Trading sarcasm is not the best way to go about a parliamentary debate, but it’s certainly better than having no debate at all. In a space of 24 hours Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had what could pass off as a parley. On Wednesday evening, Rahul delivered a speech saturated with mockery and ridicule targeted at Modi. He made his thoughts very apparent to the Prime Minister, commenting on his policies and style of functioning. Today it was Prime Minister Modi's turn to lash back; he punched back hard, matching taunt for taunt, jibe for jibe.
Both speeches lacked in good content – which is too much to expect it in the current politically fraught times - but were rich in the entertainment quotient nevertheless. Are speeches in Parliament meant for entertainment? Don’t ask; that’s another debate altogether. But in the era of television and televised debates, being entertaining helps; it fetches you a loyal audience. Perhaps Rahul has learnt it now. Earlier, he pretended to be solemn and nobody took him seriously. He narrated his experiences with the poor and the unprivileged in the country with a lot of passion, but it usually fell on deaf ears.
He seems to be a changed man now, at least when it comes to oration. It’s no national secret that he is not a gifted speaker, but some felt he could make do with whatever talent he had. On Wednesday, he surpassed expectations. He looked less tense and more prepared for the performance. His smile and relaxed demeanour didn’t look pasted on him. He was combative and didn’t look unpleasant while at it. He looked straight into the eyes of the opposition and let go the barbs. For a change, his vocabulary didn’t seem to be a handicap and yes, he appeared to be having fun.
Whatever he is eating these days should be recommended to all people. Perhaps his mysterious absences had something to do with it. The problem, however, is that, many are still not taking him seriously. The BJP leaders were unimpressed; that’s only expected. There were some on social media who compared him to RJD chief Lalu Prasad – it’s certainly unfair to the latter who has a way with humour – others demanded entertainment tax on his speech. Some pointed out that he messed up with facts yet again and displayed spectacular lack of understanding of issues of national import.
Modi’s speech was precise as usual, a piece of work of a seasoned performer. He was immaculate in his choice of words and the sarcasm hit home. He offered counters to all the allegations Rahul made against him. To the charge that seniors in the BJP were not allowed to have a voice he said inferiority complex in some Congress leaders forced them to silence senior leaders; he referred to Rahul’s speech as manoranjan (entertainment) and then came the unkindest cut: “Some people grow in age but never become wiser.” The target of his attack was hard to miss.
When it comes to oration, the Modi vs Rahul is a gross mismatch. The prime minister has set such a high standard that Rahul can only dream of reaching his level. This time he was better than his earlier performances but fell short to Modi's speeches. Of course, he has a lot of time to improve. The Congress will be patient; it has no other option.
Coming back to debates, the country certainly deserves much more than acidic exchanges. Neither looked mature and dignified at the end of it.