There was nothing in what Rahul Gandhi said during zero-hour on Friday that could not have waited for the discussion on the Lokpal Bill promised to Anna Hazare to get him to abandon his fast.
The only urgency was to enable the young MP, who often is found in places outside the Lok Sabha, to set the agenda. This was an attempt to make his involvement in critical policy matters more visible.
Zero-hour is a significant parliamentary time which came into existence when Rabi Ray was the Speaker in 1989. The idea is to enable MPs to raise very urgent issues that require the government’s attention — like rising river levels in east India, which is what Sharad Yadav did on Friday.
Zero-hour comes for a few minutes after question-hour. It is designed to optimise Parliament’s time, and if possible use up any residual time. It is also uniquely Indian in which MPs are not even required to give any notice to the Speaker.
It is not the time set aside for politics.
But politics it was, especially politics of the Congress kind that was played out in the Lok Sabha.
It was possibly a signal that the transition of power, at least within the party, had commenced.
What did Rahul Gandhi say? That the Lokpal could be a constitutional body much like the Election Commission of India, but that there was the risk of it also becoming corrupt. That democracy needed to be taken deep into our villages, that there was a need to take note of corruption and deal with it.
If he had spoken during the planned debate later, he would have been just another MP – albeit an important MP. He would then not be setting the tone, and conveying his party’s stance to the public, the other MPs and the party cadres. He has to stand alone, head and shoulders above others.
That his role in the party is being raised in a calibrated manner ever since Sonia Gandhi left for surgery and convalescence abroad is also well orchestrated.
Mark the fact that he had Jitendra Pasada and Jyotiraditya Scindia, two young MPs, with him. Mark also that they led the thumping of desks. Mark that when the BJP raised a shindig after he made a mention of corruption and its links to mining and land leases, Scindia rose to heckle back at the Opposition.
The systematic enhancement of Rahul Gandhi’s role has been visible ever since he called a meeting on 15 August at the party office, had the prime minister over for consultations, kept Pranab Mukherjee waiting in the anteroom, and did not even call Ahmed Patel (Sonia’s close aide) in. Today it peaked to a new height and higher visibility unlike what happens inside party offices. Media reports can only convey a perception. In the full glare of TV cameras, it conveys a fact.
Watch video of Rahul Gandhi making his speech in the Parliament:
When the Anna Hazare issue was boiling over Rahul went away to Maval, near Pune, to meet the villagers who were at the receiving end of police action. But he made it a point to return and tell Manmohan Singh that the arrest of Anna was unwarranted. That led to the embarrassing backtracking and orders to release Hazare and his aides from detention in Tihar.
He also provided the cue to his crisis managers – they are good at creating one and then trying to manage it – by saying that he was “concerned” about Anna Hazare’s health.
Hours before he used zero-hour, the young Gandhi met the prime minister. At least an hour before he spoke, it was leaked to the media that he would be doing so, adding some expectations in the public domain, enough to provoke some interest.
Good PR, that. Politics, too.