different type of political prince than Rahul Gandhi – at least when it comes to public relations. The moment the son of Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, and the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto landed Sunday in New Delhi, he launched what became a daylong monologue on Twitter.

“AOA India Peace be with you,” he tweeted, presumably using shorthand for the greeting As-Salamu Alaikum, upon arriving. “I have just landed in Delhi. 1st ever visit.”

If Sunday’s main event was the meeting between the Pakistani president and India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, the choreographed interplay between the younger Mr. Zardari, 23, and Mr. Gandhi, 41, who sat next to each other at lunch, proved an irresistible sideshow.  The two men share similarly tragic pasts. Mr. Gandhi lost a father and grandmother to assassination. Mr. Zardari lost his mother to assassination while his grandfather was deposed and later hanged. more

Rahul Gandhi’s U.P. strategy

Aakar Patel in The Express Tribune:

Though he managed to increase vote share, Rahul Gandhi was able to deliver only a handful of more seats. Since he had campaigned very heavily in the state, he is thought to have lost face here. Is he a loser?

I would say that he has been judged too soon. The fact is that in both 2009’s general elections and this year’s state election, the Congress has been adding voters. It has not been able to do this fast enough to satisfy the media, but a trend is visible. If it continues, the Congress may be able to challenge UP’s two big parties. Of these, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party has a core of Dalit voters. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party counts on votes from the Yadav peasant community and from Muslims. For the last two elections, these parties got between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of the total votes. Rahul Gandhi’s UP strategy directly attacks these two parties. If, by the next election, he is able to soften enough Dalits and Muslims to add another five per cent to the Congress’s vote share, success will be at hand.

The fourth party in the state is the BJP. Its upper-caste Hindu vote bank is secure, but stuck at 15 per cent. Except for the Congress, no party has the flexibility to take on voters from the other parties. More

 

Mandate for a dream

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express:

India is stirring in ways that confound political analysis. Uttar Pradesh was, by all measures, a remarkable election: intense, youthful but at the same time peaceful, civil and substantive. To the superficial eye, these elections seem like old wine in new bottles: intense local bargaining, equations of caste and community, candidates tinged with corruption or criminality. However, underneath, there is almost a social revolution in the making. Voters are showing a remarkable capacity for making fine distinctions. The strategy is, first and foremost, to search for the party most likely to form a stable government. These elections confirm a growing trend that knee-jerk anti-incumbency is a thing of the past. Performance can be rewarded as much as punished.

In UP, voters were called on to make very sophisticated strategic judgements. But strip away the too-clever-by-half analysis. And they are choosing empowerment over patronage, the future over the past, performance over rhetoric, sincerity over cynicism, rootedness over disembodied charm, measured realism over flights of fantasy. They are carefully assessing alternatives through the prism of local circumstances. Identities still matter, but voters are no longer prisoners of those identities. Despite the occasional clumsiness of the Congress, the election in UP was without a trace of community polarisation: no one felt on the edge or under siege, all could exercise options without being unduly burdened by the past. In a democracy, where you are going should be more important than where you are coming from. These elections have redeemed that promise. More:

They just didn’t get it

Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express:

So, what else is new about this verdict, in UP, and elsewhere too? First of all, it has again highlighted to us the perils of contemptuously stereotyping communities and ethnicities as dumb vote banks. Muslims, in particular, have been treated shoddily by political intellectuals of the left and religious right. In 2008, both said that any party supporting the Indo-US nuclear deal would lose the Muslim vote. As if our Muslims somehow put their anti-Americanism above their nationalism and issues like bijli-sadak-paani, jobs, what kind of schools their children go to and whether there are any doctors or medicines in their hospitals or not. Mulayam Singh defied the protesting maulanas to weigh in for the nuclear deal. Now, he has this stunning endorsement by his Muslim voters to show for it. Similarly, Rahul’s ill-advised reminder of the BJP’s Israel connection left his Muslim audiences utterly unimpressed. Definition of identity is complex in India. Modern Indians, rural or urban, have common needs and shared concerns that cut across barriers of caste and religion. More:

 

A million mutinies again

The Economist analyses the five state assembly results

THOUGH details must yet be filled in, the broad sweep of India’s five state assembly elections was evident by midday on Tuesday March 6th. In brief, neither Congress nor the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), could cheer much, while regional parties, and powerful regional figures, thrive. Judging by leads in counting rather than final results, a local force, the Samajwadi Party (SP), has romped to victory in Uttar Pradesh, a huge state of 200m people. It may just fall short of being able to rule there by itself, but will either form a minority government (probably supported, even if informally, by Congress) or cobble together a ruling alliance. more

Insider as outsider

Rajdeep Sardesai in Hindustan Times:

In 1999, we experienced a ‘television moment’. We were covering Sonia Gandhi’s Amethi campaign when we happened to meet her daughter, Priyanka. For the next several hours, Priyanka took us on a whirlwind tour across the constituency. There were fewer camera crews then, so there wasn’t a mad scramble for sound bites. Priyanka was made for television: attractive, charming and spontaneous. She even had lunch with us under a banyan tree, spoke at length on her family legacy, and clearly revelled in the public glare. It was probably her first ever TV interaction, but she didn’t miss a beat. We were, well, bowled over.

Thirteen years later, little seems to have changed. She still offers an infectious smile, wears colourful designer khadi saris, relates with great warmth to the crowds, and willingly speaks to the camera. The travelling media (now more a circus) still hangs onto her every word, totally enchanted by her striking presence. And the question asked is no different to what we kept asking all those years ago: when is Priyanka joining politics? Her answer too is similar: back then, she said she was only campaigning for her mother, now she says her involvement is limited to helping her brother, Rahul. And yet, we persist, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, one day she will, like the eternally bashful bride, finally say, ‘yes!’.

What does this Priyanka mania suggest? Firstly, it reveals the desperate shortage of telegenic personalities in public life. Faced with a tired and geriatric political class, many of whom are well past their sell-by date, Priyanka clearly stands out. The fact that she is rarely seen, emerging only at election time perhaps enhances her mystique. She is elusive for much of the year, occasionally being seen at a fashion show or Page 3 event. Elections is when she is catapulted from Page 3 to Page 1 news. More:

The politics of clothes: What Priyanka’s Amethi sari tells us

Sagarika Ghose at First Post:

Priyanka Gandhi / PTIPriyanka Gandhi is hardly ever seen in a sari in Delhi. For the July 2008 trust vote in parliament, she, in fact, showed up in trendy dark trousers and a white shirt, an outfit both stunning and honest about who she is.

The stately young mother is often seen picking up her children from school in casual jeans and T-shirt. She attends charity functions in western wear, steps out for Delhi dinners in western wear, is seen at restaurants in western wear. Then why, oh why, must the gorgeous Priyanka Gandhi get into ethnic costume every time she visits Amethi?

Will the voters be so turned off if, for example, she arrived in jeans and, say, a long kurta? Would such an outfit not be more honest, more real, more in tune with who she actually is, rather than staging a traditional masquerade in handloom? Sure, let’s always respect local sentiments when we dress, but transforming oneself into a costumed actor to fit the stereotypes of Incredible India seems such a condescension to the good people of Amethi!

Recent pictures show Priyanka in colourful saris doing a sort of Passage To India routine of “mingling easily with the natives”. Perhaps pant suits are not “suitable” for Amethi, but it does seem a little “off-to-meet-the-villagers-now-darling” to get into regulation handloom and chat with the rustics in the pursuit of feudal noblesse oblige.

Why does one’s identity have to undergo such a transformation from city to village? Priyanka’s handloom sari “dressing down” seems deeply condescending, particularly given the fact that she is never seen in such clothes in Delhi or Mumbai. Isn’t it an unthinking elitism to get into “typical ethnic” gear to go and meet one’s voters, rather like the princess wearing ordinary clothes to keep the peasants happy? Indira Gandhi wore the same elegant cotton saris to Delhi soirees and to the Dalit village in Belchi. More:

The Priyanka Gandhi factor

Smita Gupta in The Hindu:

Earlier this week when Priyanka Gandhi Vadra spent three days in Uttar Pradesh, drumming up support for the Congress in the 10 Assembly segments across the two parliamentary constituencies held by her mother Sonia Gandhi and brother Rahul Gandhi, there was the predictable speculation in the media: was the Gandhi-Nehru — acknowledged in the party as the most charismatic living member in the family — about to join active politics?

It wasn’t just the glamour quotient at work: Ms. Vadra triggered off some of the speculation herself when she was asked by journalists if she was planning to campaign outside the family stronghold, something she does in every election. “I have not decided yet… So far I am here in Amethi and Rae Bareli and my brother and I will talk to each other and decide on it,” she said, stressing, “I’ll do anything for my brother, whatever is required of me. I’ll do whatever he requires me to do.”

Pressed on whether she would join active politics if Mr. Gandhi asked her to, she was deliberately ambivalent: “He knows to what extent he can require me.”

