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1

In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way

The above quote is popularly attributed to former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, but not verified. Nevertheless, it echoes my own belief that there are no coincidences in politics – only the illusion thereof, to paraphrase the graphic novelist Alan Moore. This belief was reinforced today by the way the Jayanthi Natarajan episode has spun out.

It began with The Hindu carrying her letter of November 5, 2014, to Congress President Sonia Gandhi. The letter, which has been called a bomb, carried several implications, which may be broadly summarized in the following points.

  • That Ms. Natarajan was a long-time loyalist who had for reasons unknown fallen out of favour with the Family and seemingly begged to be restored to that position.
  • That her actions as the former Minister for Environment & Forests were stymied by directions from the office of none other than party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
  • That although she had been asked to resign on Dec. 20, 2013, it took her nearly a year to overcome mental anguish and, presumably, summon enough courage to put these questions to the party president, from whose presence she had apparently been banished.

The fact that her letter of Nov. 5 did not become public knowledge until Jan. 30, 2015 – or nearly three months later – pushes out of the background several interesting facts, of which the most crucial seems to be that the CBI had been asked to investigate her activities as MoEF - a fact first reported by the Economic Times on Oct. 29, 2014 – or a mere week before her impassioned plea to Congress High Command.

What is equally interesting is that within a month of the CBI investigation being mooted, Ms. Natarajan supposedly met BJP President Amit Shah, who by now has earned the reputation of bringing into the BJP’s fold defectors of all shades and stripes. Among the revelations in Ms. Natarajan’s letter was her singular refusal to attack, prior to the General Elections of 2014, Narendra Modi on the surveillance scandal that became famous as Snoopgate. As the journalist Nikhil Wagle asked on Twitter, was the meeting with Mr. Shah about this, rather than, say, a possible swapping of political colours?

Nikhil Wagle on Jayanthi Natarajan meeting Amit Shah
Nikhil Wagle on Jayanthi Natarajan meeting Amit Shah

 

All this was an unnoticed swirling that came to a heady climax on January 30, 2015, with Ms. Natarajan announcing her decision to quit the Congress within hours of her letter being publicized. The Hindu’s Editor Malini Parthasarathy called the publication of the letter “a scoop”, but given how conveniently timed it was vis-à-vis Ms. Natarajan’s resignation from the Congress, it appears more likely that The Hindu simply made space for not just the letter to be published, but to give Ms. Natarajan wide-ranging coverage.

 

Malini Parthasarathy on Jayanthi Natarajan letter published in The Hindu
Malini Parthasarathy on Jayanthi Natarajan letter published in The Hindu

The ruling BJP’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had been the first to react, calling for the current MoEF (Prakash Javadekar) to “relook” at Ms. Natarajan’s decisions during her stint, while also jumping the gun in suggesting he had no clue if she was due to join the BJP. The party also later claimed that Mr. Shah had never met Ms. Natarajan, nor had any other leader. The Congress, as reported by PTI, called Ms. Natarajan’s allegations “serious”, but pointed to her “new political masters” as being motivators for the same.

PTI_Cong_CorruptionPTI_Cong_Masters

Another journalist, Nitin Sethi, interviewed Ms. Natarajan and subsequently shed more light on her alleging that while neither Sonia nor Rahul Gandhi had asked her to do favours, other Congress ministers did so. The latest news suggests that while the Congress is for the most part no longer commenting on the issue, the CBI too seems indifferent in terms of launching an immediate probe against her. Whether the issue has any political fallout for the beleaguered Congress, and whether we will see Ms. Natarajan, despite her own statement, join the likes of Kiran Bedi and others in migrating to the BJP, remains to be seen. The Kashmiri political commentator Ibn-e-Battuta’s tweet may be seen as the last word, thus far, on the issue.

PTI_Natarajan_NoPlansIbnEBattuta_Bedi_Natarajan

1

This morning, I woke up to a serious Twitter brouhaha which emanated from The Hindu carrying a letter by former Min. for Environment & Forests Jayanthi Natarajan to Congress President Sonia Gandhi. The letter was originally dated November 5, 2014, which made me wonder why it was being leaked at this later date. However, as the day progressed, and more news links from the past floated on Twitter, the episode became abundantly clear. Here’s a friendly timeline, with links, for those who came in late, or don’t see the big picture.

