Vir Sanghvi

Why nobody is allowed to criticize Sonia Gandhi

Take a deep breath and reflect who you are not allowed to criticize in India. I could think of no other than Sonia Gandhi, former Congress and UPA chairperson. Run the entire gamut, pore over the worksheet of honchos of Indian media, Shekhar Gupta, Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose etc; google as you might; dive into the archives of Lutyens Media like Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, The Hindu; Sonia Gandhi, much like Caesar’s wife, has been above reproach.

That’s astounding. I mean nobody has been the president of 134-year-old Congress longer than her (19 years); she got her party two consecutive Lok Sabha victories; a whole lot of scams were unearthed; yet not a word against her. I mean yes, BJP and her bete noire Dr. Subramaniam Swamy keep pelting her windows but that’s par for course for any opposition. But what accounts for no “black sheep” within Congress bleating ever? No media house opening its edit pages for trenchant views; no historian/academician offering critiques? No scholarly paper in JNU? No diagnosis on a person out on bail?

I do recall two embarrassing Sonia interviews, that is for any self-respecting journalist, by Rajdeep Sardesai (he kept saying “fought like a tigress,” both in 2005 and 2016), as it was for Aroon Purie on another occasion, coy and adolescent.  Yes Shekhar Gupta (“she keeps a formidable dynasty on her slender shoulders,”), Barkha Dutt (“she has made a public commitment to Women’s Reservation Bill”) have also interviewed her;  Vir Sanghvi has been profound in “Nobody-in-Nehru-Gandhi-Family-Has-Given-Kind-of-Authority-she-has-to Manmohan-Singh,” echoed by a gushing Sagarika Ghose ( “She never undermined Manmohan Singh, always backed him up”). Both Sanghvi and Ghose don’t touch upon how another Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao, was humiliated, even in death. And these clowns happily go toting about “bhakts” to everyone else. Phew.

Two books on Sonia immediately come to my mind. One is a pathetic account by a sychophant;  another is “Red Sari” which was unofficially banned in India for six years due to machinations by Abhishek Sanghvi, as alleged by its author.

There was though one voice of dissent which was muzzled without much ado by this “deep state” in India. Margaret Alva, a former Union minister of state and Governor, was quite scathing in her autobiography: “Courage and Commitment:” Excerpts:

“While Pilot, Prasada and Scindia got all the honours due to them as Congress leaders—with shamianas erected at the AICC to receive their remains before the last rites—PV Narasimha Rao, the tallest of them all, was denied a state funeral in Delhi. His body was not even let into the AICC compound; instead, the gun carriage carrying the former Prime Minister and Congress President was parked on the pavement outside the gates, with chairs lined for party leaders. I was shocked…ever since, I have regretted not protesting and walking away.” – On PV Narasimha Rao’s death in 2004

Alva details that she played a peacebroker between Sonia and Rao: the latter falling out probably for deciding to appeal against the Delhi High Court’s decision to quash a complaint against the Bofors case. Sonia Gandhi once retorted to Alva: “What does the Prime Minister want to do? Send me to jail?”

Alva’s outburst about the unfair ticket distribution in Karnataka led to her ouster. She was asked to resign from the post of All-India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in 2009. In her resignation, Alva wrote thus:

“Times have changed and for the first time I have come to feel like a misfit in an organization that I considered as precious as my own home. A look at our recent candidates lists show a distinct patter of patronages to the wealthy and rich lobbies like mining, education and real-estate…”

Just reflect on the above in line of recent Karnataka assembly elections and ponder why no newspaper or media celebrity ever brought this book out of the shelves to examine Congress’ candidates in 2018? Why Congress’ demise in the state is not looked through the prism which Alva afforded us?

As per one reviewer of the book: “Alva’s book offers an amazing insight into the maneuverings of 10 Janpath—the home of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Without being too harsh, Alva clearly indicts Gandhi for lacking transparency in her manner of functioning, her penchant for surrounding herself with a handful of loyalists…”.