Since then, while the Congress confirmed that Ms. Vadra would be back for a second foray into Rae Bareli and Amethi, closer to the elections there next month, all that senior U.P. leaders have been willing to say is the extent of her engagement will be decided by the family, as the campaign progresses. More:

Brand Priyanka

Shobha John in The Times of India:

 She’s called a ‘reluctant bride’, a ‘seasonal variation’ and a ‘media lovely’. For the swish set, Priyanka Gandhi is a fashion icon or a socialite. But when she goes to the rural hinterlands, she’s appears wrapped casually in a cotton sari, reminding one of her grandmother. And now, she’s campaigning in UP for her brother Rahul. UP is the acid test for Brand Rahul. But it’s Priyanka that people are talking about despite her campaigning in the ‘family’ constituencies. Will Brand Priyanka work for the party and her brother? “Priyanka’s presence may have marginal impact at the ground level. She has Indira Gandhi’s looks, has more charm than Rahul and can draw people, but in today’s caste-based politics, these factors may only garner more audience, not votes. Often, people come to see her out of sheer curiosity,” says Mithileshwar Jha, professor of marketing, IIM-Bangalore. “She’s like a reluctant bride but people want to see what she will deliver.”

While she is visually appealing with Indira’s aquiline nose and charisma, ad gurus say that a premium brand needs much more than just beautiful packaging. “The Congress has not been able to create a mass leader after Indira,” says Sajan Raj Kurup, founder and creative chairman of Creativeland Asia. “A brand needs sustained content and stature. I don’t know what the content here is. Rahul and Priyanka come across as tender newbies in front of hardened politicos like Mulayam and Mayawati.” More

 

The reinvention of Rahul Gandhi

Liz Mathew in Mint:

Rahul Gandhi: Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Last week, driving through central Uttar Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi took an impromptu roadside break in Farrukhabad—India’s largest potato-growing district. Addressing farmers reeling under the impact of a glut in the potato crop, Gandhi launched into a spiel for more foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail.

Not only was he touching on a subject that has become politically taboo—an overwhelming political consensus forced the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to withdraw a proposal to liberalize FDI in retail—Gandhi was also exhibiting a facet of his personality not witnessed earlier.

Having already taken considerable political risk in deciding to lead his party’s campaign for the state assembly elections due next year, he was showing uncharacteristic panache to publicly back a politically controversial reform measure. Pointing to the rotting crop of potato, he argued that this would never have happened if a retail network backed with a supply chain had been in place.

Earlier, addressing a rally at Dataganj, he sought to tap the growing aspirations of the populace by promising more change if the electorate chose the Congress. “The labourers from Uttar Pradesh have constructed the Delhi Metro… How many of you have visited Delhi now? Did anyone of you travel in it? Why can’t people from UP (Uttar Pradesh) work for themselves in their own state?” he said before taking a swipe at his principal rival by referring to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as a “magic elephant that eats currency notes”. The BSP’s election symbol is an elephant.

His rhetoric seems to be gaining traction with the public. More:

I am ready: Rahul Gandhi

In Mint:

Rahul Gandhi on Monday threw his hat in the ring for the top job in Uttar Pradesh (UP), signalling his intent to move out of the back office in a move that could cause a stir in national politics.

“Sometimes I think I should come to Lucknow to fight for you myself,” the Congress general secretary told around 30,000 people who had gathered at Phulpur in UP to hear him launch his party’s campaign in the state that goes to polls next year.

By making himself the face of the party in a state where the Congress is starting out behind the principal contenders, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), Gandhi has also raised the stakes for himself and the Congress.

Some analysts say the scion of the family that has called the shots in the party for at least seven decades is testing the waters to see how people respond. Others say it is a statement of political intent that signals his readiness for the top job in the state, as a sort of stepping stone to the top job in the country. Either way, it is the first time Gandhi, 41, has said something that even remotely seems to suggest a willingness to take on an elected constitutional post. The son of Congress president Sonia Gandhi has consistently rebuffed reports about his prime ministerial ambitions. He is currently in charge of the party’s youth and student wings. More:

Ab bus karo, please!

Yatras, fasts, bandhs, gheraos are old political tricks inherited by an independent India; last century’s tactics to deal with this century’s problems. And, yet, India has moved on. Why then have our politicians failed to come up with new ideas, writes Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times.

Uh-oh, there he goes again.

Like an Annual Day school theme, every edition of L.K. Advani’s rath yatra comes with its own slogan. This one’s against corruption. And black money. Heck, it even has its own rock anthem: Ab bus. (Bus? What happened to the rath?)

If you’re looking for novelty, look elsewhere. In the past one month, six different politicians will be rolling out their own yatras. There’s a sewa yatra by Nitish Kumar and a kranti yatra by Akhilesh Yadav. Even yoga teacher-turned anti-corruption crusader Baba Ramdev has a yatra – no word yet on whether comely girls in eye-catching leotard will perform roadshow asanas.

There’s a sense of déjà vu: been there, seen that. Advani is a veteran; this is his sixth roadshow since 1990’s Somnath to Ayodhya tour. The story goes that Advani was planning a padyatra, or walking tour, to drum up support for the Ram mandir when Pramod Mahajan came up with the idea of converting a truck into a ‘rath’ because a walk would take too long. The plan worked; newspapers reported how people were flocking to the rath, smearing dust from its tyres on their foreheads. The BJP won the next election, even though it was A.B. Vajpayee not Advani who became prime minister.  Continue reading ‘Ab bus karo, please!’

“No Rahul vs Modi” in US Congressional report

IANS report in The Times of India:

The coordinator of a major new US report on India says there is no “contention, speculation or projection” in it that directly suggests that the 2014 parliamentary election would be a battle between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi.

Dr. K. Alan Kronstadt, a South Asian affairs specialist and coordinator of the report of the Congressional Research Service (CRS), an independent research arm of the US Congress, said the report is a “scholarly compendium of information from various sources that does not in any way reflect the judgment of the US Congress or government of any kind”.

Brief and separate references made to Gandhi and Nehru in the CRS’s 98-page report titled “India: Domestic Issues, Strategic Dynamics, and U.S. Relations” have been used by sections of the Indian media to suggest as if some elements of the US official establishment expect the 2014 elections in the country to be a direct battle between the two politicians.

“Nowhere in the report is there contention, speculation or projection that the 2014 parliamentary election will be between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi,” Kronstadt told IANS. More:

Click here for the CRS report

Congress’ crisis of leadership

One thing becomes apparent after ‘India’s carnival of direct democracy in Ram Lila’, writes Swapan Dasgupta in The Pioneer: the clear absence of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership potential. Confronted by the limitations of the heir apparent, the Congress is now in a state of denial.

It has been an entire week since Anna Hazare broke his fast and ended the carnival of direct democracy in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. Yet, a week has proved to be a woefully short time for the message of the 12-day August upsurge to sink in. From Lutyens’ Delhi to Chanakyapuri, there is consternation and confusion over the impact of the stir. Will it be the proverbial Indian storm when people let the legions thunder past and plunge to sleep again? Or, will India never be the same again?

The magnitude of concern can’t be underestimated. Over the past week I have heard pillars of the Establishment first express bewilderment over Anna’s appeal and then, as the evening progressed, seen tut-tutting give way to unrestrained fulminations. As for the political class, conspiracy theories centred on RSS involvement and the lavish use of ‘foreign money’ has evolved into a robust defence of what a quasi-political functionary described to me as “Constitutional fundamentalism”. In practical terms, this has not involved a discovery of Edmund Burke but base recriminations: Slapping privilege notices and tax demands on the infamous Team Anna. more

Sister act

In the Economist, the appearance last week in Parliament of Priyanka Gandhi to listen to her brother Rahul Gandhi speak has tongues wagging, yet again.

AMID all the recent fuss about Anna Hazare, perhaps everyone has missed the most intriguing political news story of the week in Delhi: the tentative reappearance of Priyanka Gandhi, daughter of Sonia Gandhi and sister of Rahul Gandhi. She is a bright and capable woman who had previously been touted as, potentially, a very powerful political figure.

The Gandhi-Nehrus have dominated Congress, and thus India, for most of the 64 years since Indian independence. Sonia Gandhi is today the president of Congress and, in effect, the boss of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh. But the time for her to pass up control of the family dynasty may possibly come sooner rather than later. At that moment, it is generally assumed that of her two children it will be Rahul who takes over. He has been groomed to rule, as indicated by his position as MP for the family’s longstanding constituency, Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh. He is also a leading reformer in the Congress party and one of the four people nominated by Sonia this month to keep an eye on party affairs while she is abroad for medical care. more

Stand up and be counted

Will Rahul Gandhi step forward and provide his party the leadership it so desperately needs now asks Akshaya Mishra in FirstPost.com

Extraordinary crises throw up extraordinary leaders. For the Congress, which is at present fighting almost the whole country with its back against the wall, the snow-balling Anna Hazare movement is no ordinary problem.

The group managing the party’s affairs in the absence of party chief Sonia Gandhi has messed up the situation by ill-calculated moves. The leadership vacuum at the top is glaringly apparent. It needs to find a leader who would connect to the masses and assuage hurt feelings all around, immediately.

Will Rahul Gandhi be that extraordinary one? This is his big political test. This is the moment for him to move out of the shadows of senior party leaders and make a statement for himself. If he refuses to take up the challenge now, he would end up being seen as any other non-descript Congress leader, a backroom manipulator with no guts to rise to the occasion. more

Lost in the woods

In Hindustan Times, 65 years after independance, Ramachandra Guha remembers those who have gained the least and lost the most from India being a free and democratic country.

In August 2010 — that is, exactly a year ago — Rahul Gandhi told a group of tribals in Orissa that he would be their soldier in New Delhi. There is no record of his having acted on that promise. The Dongria Konds of Niyamgiri forgotten, his attention has more recently been focused on the Jats of Noida and other such groups that might help the Congress make a strong showing in the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Rahul Gandhi’s behaviour is characteristic of the political class as a whole, which — regardless of party or generation —  has treated tribals with condescension. The neglect goes back to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi worked hard to abolish untouchability, and harder to bring about Hindu-Muslim harmony.

He inspired tens of thousands of women to enter public life. Somehow, however, the adivasis never figured seriously in the Mahatma’s programmes of social reform. This failure was reproduced by his colleagues and successors in the Congress party.

Gandhi dynasty: politics as usual

As Sonia Gandhi receives medical treatment in the U.S., foreign – and not Indian – media reported about the leader of the Congress Party. Can Indians hope that the party will have the maturity to elect one from amongst itself or will the limp Indian opposition cohere into a credible force, ask Neelam Deo and Manjeet Kripalani in Gateway House.

As the Indian television channels fell over each other to cover in minute detail, the unseemly succession drama of the Chief Minister of Karnataka, and the Comptroller and Auditor General’s naming of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit in the graft and corruption surrounding the India-hosted Comomwealth Games, by 2.30 pm this afternoon (August 4), foreign television agencies the BBC and Agence France-Presse reported that Sonia Gandhi, head of India’s ruling Congress Party, has undergone surgery in the United States. The foreign news reports named Gandhi’s spokesperson, Janardhan Dwivedi, as the source of the information. Dwivedi stated that Gandhi would be away, recuperating, for up to three weeks.

The news of Sonia Gandhi’s undisclosed illness and secret departure has come as a shock to Indians, who of late, have been feeling distanced from their government and are reeling from disclosures of massive graft by politicians and a failure to control inflation. Democratic institutions like the media and the Parliament, which should have disclosed Gandhi’s condition as a matter of public knowledge, have kept silent. more

Unwell Sonia signals transition; Rahul to share party reins

From The Telegraph:

The widely unexpected health setback to Congress president Sonia Gandhi has instantly compelled the reluctant son and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi closer to a centrestage role.

Sonia, 64, underwent surgery at Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York today.

She has instructed that a four-member group of A.K. Antony, Rahul Gandhi, Ahmed Patel and Janardan Dwivedi will look after Congress affairs in her absence.

The Congress said their leader and UPA chairperson is likely to be “away for two to three weeks” but the creation of a high-powered backup team sparked intense speculation that recovery from her current condition could take much longer for her to return to active station.

Equally, there is now strong and just conjecture that her ill-health has occasioned serious contingency measures, chief among which is the foregrounding of Rahul as prime mover while she is gone or recuperating. Rahul is in the US with his mother and has not been able to attend the monsoon session of Parliament which began this week.

Sonia’s illness, serious enough for invasive medical attention, has come to light at a time when the UPA government is confronted with multiple crises, including allegations of corruption in the highest places.

Although there is little to suggest Rahul is currently anything more than party general secretary and part of a four-man crisis-management team, Congress leaders are not denying Rahul could, at least in the short term, take his mother’s place in the core group and even take on Sonia’s responsibilities as party president. More:

If it’s blackmail, I’ll do it again: Anna Hazare

The Times of India invited social activist Anna Hazare as guest editor:

Up close, Anna Hazare makes for an unlikely firebrand. He’s gentle and smiles a lot, even – in fact, especially – if someone is asking him a hostile question. At 73, he doesn’t hear too well, and frequently needs to have queries repeated to him, often in Marathi.

As he sat down in the TOI editor’s room, rifled through the day’s edition, commented on the TOI-Crest cover story on social activism, and got into a free-wheeling discussion with the journalists of several issues, it was apparent that technical details about law or administration don’t interest him much; he tends to turn monosyllabic when they come up.

