Congress leader Rahul Gandhi once again finds himself at the center of a controversy. His interview with renowned economist Kaushik Basu has caused a furore in the Indian media and amongst the ruling party.
Not only is the Bharatiya Janata Party targeting him for his statements during the free wheeling discussion, many senior leaders from Rahul’s own party are also questioning the timing, considering that elections to five states are due in another three weeks.
At a time when Rahul should be focussing on campaigning in states he is seen giving interviews on democracy, development and life in politics, India and the world.
This conversation primarily has an international and largely urban audience in India. Rahul forgets that they are not going to vote in these polls.
Further, Kaushik Basu, who was the chief economic advisor during the UPA government, has been a known critic of Modi's economic policies and programmes and is not considered a neutral observer.
Rahul confessed in the interview that the imposition of the Emergency by his grandmother Indira Gandhi was a mistake.
The reference to the is unlikely to bring any political dividends. Rather, in states like Kerala and West Bengal, any reminder of the Emergency era excesses is likely to put off voters, particularly senior citizens.
This is akin to scoring a self goal as it provides free fodder to the BJP to attack the Congress during the election campaign in states.
Rahul also attacked the BJP during the discussion, saying: “Democracy is being strangled in India. There is an attack on institutions, we are not allowed to speak in Parliament, there is no recourse in the judiciary anymore... there is a full scale assault.”
The admission regarding Emergency neutralises Rahul’s accusation that the BJP is killing democracy in India. The BJP has accused Rahul of damaging the country's reputation globally by giving interviews to anti-India elements and by making such frivolous statements.
Rahul added that the Emergency was fundamentally different from the current scenario as the Congress had at no point attempted to capture the country’s institutional framework, as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was attempting to do now.
He further charged that the RSS was comparable to radical Islamists in Pakistan.
The minority community has a sizeable presence in two states, Assam and West Bengal, where the BJP is in contention. This statement is going to charge up the RSS cadre for working in favour of the BJP candidates and further polarise voters in an already charged environment.
Rahul also did not miss the opportunity to attack the ‘G-23 rebels’ in the Congress. Shrugging off their attack for demanding elections be held for organisational posts, including the post of President, Rahul Gandhi said: “I am the person who pushed elections in youth organisations and student organisations and got a serious beating in the press for that. I was literally crucified for doing elections. I was attacked by my own party people.”
This is akin to washing dirty linen in public. At a time when the party needs to put up a united front, this statement has widened the wedge between the G-23 leaders and their supporters and Gandhi loyalists.
While the interview is part of the public relations and brand-building exercise of Rahul, the timing, the context and the selection of the moderator, defeats its purpose.
Why isn’t Rahul speaking to Indian media outlets/channels and that too in Hindi or any other regional language? Voters of the five states would definitely want to hear his views on various issues.
The most important part was missing from the interview: Rahul’s vision for a New India and what is the blueprint to achieve it. He failed yet again to connect with the masses in India with this interview.