So, Rahul Gandhi has spoken – and that, too, to India’s most sophisticated audience – and he has got the response from an independent media that he deserves. The Times of India (5 April) said his speech “left political pundits chewing on their pencils, bemused”. “If assembled honchos on the august occasion” said the paper, were looking for solutions, “they found little satisfaction”. What they got instead, said the paper “was a mash-up of parables, fables, homilies, enigmatic folk tales and vaguely inspirational rhetoric”. It lamely added: “The bad news is, real policies or plans didn’t feature much in his address” but the good news was that “Rahul proved himself a speaker who keeps you guessing till the end about what he meant….”.
DNA (April 5 ,) said that the audience “may have been impressed with…. Rahul Gandhi’s speech, but for the rest of India it was old wine in an old bottle”. The paper said the UPA has “squandered the gains it accrued in the previous term” and blamed Rahul for having “only confessions to answer… with nothing much to show on his report card.” Sounding very upset the paper said: “The unenviable task of running the country be best left to Manmohan Singh”.
The Asian Age (April 5, ) thought that considering no Congress leader before has spoken of the need for long-term partnership between the Congress and Industry, Rahul’s “call for synergy” signifies “a landmark departure, a new construct for India”. The paper pointed out that Rahul’s address was “reflective…. free of rancour” and “there was no boastfulness or name-calling” and called for “skill development”.
The Hindu (6 April) noted that Rahul chose to portray his party, government and himself as they are, warts and all” and made no “invitation (to India Inc.) to invest, no assurance to ease the red tape and no pleas for support”. Rahul, said the paper, sounded like he “might have been a Congress malcontent wishing doom on the UPA Government” offering no “road-map” to ordinary people “for their future inclusion in decision-making”. In conclusion the paper said “it stretches credulity that Rahul should speak as if he were a disenchanted voter angered and fatigued by the government’s remoteness from his everyday problems”.
Worse still, the paper said “if there is a method in this seeming madness, it can only be that Rahul is consciously playing the outsider to escape the misdeeds of a regime of which he is a part.” Deccan Herald (April 6 ) said Rahul’s first interaction with India’s corporate leaders… was disappointing to say the least”. The paper said Rahul had nothing to say on UPA’s second generation of reform, “solution to corruption, to crony capitalism, land acquisition, FDI in retail sector etc. and his speech was “rambling”, seeming “to project a casual image”. “Sadly” added the paper, “he blew the opportunity”.
The Telegraph (April 6 ) thought that Rahul’s style of addressing the audience “suggested a tremendous growth in confidence”, showing that he has “departed from the image of himself as a shy and somewhat introverted individual”.
The paper said that Rahul’s speech was “good in parts like the proverbial curate’s egg and “the freshness” of his approach “struck a chord among the audience”.
The Economic Times (April 5 ) thought that Rahul’s speech was “remarkably impressive” and gave the impression that he was “supremely confident of being himself who holds beliefs that he has arrived after much thought, rather than were handed down to him readymade by a battery of tutors”.
Rahul certainly has many critics and they go beyond media to political commentators who may not have any particular political axe to grind. Thus, writing in Economic Times, Ashok Malik felt that Rahul’s address “seemed to lack a central narrative” and “from its opening lines… it tended to leave listeners scratching their heads.” As Malik saw it, Rahul projected himself as the establishment’s ‘insurgent’; at the same time, Malik said, Rahul’s “solutions – the right-based mechanism, legislative promises, cutting the cake into smaller pieces – were reflective of a better life being a benediction the state bestows”.
Giving Rahul some credit, Malik said that the Congress Vice-President’s “obsessive focus on the structural gaps in the party system is well-intentioned”. A fact that many commentators seem to forget – and this is not to defend Rahul but to state the obvious – is that no man can ever cover all the issues of relevance in India because of their sheer variety.
Thus, Anant Krishnan of The Hindu (April 10) lamented that Rahul in his speech “came across as worryingly ill-informed about a country that is not only India’s biggest neighbour and single largest trading partner, but also set to emerge as possibly India’s most important, and difficult, diplomatic challenge, in the next decade”.
The mistake that Rahul – and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) – made is to limit his thinking on a wide variety of subjects, in one 60 minute talk. If the CII – or its ladies’ wing – wanted to learn more, it should have arranged for a series of three or four talks by Rahul to a limited, but sophisticated audience with freedom to be inter-active. The entire approach was wrong. The idea, obviously, was to present Rahul as a putative Prime Minister and national leader with encyclopaedic knowledge and Rahul understandably could not come out to everybody’s expectations.