When he does speak at length – typically on big-picture issues like corruption, rural development or decentralization – his voice acquires an intensity even as it takes on a sing-song cadence. His wisdom is folksy, and there’s an almost childlike innocence and spontaneity to many of his statements.

Sample this: Many people have accused him of blackmailing the government through his fast, we asked. “Yes, so?” he shot back. “As long as I’m alive and as long as it benefits the people, I’ll keep blackmailing the government. What’s the problem?” he chortled gleefully. More:

Rahul Gandhi: I am working to improve a rotten system

Manoj Mitta in TOI:

The very day Anna Hazare broke his fast, Rahul Gandhi wrote that though he was concerned about corruption “like most right thinking Indian people”, he was working quietly on that problem as he had “absolutely no interest” in becoming a hero.

The provocation was a sharply-worded letter he had received the same day, April 9, from former Supreme Court judge V R Krishna Iyer asking, “Why should the Hazare phenomenon occur at all? Only because so many evils and no action from Delhi!.”

In his response to Iyer, Rahul said: “Like most right thinking Indian people I feel exactly the way you do. I spend a lot of my waking hours thinking and working to improve what I see as a rotten system. The difference is that I cannot get away simply with writing letters and complaining as you can. I am faced with the reality of changing things which requires much more than the periodic release of emotion.” More:

 

The princely state of India

In Outlook, an except from India: A Portrait — An intimate biography of 1.2 billion people by Patrick French:

It had first become apparent to me during the 2004 election campaign, and it niggled again now. The problem was the first-time MPs. With their spanking faces and sense of bland entitlement, these young men and women were treated with reverence by the Indian media, although their achievement was usually to have shared genes with an earlier leader. I watched one of these new MPs on television as he drove through the dust of his inherited family constituency in an enormous Pajero, turning now and then to a waiting camera with a purposeful frown and saying things like “I want to help these people, like my father did” or “We are going to make India No. 1.” He looked like a giant baby who had been dressed up and put in a big buggy and sent off on an adventure.

The disjuncture between these fresh fruits and the hopes of the many millions of individuals they were supposedly representing was massive. In person, they were perfectly affable and often idealistic, but as a phenomenon, they were damaging. Was Indian national politics becoming hereditary, with power passing to a few hundred families, even as the elections themselves became more vibrant and open?

In the case of the new contenders, all you needed to know was the surname. It seemed India’s strong women politicians were not reproducing themselves, for most of the new MPs were only sons, probably on account of the social convention in the 1970s that educated people should have small families. ‘Hum do, hamare do’—‘We two, and our two’—was the slogan. Rahul was the son of Rajiv Gandhi, Jitin was the son of Jitendra Prasada, Jyotiraditya was the son of Madhavrao Scindia, Sachin was the son of Rajesh Pilot and brother-in-law of Omar Abdullah, who was the grandson of Sheikh Abdullah and son of Farooq Abdullah; Akhilesh was the son of the Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and Dushyant was the son of Vasundhara Raje, the former BJP chief minister of Rajasthan and sister of Madhavrao Scindia. And so it continued. More:

WikiLeak: Rahul Gandhi on Hindu terror

From The Indian Express:

A leaked US diplomatic cable quotes Rahul Gandhi as saying that Hindu radical groups pose a bigger threat to India than the Lashkar-e-Toiba as they create “religious tensions” with the Muslim community.

Another US cable, put out by WikiLeaks, criticises Sonia Gandhi’s leadership in the run-up to the civil nuclear Bill in Parliament in 2007 and describes CPM leader Prakash Karat as an “extortionist”.

In a conversation with US Ambassador Timothy Roemer in July last year, Rahul Gandhi is quoted as saying that while there is evidence of local support for the LeT in India, the greater threat for the country is the growth of radicalism within the Hindu community.

“Responding to the Ambassador’s query about Lashkar-e-Toiba’s activities in the region and immediate threat to India, Gandhi said there was evidence of some support for the group among certain elements in India’s indigenous Muslim community. However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalized Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community,” stated the leaked cable. The cable is based on a conversation between Roemer and Rahul on July 20 last year during a lunch hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. More:

Robert Vadra interview

In The Times of India, an interview with Robert Vadra, who is married to Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka:

“I can definitely win (an election) from anywhere but I am a businessman. Why politics? I should be known for what I am,” says Robert Vadra. The country’s most famous son-in-law likes to be known as an exporter of handicrafts and costume jewelery, while seeking to play down his link with the Gandhi family.

