Of Rajiv, Rahul and Sonia Gandhi

Two recent books in the news these days offer valuable objective assessments about the mental and intellectual capabilities of two key political figures. For students of Indian politics, both should be a must-read. The first is by former US President Barack Obama. And the second is by a close friend of the Gandhi family, who, as a senior IAS officer, had witnessed firsthand the working style of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Neither author can be remotely suspected of harbouring ill-will against the Gandhis. Obama, in his latest book, A Promised Land, refers to Rahul and Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, from his all-too-brief formal engagements. These thumbnail sketches nonetheless capture well the mindsets of the trio.

On the other hand, retired secretary to the GoI, Wajahat Habibullah’s ‘ My Years with Rajiv’ throws light on the late Prime Minister’s working style. Despite the fact that the author was a friend of Rajiv from their time together at Doon School and clearly was keen to show him in good light, what he actually saw and heard as a senior aide to the PM obliged him to paint a true picture. And Rajiv doesn’t come out smelling like roses.

In fact, from Habibullah’s narration of a few major events during the prime ministership of Rajiv, it is clear that the latter was completely clueless about what was happening around him. The Habibullah book has more meat for students of politics to assess and put in perspective the role and leadership of Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister. Whether it was the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid, or Operation Brasstacks in 1986-87, which nearly sparked a war with Pakistan, Rajiv was completely in the dark. Monumental decisions with national and international implications were taken by the government, of which he was the legal head but was ignorant.

And he was hypocritical as well. As Habibullah recounts, he virulently opposed refuelling facility to the American planes during the multi-nation war to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991, saying it compromised India’s sovereignty. But privately, the author says, the PM told him he had reassured the American Embassy that he was not against the grant of such a facility. Besides, Rajiv was unaware that India itself enjoyed such a facility in 35 countries. As for the Obama book, his cutting reference to Rahul, which has received most media play in India, was bang on, reinforcing the popular caricature of the Congress’s de facto boss as 'Pappu'. The former US President describes him as someone “who has a nervous, unformed quality about him, as if he were a student who had done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject.”

We do not have to elaborate on the prescient description of Rahul whom, Obama writes, mother Sonia is keen to instal as Prime Minister. Even on Manmohan Singh – a wise and scholarly man but weak and frail, both physically and politically – Obama has got it right. Of course, between the two books it is Habibullah’s that deals exclusively with domestic affairs. After reading it, you may well mutter, 'Well, like father, like son’.

Let him burn in own stew

It is unfortunate that the Attorney General K K Venugopal is wasting valuable time and energy on a two-bit publicity-seeker. One Kunal Kamra’s premeditated tweets against the Supreme Court have only one objective. That is to keep him in the news and thus enhance his brand value as a low-grade comedian. By sanctioning proceedings against the serial offender for contempt of court, Venugopal allows him to play the victim.

The top law officer seems to ignore that what the communally-motivated tweeter does is hold the entire Indian public in contempt, rather than only the highest judicial institution, by mocking its independence and fairness. Such crazies ought not to be allowed their 15 minutes of notoriety. Why dignify such low-lives who periodically sprout from nowhere and hog the limelight by uttering foul fulminations against those who, by dint of their constitutional offices, are unable to hold them to account? Taking note of the Kunal Kamras of this world incentivises them to commit further atrocity against the accepted norms of acceptable behaviour. Leave them to burn in their own stew.

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