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Trouble with Rahul in Kabul
- PM explains trip came out of casual conversation

Kabul, Aug. 29: Rahul in Kabul is like a bulbul: It flies away just when you think you’ve caught it. That corny one-liner from a bandhgala diplomat seeing off the Prime Minister’s entourage just about sums up the elusive Gandhi sojourn.

Easily, the juiciest story for the Indian media accompanying the Prime Minister to Afghanistan was what Rahul was doing in the official delegation. He was seen at every official engagement of the Prime Minister that was a public occasion. The media might still get a sound bite out of him in the aircraft. But high over the Hindu Kush or Pakistan is not quite Afghanistan.

This afternoon he was at a reception for the Prime Minister by the Indian community at ambassador Rakesh Sood’s residence when the question was thrown at him. He was on the dais with the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s wife Gursharan Kaur and foreign minister Natwar Singh.

The Prime Minister made a brief speech and towards its end the journalists yelled for Rahul: “Rahul, hi”, “Mr Gandhi”, “Rahulsaab”, “Rahulji”. He looked and smiled a dimpled smile as Natwar Singh seated to his right advised him to leave.

Was Rahul a trifle reluctant to be taken away' Then the SPG official-in-charge walked up to him and whispered. Rahul was walking away despite the shouts. The two went over to an outhouse barred for entry and were seen walking on the driveway.

Again, the shouts rang out: “Rahul, come on yaar, just a minute,” someone dared. Then the media were told unless they left the venue and headed for the Presidential Palace where Manmohan Singh was staying, the Prime Minister’s news conference would be cancelled. The journalists were piled on to two buses. The buses were parked outside the ambassador’s residence and one can imagine that after the media left, Rahul was allowed onto the lawns and he mingled with the guests beyond reach of cameras and shouted questions.

Finally, the Prime Minister was asked the question at his news conference. “I mentioned to Rahul in a casual conversation that I was going to Afghanistan. He told me he was always fascinated by Afghanistan. So I said why don’t you come along'” the Prime Minister explained.

Rahul said much the same to one lucky reporter from a television channel yesterday when the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone for a new Indian embassy building. On the drive from the Habibia High School journalists were stuck in one of Kabul’s notorious traffic jams.

The TV reporter, much to the envy of his competing colleagues, broke through the jam and made it to the site. He was in such a tearing hurry that he could not even take his camera. He grabbed the camera of a competing TV news agency and took 30 seconds of exclusive footage, asking Rahul what he was doing here.

Rahul said he was fascinated by Afghanistan and had asked Manmohan Singh casually over lunch one day and got invited! He advised the media not to read too much into his Kabul visit. And in 30 seconds, Rahul was elbowed out of audible zone by the SPG.

Rahul Gandhi had an SPG escort specially for him. He knew, too, that Afghanistan is Manmohan Singh’s story and he could not be stealing the Prime Minister’s thunder.

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