That day in 2013, the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, was in faraway Washington. At the Press Club in Delhi, Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken was holding a conference to defend the ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers. Mind you, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had headed the core group that cleared the ordinance before the Cabinet took it up. “It is as perfect as far as law is concerned,” were Maken's exact words. And then, he got a slip that read “URGENT, RG”. Rahul Gandhi, who was then vice-president of the Congress dropped in and started to say, "I called up Makenji for some work. He told me he is here with the media, talking about the ordinance… Now I will tell you what is my opinion…” Thereafter, the Congress VP proceeded to do what has — especially since his disqualification — become legendary.
The Greater Point
As ideologies go Rahul perhaps had a point. It later emerged that many within the Congress and across other parties too had had reservations about the ordinance, as did President Pranab Mukherjee, who had sought certain clarifications. But the point that the Congress tomtommed then, the point they are still labouring after now --- the virtuosity of Rahul Gandhi --- was and still is not the greater point. Ten years ago, with a general election around the corner too, the entire party machinery got into a tizzy trying to defend what Rahul did. They released a letter from him to the PM timestamped 1pm IST --- 3.30am Washington time --- and 50 minutes before the Press Club high drama. The letter was meant to foreground the Congress VP's position vis-a-vis the ordinance and the timestamp was to show that he was doing what he was doing after being transparent with the boss.
Democracy is in details
There was a disciplinary committee but no action was taken against Rahul for undermining the party line. ”Action for what? For a judgment that corrected a mistake?" Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit had retorted." The likes of Shashi Tharoor hailed Rahul. Sonia, by her son's admission, told him the words he used were wrong. Rahul himself said he was “flabbergasted” that anybody should think he was out of line. He said: “I am young... I have a right to voice my opinion." Post the recent disqualification, an older Rahul said in a similar vein, "I am fighting for the voice of India. I am ready to pay any price." A decade ago, Singh’s words were lost in the frenetic face-saving efforts of the Congress and the baying for blood by the resurgent BJP, but when all was roiling the then PM had made a measured point. He had said: “…when issues are raised in a democracy, in a democratic polity, the right course to start with is trying to understand what is agitating the mind of the concerned people.”