Rahul Gandhi has made a habit of dropping in on unsuspecting journalists. And each time he has done that, he has exploded a bombshell. In March this year, he told a gathering of hacks in Parliament’s Central Hall that he was not interested in becoming Prime Minister. This was months after he had become Congress vice-president, a presumed precursor to his running for Prime Minister. On an unannounced visit to the Press Club of India in New Delhi on Friday, he roasted his own party and government for their decision to promulgate an ordinance aimed at preventing the disqualification of convicted lawmakers. He called the Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2013, which has been cleared by the Union Cabinet, “complete nonsense” and a piece of paper to be “torn up and thrown away.” The potshots did not stop here. Rahul said he had got the party line from the Congress’s communication chief Ajay Maken, which was that no political party was above making small compromises. But he, Rahul Gandhi, did not buy the line, and indeed, it was his personal opinion that corruption could not be fought through small compromises. Rahul said political parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party included, needed to stop citing one another’s example to justify wrongdoings.
Unexceptionable as this was, it came not from an Opposition rabble-rouser, but from the son of Sonia Gandhi. If Rahul’s intention in lambasting his own government — which he said had “wrongly” cleared the ordinance — was to play the outsider, he has done it once too often. He cannot be both Congress vice-president and a rebel with unlimited licence to attack. If he thought the ordinance was “nonsense,” he should have spoken his mind at the outset, while it was still in the form of a bill in the Rajya Sabha. And the most effective forum for him to air his dissent would have been a party meeting and not a media conference. Intervention at that stage would have likely stopped the ordinance, whose objective has been questioned by the President, much to the government’s discomfiture. The true mark of a leader is his capacity to speak his mind at the right time and place — and speak it knowing the consequences. In the event, Rahul has left a mess in his wake. He has bypassed protocol and mocked at the “party line”, which from anyone else would have been treated as sacrilege. Worse, he has deeply embarrassed the Prime Minister, who was forced to take time out of his Washington visit to issue a statement indicating a rethink on the ordinance out of deference to Rahul. If the Congress vice-president’s outburst was meant to show he’s the boss, he could have accomplished the mission with greater grace.