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In a bid to professionalize and stream-line internal processes within India’s grand old party, the Congress Working Committee has authorized veteran leader, Shri Veerappa Moily, to document and codify ‘best practises’ when it comes to dealing with Rahul Gandhi. These guidelines will delineate, amongst other things, tips on how to “express admiration and praise for the party’s No.2 without going over the top”.
These guidelines assume added importance in wake of the announcement that Shri Rahul Gandhi will be heading a high-power, five-man Election Co-ordination Committee to oversee all party activities related to the next elections and will become must-read material for those upcoming Congress politicians aspiring to rise within the party in the run up to the 2014 General Elections.
Lower rung leaders and party workers have also welcomed the move, terming it as long overdue. “It’s easy to win elections, address rallies, influence people etc. Those are merely hygiene factors. But the multi crore, make that multi lakh crore questions is, what does it take to endear oneself with the dynasty and rise to the top? That is the dream of every Congress man and Moily ji’s book will become a must-read for any ambitious Congressman. Eagerly looking forward to its publication,” said a rising leader and district Congress president from Rajasthan, Bhanwari Singh.
Shedding further light on his assignment, Shri Moily said, “Look, we are not saying don’t praise Rahuji or Soniaji for their abilities, looks, or whatever it is that you think is great about them. Hell no, that would be bad politics. All we are saying is do it artfully and in the right amount. Sycophancy can be a double edged sword that can cut both ways; Do it right and you can rise to your full potential; Do it wrong and you can kiss your career in the Congress goodbye. Like everything else in life, it is about striving for the golden mean. With the help of these guidelines, I hope Congress party members will know how to achieve that golden mean.”
The newly anointed Power Minister’s mission has the blessings of Rahul Gandhi, who feels such documentation was long overdue. “There are guidelines and protocols for dealing with ministers, and members of the royal family in other countries. But sadly none exist in dealing with us, leading to so many avoidable sticky situations. For instance, I personally feel discomfited in either of the two situations: a) when leaders and workers treat me like any other party office bearer and proceed to deal with me in a perfunctory, businesslike manner or b) when party members indulge in cringe inducing sycophancy. Heck man, haven’t been as excited about such an intervention since I instituted elections in the Youth Congress,” raved the Nehru-Gandhi scion.
While the first family will generously give its inputs, Moily will also hold parleys with veteran leaders to distil their experiences into pithy learnings. To do so, Moily plans to use case study based pedagogy, rather than pedantic abstractions, for illustrating and categorizing best practices.
The former law minister was kind enough to walk us through excerpts from his draft, which has been tentatively titled “Moily’s rules for climbing the greasy Congress pole of power”.
Rule 1) Express admiration, gratitude, or fealty implicitly in concise language; Allude to inherent merit, not progeniture; Avoid metaphors and hyperbole
For instance, take Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh’s statement to the press on September 8, 2011 in the aftermath of the introduction of the Land Acquisition Bill:
“Without Rahul Gandhi’s intervention and involvement in every step [the land acquisition bill] would not have been prepared and introduced in 55 days.”
“This statement is considered the gold standard of its class. In very few words, it showcases Rahul’s policy smarts, influence, and effort in shaping a landmark bill. Rahul has not stopped raving about Jairam uncle ever since,” explained Dr. Moily.
Contrast this with Mani Shankar Aiyer’s statement after the 2009 General Elections:
“Fortunately or unfortunately the only thing written in Rahul’s destiny is that he’s bound to become Prime Minister, whether that’s in 2012—as I hope—or 2014—as many expect—or 2019, if we don’t do well in the next elections. That we’ll have Rahul as PM is beyond question.”
On the face of it, this paean to the inevitability of dynastic succession ought to pass muster with 10, Janpath but Rahul took a dim view of it, according to Mr. Moily.