Alva was made to leave Delhi, appointed as she was governor of Uttarakhand. In her words: “Once I had made the mistake of saying: `The Alvas are the only political family to have a member in Parliament without a break for almost half a century.’ This statement sealed our fate.”

(As an aside, Alva was Governor of Rajasthan when Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Alva describes her meeting with Modi thus: `I told him I had come to pay my respects, not plead for an extension, adding `I am not prepared to quit anytime.’ “There is no question,” He (Modi) replied. “You are doing a good job please continue where you are.” She was subsequently given additional charge of Goa and Gujarat!).

Lutyens Media is drummer boy for Rahul Gandhi

It’s without bitterness or rancour that I point out how the rotten media—both Indian and Western—keeps the “Dead Man Walking,” that is, Indian National Congress.

Vir Sanghvi, out from the edit pages of Hindustan Times for nearly a decade after the Radia Tapes leaks, is back strategically ahead of the 2019 Elections. On Friday, he warned BJP it has a “fight on its hands,” since “Rahul Gandhi has grown in confidence.” The first time Sanghvi’s political pen is unfrozen in a decade, it flows in obeisance. To take a hint from his own Brunch column, it’s in “rude taste.’

The last we saw of the child-boy Rahul on national screen was during the “hug debate” in Parliament last Friday. He had a dark visage, stung by the rebuke of generally mild Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, followed by BJP’s Anurag Thakur ripping open his Rafale lies in front of the nation.

Yet the same newspaper, only a couple of days before, was showcasing Shekhar Gupta almost celebrating the “Bofors moment” of BJP on Rafale. Now Shekhar isn’t shy on Congress or slinking type—remember how he made light of “pimping-for-Congress” remark of Arvind Kejriwal? So boldly Shekhar has gone ahead and penned another piece close on its heels—and you’ve guessed it right: “He (Rahul) has risen in stature as a pre-eminent leader of opposition.”

The next name which came almost instinctively to my mind was Barkha Dutt. Why? Because she links with Sanghvi as one who was badly stung by Radia Tapes leaks; and with Shekhar as a columnist in his venture to which once she briefly was a partner.

Barkha these days is usually found parked in Washington Post. She found Rahul Gandhi winner all over on “Hug Day” in front of the nation: “He won the headlines…he won the talking points.’

If Barkha is around can Sagarika Ghose be behind? She is used to being called a Gandhi loyalist. Her first sentence in Times of India on Rahul-hug is: “(it) has  stunned the government and left the Prime Minister looking thunderstruck.” Her husband, Rajdeep Sardesai, was far more nuanced but still couldn’t resist stating: “Pappu can hug saala.”

None of them realize that if there is one definitive moment which has sealed Rahul Gandhi’s fate in the eyes of the nation (as well in the eyes of other prospective allies) it is this “hug moment.” He looked kiddish, impulsive—first asking Modi to get up from his seat and when the wily Prime Minister didn’t oblige—throwing himself at him like a sack. He then allowed himself to be called back by PM; to be patted; and sent hurtling back to his seat. It was not a “winner” but a very “poor optics” beamed to millions. He became a laughing stock and sealed his fate with his own act.

And so have these court-jesters who masquerade as journalists. Remember the words most of them had to say about “Hugplomacy” of Modi: if you believed them or their Western ilks, Modi had made himself a laughing stock in front of world leaders.

Read BBC (“he has become a caricature of himself”); Washington Post (Modi an awkward hugger); Quartz (penchant for bear hugs) or news outlets closer home, unfailingly you’d find Modi plastered to the wall for offering warm hugs to fellow statesmen and leaders. But when Rahul Gandhi does so, all of these pen-pushers can’t stop gushing in admiration. The same Congress which ridiculed Modi and his hug on a youtube video, now has posters where Rahul’s hug has all but saved humanity. I mean how ludicrous could it get???