Oct. 29, 2014: Economic Times reports an impending CBI enquiry into Natarajan’s tenure as MoEF under UPA-II.

Nov. 5, 2014: Natarajan writes her now public letter to Mrs. Gandhi, published by the Hindu today.

Nov. 27, 2014: Natarajan meets Amit Shah, as reported in this news clip by India News.

Jan. 30, 2015: Arun Jaitley calls for new MoEF to re-look decisions taken by Natarajan, but claims no knowledge of her joining BJP.

Jan. 30, 2015: Natarajan quits Congress

Now waiting for the last act: her actually joining BJP. Expect it to happen today or tomorrow, but don’t hold your breath!

 

PS: I have no plans to join any other political party after such bitter experiences: Natarajan says (PTI reports)

3

In classic BJP style, yet another lofty condemnation returns to roost. Subramanian Swamy had filed complaint against Priyanka Vadra for possessing multiple DINs. Applying for or owning multiple Director Identification Numbers is a criminal offense with a six month jail sentence and fifty thousand ruppee fine.

Priyanka Vadra has admitted to applying for DIN multiple times and is attempting to end the matter with paying the fine. Subramanian Swamy had also complained against Karti Chidambaram.

Less happy news for the BJP, whose supporters went to town with condemnations of corrupt character in the run up to the elections is that it now appears that Nitin Gadkari has six DIN numbers as well - 00403714, 00192107, 00192180, 00256905, 01529243 and 01598520.

Nitin Gadkari ke DIN
Nitin Gadkari ke DIN

Now, while Karti Chidambaram and Priyanka Vadra are hot targets because of who their parents are, Nitin Gadkari happens to be a Member of Parliament. It remains to be seen if Modi's promise of strict action against corrupt leaders works against his own party members. Or is it back to business as usual now that elections are done?

6

Tough to say how much Congress is damaged by Rahul Gandhi's interview. In an intelligent world, I'd say the Congress is over. But then, the Congress shop should have been shut at least 3-4 years ago, if not longer. But this is a world that runs on propaganda and deliberate stupidification with the collusion of all parties. So it is really tough to say.

I spoke with some people in the last few days and asked them if they had seen Rahul Gandhi's interview. About 80% of the people said they hadn't. Believe it or not. I talked with them about it, and asked if they were planning to catch a re-telecast if it happened. Most of them weren't all that interested. A few said talking with me made them curious, and if it came on again, they might see it.

Overall my perceptions here. The biggest negative from the interview people had is that he didn't say anything "exciting" or "interesting" etc -  I understood it to mean that the subjects of the interview weren't something they felt strongly about. They hadn't paid much attention to details. Few interesting views I came across. Note: THESE ARE NOT MY VIEWS.

About Rahul Gandhi as a PM candidate

"uski marji hain. woh nahi chahta to Arnab ne force nahi karna chahiye" (It is his wish. If he doesn't want to be PM candidate, Arnab shouldn't force.)

He isn't aggressive enough for Indian politics.

Whatever you say, Congress is the party that has run this country all this time. He is Indira Gandhi's grandson, Rahul Gandhi's son. He grew up knowing how to rule.

As long as Gandhi family is there, people will vote for it (though he himself wouldn't, he said)

About youth empowerment, women's empowerment, jobs and such

Most people weren't interested. General opinion is that politicians say such things.

One man said that he has been hearing politicians promise such things for years. Anyone you vote for will promise you this.

Woman seemed a bit resentful. Everyone talks about women. But our life remains the same. What is the use?

naukri hogi to accha hoga par kar ke dikhana chahiye. ye to abhi bolte hain phir election ke baad bhool jaate hain

About the Rahul Gandhi's comments on the Sikh riots

Most people had no real idea of the magnitude of the riots as anything different from other riots though they did know "Congress did them" - this is quite contrary to the public knowledge on social media. One person thought of the Anti-Sikh riots as larger than they were "dasaon hajaar sikhon ko kaat diya" (tens of thousands of Sikhs were cut down). Many (about 6-8) of the people did not understand any special significance into Rahul Gandhi being asked about those riots in particular. Two people brought up the Assam riots and Muzaffarnagar as more recent and needing attention.

