Rahul Gandhi, blurring lines between filmi and real politicians
On screen was one of the few Indian politicians with movie star looks and his answers seemed to be out of one of those half-baked, incoherent and painfully unrealistic films that Bollywood regularly churns out.
There are occasions when the dividing line between the real and the fictional blurs. Yesterday’s interview of Rahul Gandhi, conducted by Arnab Goswami of Times Now was one of them. On screen was one of the few Indian politicians with movie star looks and his answers seemed to be out of one of those half-baked, incoherent and painfully unrealistic films that Bollywood regularly churns out in an effort to make some money off the nation's interest in political figures.
Some pointed out that this was Gandhi's first interview in a decade, so we should all cut him some slack. If Gandhi wasn't the vice president of the Congress party and 43 years old, that would be a fair argument. As things stand, he's the leader of Congress' electoral campaign. The least an electorate can expect from him are cogent answers when being interviewed by a remarkably restrained Goswami.
However, many were mystified by Gandhi's responses. For example, what was this system that he insisted needed to “open up”? How could he claim the RTI law as his personal victory when it is the result of years of campaigning by activists who have been harassed and even assaulted for their work? What do six bills pending in parliament have to do with corruption charges against Himachal Pradesh chief minister, Virbhadra Singh?
The problem is that we’re looking at Gandhi’s interview as that of a politician who is also the vice president of one of the country’s oldest and major political parties. See it as the battle cry of an upcoming good-guy politician in a Bollywood film, and the interview checks all the right boxes. See for yourself:
1. Gandhi kept referring to himself in third person, which is a classic technique used by generations of Bollywood scriptwriters to establish a character’s aristocracy, power and gravitas.
2. He referenced the Mahabharata in an effort to describe himself, another classic Bollywood technique. (He’s Arjun, in case you missed the interview.)
3. His answers were peppered with references to family members in politics while emphasising he’s not part of some dynasty, but one breaking away from the old ways.
4. He emphasised his transcendental awesomeness by having him point out that he doesn’t bear a grudge against all Sikhs for the fact that two Sikh men killed his grandmother.
5. He said that “the system needs to change” and that it “hurts” people repeatedly. He also looked quite pained and earnest every time he demanded the system be changed.
6. The answer to all problems is “empowering” people.
7. He expressed grief that “innocent people” have died in politically-instigated violence and informed us that the death of innocent people is a terrible thing.
8. He outlined the need of the hour: “The basic issue is we have to empower women, open up the system, let young people in.”
9. He declared women are “the backbone of the country”.
10. Gandhi said everything he has done in his life till date has been to combat unfairness in society.
Basically, Gandhi's answers felt like a medley of moments from Prakash Jha's Rajneeti and Satyagraha.
Now, imagine this as a speech, with shots of a gathered crowds interspersed between the lines: their eyes filling with tears when Gandhi speaks of his father’s and grandmother’s brutal deaths, a young woman hushing her baby when he mentions empowering women, a young man looking flushed with inspiration when Gandhi says the youth must be brought in to open the system. Add a suitably rousing background score and instructions to the gathered crowd to applaud uproariously at the end, and Rahul Gandhi is a hit.
The problem is when you know that Gandhi’s response to a question about inflation is to observe women are the nation’s backbone. Or when you keep in mind that this evil system that he’s talking about is controlled by his own political party just by virtue of the fact that they’re the ones who have been in power. Consider Gandhi’s demands for a more “open” system that will bring more people in, and ask yourself what precisely that means for a country that is already a democracy. Also, what are these “youngsters” that Gandhi spoke of supposed to do precisely, given he’s reposing all his faith in their ability to transform the nation?
Listening to Gandhi defend the Congress party and its government at the time of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, you had to wonder whether he was so pro-youth because they may not care about the past, have access to information about what really happened and so may well accept Gandhi’s statement that the government of the time tried to stop the violence rather than encourage it. This, incidentally, is historically inaccurate.
Is the youth of this country so uninformed that it won’t notice that Gandhi’s justification for holding Chief Minister Narendra Modi responsible for the 2002 riots in Gujarat, despite a clean chit from the courts, is “people say” Modi’s to blame? Had no one in his advisory team given him some reading material on the 2002 riots or could Gandhi, like so many youngsters, just not be bothered to do his homework? As a supposed champion of the people who don’t get their say because there’s a power structure that silences them, “people say” was the best Gandhi could do. That’s not just disappointing; it’s irresponsible.
At one point in the interview, Goswami asked Gandhi if he’d have entered politics even if he wasn’t born into this family of politicians. Gandhi paused, searched for words, and finally said he is an anomaly in this environment. It was more of a waffle than an answer, and it showed a political player who is not only easily flustered, but also incapable of scoring off a full toss. To counter all the snide references to dynasty, to establish himself as a man truly committed to building the nation, all Rahul Gandhi had to say when he was asked if he’d be a politician even if he wasn’t a Gandhi, was a simple ‘yes’. Even a filmi politician would have known that.
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