Cong comedy of errors

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By SANJAY K. JHA
  • Published 19.08.11
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Rahul Gandhi on Thursday with family members of the farmers who were killed in police firing in Pune. (PTI)

New Delhi, Aug. 18: A simple question — when would Rahul Gandhi speak his mind on the Anna Hazare campaign — was enough to unnerve Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary today.

“He is not a parrot that he will speak when you want,” she blurted out angrily.

Rahul is busy with what he is comfortable doing: he today visited the families of farmers killed in police firing in Pune a few days ago.

While his move sent out a subtle message to Hazare’s supporters that there was more to India than the Lokpal, it also distanced Rahul from the web of blunders his party and the government have enmeshed themselves in.

Renuka’s discomfort was understandable: at her first appearance as Congress spokesperson, she was facing a barrage of questions on the party’s extraordinary offensive on the US.

Her colleague Rashid Alvi had yesterday aired the “suspicion” that America wanted to “destabilise India”, on the strength of a state department spokesperson’s remark hoping India would exercise “appropriate democratic restraint” while dealing with Hazare’s peaceful protest. Later, realising the enormity of its bravado, the Congress decided to backtrack.

Renuka was visibly nervous and ended up providing comic relief of sorts from the grim situation the Congress is grappling with.

Apart from the parrot metaphor about Rahul, she dismissed a question about the attack on the US as “yesterday’s news” and asked reporters if the media loved to move in reverse gear. After persistent grilling, she retorted: “Do I look like Rashid Alvi; why are you asking me!”

But apart from their comical aspect, her comments also reflected a dearth of planning and accountability in the Congress, whose spokespersons are each speaking in a different voice and ending up eating their words the next day.

Manish Tiwari described Hazare as corrupt and the position changed the next day; Alvi pointed a finger at the US and the script was rewritten within hours.

Renuka conceded: “We are terribly missing Sonia Gandhi. Till then, we are trying to do our best.”

That best hasn’t been good enough for the majority of party leaders, who believe the handling of the Hazare fast couldn’t have been worse. The ranks are dismayed at the government’s swing from one extreme to another, its initial tough stance and later surrender.

Confusion reigns even now, with some leaders saying the party should ignore the fast while others suggesting government intervention after a couple of days on medical grounds.

Alvi’s attack on the US has left many in the party wondering whether anybody is briefing the spokespersons at all.

Tiwari’s description of Hazare as corrupt at Sunday’s special briefing could not have come without clearance from the top. There is a buzz in Congress circles about the role of Janardan Dwivedi, who is not only the party’s media cell chairperson but also part of the four-member team looking after party affairs in Sonia’s absence.

A minister told The Telegraph: “We don’t even know who are taking (the) decisions. We don’t know who we can go to with our views. The party is suffering long-term damage and by the time Soniaji returns, things could become very bad.”