In an exclusive interview to TOI on Tuesday, Vadra, 41, said he would join politics only when he felt he could make a difference. “There is a time and place for everything. If I feel that I know enough about this line (politics), if I can dedicate enough time and effort to it, when my children are grown up and if I can make a difference, then why not?” he said. But he hastened to add, “I don’t even indulge in the thought at the moment. I enjoy my children, my business, my fitness regime and other pursuits.”

He revealed for the first time that he was under great pressure to contest from Sultanpur (UP) in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections but refused. “There was huge demand for me to stand (from Sultanpur) but I was clear that it was not my place. I was being recognized only because of the family,” he said.

However, he conceded that he “does his bit” by accompanying wife Priyanka during election campaigns. “I travel with her when she campaigns. I have been travelling for 12 years. I have done my bit, given many speeches,” he said. More:

[We'll update this post after The Times publishes the full text of the interview tomorrow.]

Bengali bride for Maneka Gandhi’s son Varun

From The Telegraph:

Varun Gandhi is poised to beat cousin and fellow MP Rahul Gandhi to the altar, and will be the first descendant of Jawaharlal Nehru to marry a Bengali.

A nugget for lovers of political trivia: this will also be the first time since Jawaharlal married Kamala Kaul 94 years ago that a Nehru-Gandhi will wed a Brahmin.

The issue of bride Yamini Roy’s caste is inconsequential for Varun but is laden with symbolism in the politics of the heartland, where the groom-to-be is the BJP member of Parliament from Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh.

The Delhi-based Yamini, who is in her mid-20s, is the daughter of Aruna Vasudev, the founder-president of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema. The family is originally from Santiniketan, where Varun’s late grandmother Indira Gandhi had studied for a while.

Yamini, whose family surname is Roy Chowdhury though she uses only Roy, has her own graphic designing studio, Incarnation, in Delhi. She had trained in the fine arts and graphics at Sorbonne University in Paris after graduating in philosophy from St Stephen’s College, Delhi. The couple are said to share an interest in the fine arts, literature and films.

Varun’s mother Maneka Gandhi would be happy that Yamini is a vegetarian. Maneka, the BJP member of Parliament from Aonla, is an animal rights activist and a staunch promoter of vegetarianism. More

India’s young and poor rally to another Gandhi

Jim Yardley on Rahul Gandhi in The New York Times:

Rahul Gandhi’s helicopter descends out of the boiling afternoon sky and a restless, sweat-soaked crowd of 100,000 people suddenly surges to life. Men rush forward in the staggering heat. Teenage boys wave a white bedsheet bearing a faintly cheeky request: We Want to Meet the Prince of India.

Mr. Gandhi climbs onto a special viewing stand in this isolated corner of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and offers a boyish wave. Not yet 40, Mr. Gandhi is the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, the grandson of India’s fourth prime minister and the son of India’s seventh prime minister. His audience includes some of the poorest people in India.

“I’m standing here with you,” he declared to loud cheers, speaking for about 15 minutes before he left, waving through the window of his helicopter. “I can come with you anywhere and everywhere to fight with you.”

India is Mr. Gandhi’s family inheritance. Seemingly the only uncertainty is when he will collect it. He holds no major post in government, yet rumors persist that the governing Indian National Congress Party — whose president is his mother, Sonia Gandhi — might install him as prime minister before the current government expires in 2014. The job’s current occupant, Manmohan Singh, recently had to bat away retirement questions.

Yet despite his aura of inevitability, Mr. Gandhi largely remains an enigma. India is an emerging power, facing myriad domestic and international issues, but he remains deliberately aloof from daily politics. His thoughts on many major issues — as well as the temperature of the fire in his belly — remain mostly unknown. More

Rahul Gandhi takes Bill Gates to Amethi

IANS report:

Amethi: Accompanied by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Microsoft chief Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men, Tuesday toured Rae Bareli and Amethi for a close look at social development in the two mainly rural ‘Gandhi’ constituencies.

Gates and Gandhi spent about two hours in Rae Bareli, which Congress president Sonia Gandhi represents in the Lok Sabha, and another six hours in adjoining Amethi, which has elected her son Rahul Gandhi.

The study tour over, Gates and Gandhi decided to spend the night in Amethi before returning to New Delhi Wednesday.

Both dressed in white, Gates and Rahul Gandhi flew in a chartered aircraft from New Delhi and landed at Rae Bareli’s Indira Gandhi Flying Academy, located in Fursatganj town.

They drove down to Jais, named after the Sufi poet Malik Mohammad Jaisi, where Gates and Gandhi visited the Rajiv Gandhi Women’s Training Centre to interact with about 300 women from self-help groups.

The Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust runs the training centre. The self-help groups have been formed here with Gandhi’s personal initiative.

Women involved with different NGOs funded by the charitable trust gathered at the training centre well before the arrival of the VVIPs. More:

Gates help for mouse-eating village

From The Telegraph:

The champion of the “mouse” from America will adopt a village of rat-eaters in India.

Microsoft chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates will tomorrow make his maiden visit to Bihar in sweltering weather and adopt impoverished Gularia village on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on health and learning.

The village, 180km northeast of Patna, is populated by the Musahars, one of the lowest Dalit sub-castes whose name means “rat-eater”. The landless community principally survived by hunting rodents for centuries but nowadays many Musahars work as farm hands although rats continue to form a part of their diet.

“Bill Gates has decided to adopt the village to improve the villagers’ socio-economic condition. His foundation will open a health centre in the village,” said Sudhanshu Kumar, district police chief of Khagaria. More:

The catholicity of Sonia

Aakar Patel in Mint-Lounge:

Born in December 1946, Sonia got her certificate at 18. She’s had no education since. Her important qualification is for English, but those who watch her on television are struck by how poor her English is. She cannot express complex ideas in it.

The Nehru-Gandhis were all dull students. Rajiv failed in Cambridge, Indira failed in Oxford, Sanjay failed in high school and Nehru didn’t shine at Trinity.

It’s unlikely Sonia knows much about world history. If she has read Seneca and Cicero she doesn’t show it. Those unburdened by education, like Sanjay Gandhi, find it easier to view things as either good or bad. How has this affected Sonia’s decisions? We shall see later.

Sonia is slim and fit. At the dining table, she is probably disciplined. She looks younger than 64. Her aesthetic sense may be seen in her understated saris. She dresses in neat perfection, like an Italian woman. Her manner isn’t brusque. With the press she’s polite, and listens before responding. Her tone rarely changes. When attacking BJP leaders, she uses the oblique unko or unhonein. This distances her from them, while BJP is crude and direct with her. Her Hindi is broken, but she persists with it through a sentence, unlike urban Indians who mix Hindi with English. More:

Reinvigorating the BJP

Swapan Dasgupta in The Wall Street Journal:

Barely 10 months ago, India’s elites agonized over the possibility that the general election would produce an unstable and fractious coalition government that would jeopardize the country’s economic growth. Today, with a stable government in place and the Congress Party having clearly established its political primacy, Lutyens’ Delhi resonates with whispered concern over the absence of a purposeful opposition.

The concern is based on a string of misgivings. The Manmohan Singh government is perceived to have grown utterly complacent. With inflation having crossed 8% and the price of food having registered a sharper increase, there is a feeling that the government is letting matters slide because it doesn’t fear political opposition and social unrest. There are fears that political considerations are preventing a robust response to the Maoist threat. Finally, in the aftermath of the Copenhagen summit and the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan, there are concerns that the prime minister is obliging the Obama administration excessively.

Since it lost power in 2004, the Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s principal opposition party, has lost its earlier appeal among the middle classes and the youth. This erosion of support was a consequence of a tired leadership, internal feuding, the pursuit of a policy of blind obstruction to all government initiatives and a failure to check sectarian hotheads identified with its Hindu nationalist ideology. From being a party of conservative Middle India, the BJP ceded its centrist space to the Congress Party. In recent months, it has been paralysed by a failure to counter the appeal of Rahul Gandhi, the Congress heir-apparent. More:

From INC to Congress Inc.

It was a party of educated professionals once, and Rahul Gandhi wants to make it so again. But his father before him had tried, and he will succeed only if he finds a new way to do it. Jatin Gandhi and Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

Indeed, as an organisation, the current Congress faces the same challenge any family-run business faces—how to bring about greater professionalisation while retaining control. The need to do so is not in doubt, spelt out as it is by the first of Ramachandran’s working hypotheses: family businesses with a higher level of professionalism practised both in business and by the family are likely to perform better and perpetuate their success over a longer time frame.

This, though, is easier said than done. Within the Congress, the idea has been in the making since Rajiv Gandhi’s ascent to power. But what was then a limited initiative to bring in a few friends with professional qualifications has now given way to a far more ambitious approach. Already, in the transition from Rajiv to Rahul, Sonia Gandhi has managed to implement an important step. She has placed a ‘professional CEO’ such as Manmohan Singh in charge of what managers call a ‘key result area’ (KRA): governance. Since 22 May 2004, Manmohan Singh has wrought professionalism across several governance functions, but his party itself has remained much the same. More:

[Image: Open]