“It is almost a satirical statement, smacking of sarcasm. With not one good word about Rahul’s innate capabilities, it implies that Rahul will become PM because he is a Gandhi. In sum, it does more harm than good. Any wonder then that though both Jairam and Mani are tam brahms, extremely cerebral, and well educated, the former handles the powerful Rural Development portfolio while the latter has been relegated to the back-benches of the Rajya Sabha,” sneered Mr. Moily.
The former Law Minister also cautions his fellow party men against employing hyperbole while articulating their assessment of Rahul’s capabilities. For instance, Congress spokesperson Mohan Prakash’s statement on the eve of the 2010 Bihar Assembly elections bracketing Rahul Gandhi with Jayapaakash Narayan.
“Such statements are a big no-no. More often than not, they seem to ridicule Rahul, not praise him. Avoid them like the plague unless you are a mole planted by the Opposition,” feels Mr. Moily.
2) Avoid metaphors that can be misconstrued
Metaphors are an important tool in a politicians’ rhetoric but Moily advises against their deployment while referring to the Gandhis. “They sow seeds of confusion, and provide fodder for the commentariat to indulge in scurrilous speculation. Take Salmanji’s contention that Rahul should go beyond cameos. Rahul was flummoxed with this googly from the Union Corporate Minister so much so that he was summoned to 10, Janpath to clarify what he meant. Was Mr. Khurshid implying that Rahul’s interventions were mere item numbers, irrelevant to the overall narrative, in which case, it was uncalled for,” gasped Mr. Moily
3) Avoid artificial statements and subtle trolling
Consider this statement, made on October 28, 2012, after the cabinet reshuffle:
“Disappointed that Rahul did not join the cabinet. Would welcome it he does so.”
Dr. Manmohan Singh made this statement for the umpteenth time since the UPA came to power in 2004 as recently as August this year. Nothing wrong with it, right? No, everything that can be wrong with it is wrong with it, exclaimed Mr. Moily.
“Every time Dr. MMS trolls him like this, Rahul’s face turns red with anger. For one, of course, the Prime Minister will welcome him into the cabinet if and when he decides to join it, as if the Prime Minister has any other choice in the matter. And then, what is the need to keep repeating the statement ad nauseam? It’s almost like he is subtly mocking Rahul for not taking up a cabinet position. Dr. Singh can probably get away with such tacky statements since he is already the Prime Minister, but other Congress members would be well-advised to emulate the Prime Minister at their own peril if they nurse ambitions of occupying the top slot,” he explained, disgust creeping into his tone.
4) Give a direct answer to a direct question from 10, Janpath, especially if it concerns succession.
If the above rules seem too nuanced to be internalized, never mind. But if one rule of being a good courtier must be internalized, it is this: give a simple, direct answer to a simple, direct question from 10, Janpath, especially if it concerns succession at the top.
Mr. Moily fondly refers to it as the ‘playing with a straight bat and not fishing outside the off-stump’ rule. “This rule can never be over-emphasized. Occasionally, the Gandhis, in the context of succession, will bowl a teasing line in the corridor of uncertainty to test the batsman’s temperament and technique. The time tested response is so see it through to the wicket-keeper,” averred Mr. Moily, and proceeded to narrate an apocryphal incident involving a Congress veteran, now occupying the highest office of the land.
“This gentleman, in response to a direct question ‘Who will be the next PM?’ posed immediately after Indira Gandhi’s tragic assassination, is believed to have answered ‘the senior most leader’. It was an egregious blunder of Himalayan proportions that saw the veteran sent back to the pavilion and out of the game for the next 5 years.
Never, ever make such a mistake. For instance, if someone asks ‘will Rahul be the Congress PM candidate in 2014’, the safe answer would be ‘We all want him to be the Prime Minister. It’s up to him and the family to decide though’,” he observed.
Look forward to more such nuggets of wisdom in Mr. Moily’s forthcoming tome, which should be eagerly lapped up by not just Congress politicians but also serious students of political science.