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'Rahul over-exposed himself in UP Polls'


ADITYA RAJ KAUL | New Delhi, September 15, 2012 18:44
Tags : decoding rahul gandhi | aarthi ramachandran |

An attempt has been made by a political journalist to unravel the hidden side of Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi in a book titled "Decoding Rahul Gandhi". Aditya Raj Kaul in an exclusive interaction with the author of the book Aarthi Ramachandran tries to understand the vision of the political leader who rarely gives any interviews to the press.

How did the idea of writing a book on the Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi crop up?
I have been covering the Congress party since 2004 as a political journalist. My reporting of the Congress started along with Rahul’s political career (he became an MP from Amethi in 2004). From the very beginning, I’ve been tracking Rahul closely, looking at the kind of moves he is making and the messages he is sending out. I also covered his political campaigns and followed him on the election trail. Writing this book was a germ of an idea in my head in 2009. I thought Rahul would definitely go on to lead the Congress party someday and perhaps even the country. I felt it would be interesting to chronicle his early years in politics. That is how it began. Also, in October 2009, I quite unexpectedly got an opportunity to meet Rahul. I wrote to him about the child begging problem in Delhi at the time when the preparations for the Commonwealth Games in the city were underway. There were reports in newspapers that the Delhi government wanted to put the children away somewhere out of sight of the foreign delegations that would be there for the Games. It was a moment of sheer helplessness and desperation for me. I dropped my cynicism for a moment and wrote a letter to Rahul Gandhi about finding a long-term way to rehabilitate child beggars. I felt since he was projecting himself as a young and idealistic politician and spoke about making the life of people better, he might be interested in finding a solution to this problem. It was a pleasant surprise to receive a response from him within two days. At a meeting with him the same week, I had an opportunity to discuss the problem with him. The account of that meeting isin the book. Even though the meeting didn’t lead up to anything, I felt here was a young politician who was ready to engage. I had not written to him as a journalist but as a common citizen. It was very encouraging to know that he was willing to meet any common citizen. Subsequently, as I looked more closely at his work, I felt he had the right intentions but unfortunately he didn’t know how to translate those ideas into politics.
Was it difficult to know the hidden side of the leader who mostly avoids media attention and lives a very private life?
From the very beginning of his career in politics, Rahul Gandhi has put very little of himself out. He has continued to remain an enigma over the years. This book is an attempt to explain Rahul Gandhi’s politics and persona. This is one of chief reasons why the book is called “Decoding Rahul Gandhi”. It was an attempt to figure him out, to find out what he really stands for, to try and understand what went into making of this man. I began by looking at the period before he entered politics, his educational background and his work experience. I looked at his childhood and the impact of the assassinations of his grandmother and father on him and his attitude to politics. Many people are asking who Rahul Gandhi really is, what he believes in, what he stands for. The book attempts to answer this question by looking at his work in politics from the moment he become an MP in 2004 till the Uttar Pradesh elections of 2012. It was a challenging assignment. Every time I tried to reach his office to get information for my book, to interview him there was absolutely no response at all. It definitely made my job that much harder. But, I spoke to a cross-section of Congress leaders, including people in his extended team, leaders of the Indian Youth Congress (IYC) and the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), Congress leader in the inner circle of the Gandhi family’s Delhi durbar,subject experts he had met and many others. I spoke with some of his teachers and class mates and colleagues. I wouldn’t say that information came pouring in, but there were little bits of information that came in and finally led to a more complete picture of the man in my head. It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. 
Is the book more of reportage on his activities and how that might shape his future or are there any revelations as well?
There is a lot of reportage, because I am a political reporter. That is how the book was conceived and that is how I approached it. But, along with reportage there is a lot of analysis, an attempt to look beyond the events of the day, correlate facts from different periods of time in his life. It meant going back several years and listening to his interviews, speeches in the Parliament, looking at a lot of YouTube videos of election speeches. That meant going over those long videos, writing those speeches down, putting them together. I met people close to 10 Janpath as well as the anonymous Congress worker and communicated with people from Harvard and Cambridge where he studied. I also looked at the development of the Congress party through the years, through the prism of changing times with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty as a constant. I have tried to briefly touch on the events in the history of the Congress that led to the party becoming dependent on this one family. I analyze how that makes Rahul’s role that much more crucial in Congress today.It was a combination of all of this.
Do you think even when he himself remains silent; there is a strong possibility of Rahul Gandhi becoming the Prime Minister in 2014?
The 2014 elections are going to throw up some very interesting possibilities. You’ll either have the Congress coming to power, or the BJP coming to power, or you’ll have some kind of a third front arrangement which is backed by either the Congress or the BJP. You can’t rule out the two national parties out of the equation. These are three possible scenarios. However, there is a confusion within the BJP about whom to project as its Prime Ministerial candidate. And I am not sure how stable a third front arrangement will be. In these economically uncertain times, I think people will look for stability. In my opinion, it is going to be between the Congress and the BJP, though in politics you cannot rule out anything. Given these choices, it definitely looks like Rahul Gandhi may end up playing an important role. The likelihood of him being the Congress’ prime ministerial face is quite high, even though he has not spoken about it himself yet.
Isn’t Priyanka Gandhi the more sought after young Gandhi family prodigy than Rahul Gandhi in the Congress?
If you talk to people from Uttar Pradesh you’ll find this a lot because they see the return of Indira Gandhi in Priyanka. When you talk to heartland politicians from Uttar Pradesh, they’re always enthusiastic about ‘Rahul bhaiya’ (as he is referred to many in the party, especially IYC and NSUI leaders) but when you bring in Priyanka, their enthusiasm is much greater. Priyanka shows spontaneity and charm and appears far more at ease with politics. She shows the ability to connect more with people whether it is through her interaction with the party cadre in Rae Bareli and Amethi or from what we see of her on TV. Though I haven’t actually covered any of her election meetings, I feel she has many qualities which are a big plus for any politician. Rahul in comparison is not a natural politician. Having said that, we don’t know what Priyanka’s ideas are. We don’t know as much about her as we know of Rahul. Rahul has been seen in politics for eight years now. It remains to be seen what she can do beyond electioneering and making speeches from podiums. What exactly will Priyanka Gandhi stand for? It is a big question mark at this point.The call for Priyanka is also a sign that at least some in the Congress are looking for a quick fix since they haven’t been able to find answers in the figure of Rahul Gandhi.
Why has Rahul Gandhi been missing from action after the failure in the Uttar Pradesh Polls?

