The devastating earthquake that flattened the beautiful city of Kathmandu, killed thousands, and rendered hundreds of thousands homeless, injured and miserable, also succeeded in distracting popular attention from antics of our petty politicians who specialise in strutting like peacocks and never tire of mouthing platitudes that they believe are mantras to cure all ills—socio-economic—and propel our beloved country into the highest orbit where great powers rotate happily.
The task of rescue and relief has, fortunately, for once been managed without mishap and faltering. PM Modi has once again demonstrated that he can rise to the occasion—not long-winded speeches but understated, heartfelt sympathy blended with characteristic decisiveness set the tone for Mission Maitri. Hopefully, in days to come, we shall witness a similar selfless humanitarian commitment to rehabilitation, reconstruction and restoration in Nepal. The less we talk about strategic imperatives or compare the ‘magnitude’ of our contribution with what others have chipped in with, the better for our national interest.
Unfortunately, even a natural calamity of such magnitude can’t remain in headlines for more than 48 hours if that. ‘Breaking News’ space has already been claimed by nauseating trivia. The allegedly ‘forged’ law degree of the law minister in the AAP government in Delhi, ‘eye witness accounts’ suggesting that poor Gajendra Singh’s suicide was abetted or the accidental fall may well have been ‘instigated’ by crowd at the Jantar Mantar rally. This isn’t all. Scion of the Nehru-Gandhi clan—no one refers to him as the heir apparent—has decided to launch a country-wide padyatra, to use his words, “to see with his own eyes” the plight of the Indian farmers. His reappearance after a long, mysterious sabbatical is being seen as relaunching of a ‘reloaded’ raring-to-go RaGa. His journey by train from Uttarakhand to Ambala via Delhi is being analysed as a brilliant exercise in ‘brand building’ and effective display of the amazing capability of the Congress machine to resurrect itself and outdo Modi in ‘media management’. The burden of Rahul’s song in Punjab and after that in Maharashtra is going to be the Land Acquisition Bill and the anti farmer-pro rich policies of suited-booted Narendra Modi.
What the narcissistic handlers—shall we say brand managers—of Rahul don’t seem to be aware of is the fact that no amount of glitzy repackaging or artificially created buzz can sell a product that has been repeatedly tried by the consumer, (sorry, voter!) found wanting and discarded. Every time an exciting photo-op is organised and space secured to attract eyeballs, people are reminded of the long absences and thundering silences of the reluctant leader. Rahul’s ‘Discovery of India’ continues without any conclusion and the man doesn’t appear very credible when he embarks on a foot march a la the original Gandhi but relies on helicopters, trains and SUVs even for short distances.
The commitment to the farmer’s cause can’t be taken at face value as Rahul seems to be trying different strokes for different folks at the same time to revive and rejuvenate his dwindling band of supporters. Just after he rambled on about dispossessed farmers of Australia in the Kisaan rally, he left for another padyatra of sorts—a secular pilgrimage, if you please—to Kedarnath. One was informed that he had (after landing from a helicopter at Gaurikund) refused a heli-hop to the shrine and insisted on walking up the new route to the temple like ordinary pilgrims. Newspaper reports also informed his compatriots that the Congress vice-president had experienced a warm feeling—re-ignition of the proverbial ‘fire in the belly’? All this exercise succeeded in reminding the poor people of Uttarakhand of his absence a little over a year ago when a horrible natural calamity aggravated by man-made disaster had struck the state. The Congress chief minister then at the helm of the state had wasted precious time awaiting RaGa’s arrival to flag off trucks bearing relief to the victims in urgent need of succour. To many, this appeared as testing the waters before diving deep in dangerous waters of ‘soft’ Hindutva to absolve the Congress from the charge of being pro-minority.
The constantly changing sartorial image attire— kurta-pyjama, kurta jeans, T-shirt plus pants, photographer’s jacket, coupled with clean shaven or with a stubble adorned face, the pensive brooding look with furrowed forehead or fixed grin resembling the visage of a famous comic book hero—those who are glued to the small screen or constantly scan photographs on first page (or is it the second page now?) are left totally confused about reality of the model and the man. Sigh! firstname.lastname@example.org
Pushpesh Pant is a former professor of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi