There has been many a call to the daughter of Rajiv Gandhi to enter politics, but all have failed till now; she is happy to enjoy her family, friends and pelf. But then, at this late hour, she has come out, fists flying. She was not moved by the state of the grand old party; it was the state of her brother, who was chosen to carry the political dynasty forward. And it was not so much his performance, but that of the promoted deliverer of teacups who has been running rings around him. It must be admitted that his description of the said scion as crown prince, however unfair it may be, struck a chord. Thanks to his attacks, India is exposed to a defence which brings out qualities of Rahul Gandhi that no one had noticed or suspected. For instance, it was revealed that he is a liberal. This is news, for he has never been known to have favoured any liberal policies. The prime minister is known to have participated, when he was finance minister almost two decades ago, in the repeal of controls and introduction of liberal reforms led by the then prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao. But Rao’s name is taboo in the Gandhi family, so the reforms too are unmentionable. And while a painstaking search by Congress propagandists may discover some obscure reforms in the past decade, they will not be sufficient to persuade the electorate that the Manmohan Singh government was enthusiastic about reforms.
In these circumstances, the strategy adopted by Sonia Gandhi would seem to be the best option. She has thrown doubt on the reforms supposed to have been carried out by the governments headed by Narendra Modi. It is unlikely that the scorn she has poured will persuade the voters of Gujarat, who have elected Mr Modi with ever larger majorities. Elsewhere, voters may be prepared to give her a hearing; but they hear many more words from and see more pithy messages on bus shelters from her adversary; and it must be admitted that he is often witty and amusing. No doubt he is often crude, insensitive and inaccurate; but that is impossible to correct or control in a million-word election campaign.
The Election Commission has tried to discipline leaders of the major parties who have excelled in bad manners. But its instruments of chastising them, sending them notices and even filing cases are too weak to persuade them to change their ways. At least for future elections, it must forge more powerful weapons. In particular, it must consider throwing the worst offenders out of the race, imposing exemplary fines, and even locking them up in extreme cases. Such punishments would be unprecedented, but since the courts have themselves been assuming new powers, they will not mind giving the EC some latitude. At least it will be in a good cause.