What explained Rahul Gandhi’s outburst against the ordinance giving protection to MPs convicted of crimes? The manner in which Rahul burst into a media conference being addressed by Congress MP and spokesperson Ajay Maken, and then contradicted what Maken had been saying, surprised his party colleagues. Rumours ran thick and fast in Lutyens’ Delhi that Rahul had had a fight with his mother, Sonia Gandhi, and this explained his anger at the media meet.
So were there disagreements on the ordinance between mother and son? What lent credence to this theory was that Kamal Nath and Kapil Sibal had met Sonia only hours before Rahul’s front-foot attack, but had got no hint of a rethink on part of the party president.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Nath and Law Minister Sibal had met Sonia right after visiting Rashtrapati Bhawan, where President Pranab Mukherjee had asked them questions about the ordinance. Indeed, so shocked were the two ministers – as well as Finance Minister P. Chidambaram – that they studiously avoided journalists after Rahul’s denunciation of the ordinance. Even previously agreed engagements were cancelled.
These senior ministers didn’t want to look as silly as Maken, who was defending the ordinance before Rahul walked in and began attacking it as Rahul walked out. Neither did they want to be perceived as opportunistic like Shashi Tharoor, who lost no time in tweeting in praise of Rahul, even though he was part of the government that had passed the ordinance.
Other sources in the Congress insist there was no difference of opinion between Sonia and her heir apparent. Dumping the ordinance and making the Union government look sheepish was a small price to be paid for painting Rahul as a moral soldier.
The public hostility and negative media coverage following the ordinance had got Rahul and his team thinking. They calculated – perhaps miscalculated – that this could be another Anna Hazare/Lok Pal Bill/Delhi rape case moment. Wanting to anticipate it, his confidants advised Rahul to announce a revocation of the ordinance and take credit. He consulted his mother and she concurred with the plan, leaving the modalities to him.
Rahul, this theory goes, was expected to make a polite but firm intervention and tell the media he had written to the prime minister in his capacity as vice-president of the Congress and requested a reappraisal of the ordinance in the light of public outrage. Not used to meeting journalists, the young man – if you can describe someone in his mid-40s as a “young man” – seems to have had a panic attack. He covered his anxiety with a façade of anger and used strong words like “nonsense” and “torn up”. The result was a political mess that was not scripted.
What was lost in all this was Maken’s little media conference. It had been called to celebrate the inauguration of the spanking new gymnasium at the Press Club of India. Built by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), the gym was paid for using Maken’s MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) funds.
This raised a lot of eyebrows. The MPLADS allocation was meant to help poor and underprivileged citizens. Is it being used to keep journalists happy in an election year? Pity Rahul Gandhi never answered that question.
Till next time, meow!