I don’t claim to know much more than what most political reporters do. Rahul doesn’t talk, so it’s very difficult to gauge what is in his mind. Many in senior people in senior positions within the Congress would be hard-pressed to know what happens in Rahul Gandhi’s mind. But, from what it appears to me, he over-exposed himself in Uttar Pradesh because of which there was a strong reaction to Congress’s performance. It was undoubtedly a miserable performance. I think the defeat was exaggerated by the fact that Rahul went all out in that campaign in a way he has never done before in his career. After that, he has tried to perhaps recalibrate and understand how much to put out of himself, how much he should expose himself. Looking at some of his statements after the loss in UP, he displayed a level of political maturity. One would have expected that he would go back to UP, continue with his work there, and send out a message that it’s just one loss and that I’m still there. I’m not sure if hanging back at the moment is going to help him. 
What do you think is the political vision or a political statement of Rahul Gandhi in terms of 2014 elections?
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any one big contribution or dramatic change that can be credited to Rahul Gandhi. I think this is one of the biggest drawbacks of Brand Rahul Gandhi. There are no deliverables associated with Rahul. When you buy a soap cake to wash clothes, it comes with a promise that it’ll give you whiter washes, you buy a Maruti car, and it comes with the promise of fuel efficiency. So what does Brand Rahul stand for? I think that’s one question that has haunted his political image over the years. Nonetheless, I must add he has been working in two areas over the years, but we haven’t seen his efforts pay off. He has brought a lot of attention to the Youth Congress and NSUI. After the era of Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi, these organisations went off the radar. He has managed to put the spotlight back on these two organisations. Many people become associated with these organisations because Rahul has been with them. I think over time we’ll see inclusion of fresh blood into the Congress, though I’m not sure if it’ll happen the way Rahul wants it to happen. But, it will surely bring a lot of young people to the Congress. The area he has immersed himself in is UP. The Congress’ graph in UP, since Rahul started taking interest in it from 2007,has been on a rise even though they lost in the recent elections. The vote share increased by 3%.
Do you think Rahul Gandhi is a credible competition from Congress, if BJP were to nominate Narendra Modi as their Prime Ministerial candidate?
Regardless of the competition Rahul Gandhi will face, he has plenty of ground to cover. If we see Rahul Gandhi’s politics, we find that he is not quite sure what role he wants to play. After the UP elections, he said he thought it his job to reform the political system of the country. We don’t know whether he wants to be a selfless political activist or whether he wants to be a little more pragmatic and keep the Congress party in robust electoral health. He needs to reorient his attitude to politics and he has to learn the tricks of political management. Look at his track record – he has been unable to engage with the Congress’ coalition partners and allies. He has been unable to nurture relationships with any of them other than Omar Abdullah. So much so that people in the DMK, starting with Mr Karunanidhi downwards, feel wary of dealing with Rahul Gandhi. It is Sonia Gandhi who continues to provide political capital to the Congress despite Rahul being in politics for over eight years.
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Posted By: Rethy Devi | New Delhi | September 17th 2012 | 23:09
This book is nothing but a commissioned project or a classic case of paid journalism. Or the journalist Arthi Ramachandran may be an ardent follower or lover or devotee of Rahul Gandhi. I would have appreaciated any lady Congress reporter ventures on a book on Abhishek Singhvi.

Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017