The BJP may have helped Congress with regard to handling PR for 1984, because most people thought that "rival parties exaggerate riots and try to trap main leaders to make them lose election" or some variation thereof.

Astonishingly, not even a single person held Rahul Gandhi's denial of Congress involvement against him. Excuses ranged from "he was young at that time" to "how will he publicly admit?". One strange comment was "if he admits, he only will get arrested" no idea how that computed, though the naive belief that Rahul Gandhi could be arrested for saying the wrong thing delighted my heart for a while.

Other responses

Some other common responses.

Not interested in politics.

Aam Aadmi Party is "apni tarah" it will be good if they start here.

Vote for Modi.

Note: This isn't a proper scientific survey, but my observations - from memory of casual conversations. Sample size is not large (30-40 people), and ours is a lower middle class to working class area where few spend extensive time watching TV and those are usually housewives interested in talent shows and soaps. Shopkeepers and people with jobs usually don't get much time for TV at all - whether NaMo or RaGa.

14

Here was Rahul Gandhi in an interview bang in the middle of the media circus. In one way, it was a superb move. Kejriwal had raked up the points with candid media interviews. This is something Modi cannot do. It was a gamble that could pay off. Rahul Gandhi answering the guy who claims to know what the nation wants to know. Face off.

Yet the interview was yet another monument in how the Congress Party is failing Rahul Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi came across as an earnest, guileless and simple man. A worker any party should treasure. And a man with no authority of his own. He had no idea how he was doing, though he was offering the best answers he knew with unexpected humility and candor.

He has a burden. The burden of answering for the reckless opportunism of others in the party that is steadily sinking in credibility. As if this were not enough of a cross to bear, it became apparent with the opening question itself, that this was a man simply not ready to speak strong, committed answers. It was like feeding a newborn to a shark.

By first question, I don't even mean a real question. Arnab asked if he will answer questions specifically, and he went "Yes, but...." then floundered. Then invented some qualification to get him out of the unnecessary addition he had committed himself to with "I can detail if I feel the need" or something equally inane.

Then came the part where the lack of authority showed. An answer that could have been hit for a six became a hit wicket. Even after answering well! Why was he reluctant to name himself PM candidate? Because he thought it was unconstitutional to name PM without the vote of the elected MPs and thus it was not possible before the elections. This was a brilliant response and one most people interested in democracy would like to hear. But instead of staying with it, Rahul Gandhi got derailed when Arnab asked him about earlier elections. About Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being the PM candidate for the 2009 elections.

It should have been an elementary matter to simply say that the Congress party is attempting to improve its processes for the better."Democracy is about respect for processes" he said later. Important words, that came completely conversationally. They were his reality. His belief. What he wanted. For the process to play out as written in the constitution. Not a rehearsed quote.

Instead, he went into a convoluted explanation involving incumbents and what not that obviously couldn't convince anyone because his grandmom was a PM candidate before elections too, just like his dad. There simply is no way that change can be possible, if you describe the new thing as something you always did.

And it went downhill. He went into a complete tizzy about the question of Modi's challenges, describing personal trauma and loss. I imagine he meant to say that after seeing such trauma, challenges don't scare him. Or something. But he clearly felt so much on the issue that his articulation was a nervous mess.

His assertions that Modi didn't matter, like Arjun, he saw his goal, the system that was frustrating him, the system that needed to change actually worked to dismiss the question he'd failed to answer earlier. His talking of the system was profound. He is talking of the system destroying people he cared about, being unfair to people was incredible because he is the grandson and son of Prime Ministers, and he is echoing the same frustrations many Indians feel from a totally different angle. An insight into how a bad system traps everyone and resists change.

"Are you afraid of losing to Modi" A yes/no answer would do. Yet he was all over the place. And on and on and on and on. His accusations of Modi were a courageous stand, which was again self-goaled by the baggage of those he had no authority to condemn.

And as I watched the interview, I was furious with the Congress Party for a reason I had never imagined I would have. I was furious about how handicapped this obviously earnest man had been made. He had no tools, he had no training. He was so obviously the product of a complete lack of honest relationships, that my teeth ached. This was a man without friends, his vulnerability laid bare for the world to see. He simply had no idea of how he was coming across. No one had told him.

It isn't so difficult, you know? When you have a friend and ramble instead of a yes/no answer, sooner or later you get told "seedhe seedhe bol na - haan ya na?" but you never meet this authenticity if all you have is people who are used to accommodating your eccentricities and listening through whatever you say as a part of the honor of knowing you.

This man simply doesn't have friends who tell him "You sound your best when talking of this. Avoid talking of that, because you sound like you don't believe it yourself. And for God's sake, if asked a straight question, and you have a straight answer, give a straight answer." He doesn't have mentors who care for him enough to say "We are in an era of change. It is time to admit mistakes. Don't burden yourself with our sins."

And the reasons of this limbo were flooding Twitter praising him for this disastrous interview, where despite his best intentions, he had been disadvantaged because he simply did not have a team supporting him. He had been unable to showcase his efforts as a Congress worker in a manner befitting a leader, though his sincerity rang through loud and clear. It reminded me of a friend of mine whose kid was in the habit of scribbling with color on paper and coming to show her every scribble, which she gushed over as a masterpiece. It is a doting, patronizing kind of love that cares only for the delight of the child, but it is never going to make him a Ravi Verma.

Learning is the ability to differentiate. This is red, this is blue. We learn the difference. By doing this, the problem gets solved, by doing this, it doesn't. We learn to stand on hard ground and not cushions, because of its firm feedback to the soles of our feet that allows us to juxtapose our muscular strength to stand erect. It is the contrast that allows us to refine ourselves. Continuously.

Rahul Gandhi only gets gushing feedback and unwavering devotion no matter how the interview went. How would he know that in the political arena, some of his answers put him at a disadvantage? Why would he experiment with riskier solutions that would work like "That was then, this is now. The Congress is changing" for example, if the feedback he was getting was telling him - falsely - that he came through like he intended to come through and anyone who said otherwise was a right wing barbarian?

Obviously a man defending the mistakes of generations before him cannot become a Prime Minister, but the man who was on TV was doing a lot for a floundering party that did not do him the basic courtesy of honesty.

Arnab Goswami, even in his uncharacteristically gentle form still had him scrambling for answers.

So anyway, my conclusions.

Rahul Gandhi genuinely cares about change, about the system. About the changes he'd like to see. He has spent considerable time thinking about it and experimenting with it in the limited cocoon available to him. And this is valuable. He would probably be a great advisor instead of trying to use his authenticity to float other crap into acceptance.

He has advantages in that he has no baggage of his own.

On the downside, he simply seems to lack the authority gene. Whether this is a result of over protection or disinterest, but he is more interested in serving and planning and doing than leading. Which may also be a result of the Congress leaders treating him like he was insignificant.

He does seem fearless. Or rather a man with little to lose, which is always dangerous in an opponent.

On the bright, bright, bright side, and extremely refreshing for Indian politics is his complete lack of malice for anyone. Narendra Modi included, which takes a fairly evolved mind considering what he believed Modi's role to be in the riots.

Summary: Rahul Gandhi is a great guy, but has yet to be able to get reliable data on himself. For me, he continues to be irrelevant to the future of India unless something changes drastically.

To the Congress. You retards, either you give someone the respect of your honesty or you damn well not throw him under the bus to answer for sins he has no idea how to answer for, because it is you creeps who did it, and he isn't used to covering for it and it is tragic to see him try so hard and still fail for the sake of those who can't give him something as basic as an honest relationship.

How I wish I had not seen this and felt such sorrow. And now that I have seen it, I cannot unsee it.

I wish Rahul Gandhi joy in life. Whether it means he has to leave this three ring circus and get himself some real people to care, or piss off everyone and grab the reins and run. Till then he isn't useful to himself or India.