Monday, May 29, 2006

Sonia Gandhi: Tyaag ki baat!

Sonia Gandhi won the by-poll in Rae Bareli. This was not exactly a surprise. Everyone knew what was coming, long before the results were announced. But the victory was Sonia’ s Gandhi’s, the lady Time Magazine called among the most powerful women in the world.

Glory such as this had come to Mrs. Gandhi before- when she declined to be Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy. She had paid the price for that during the office of profit controversy. The ugly politics between Congress and Samajwadi Party left her with little choice but to resign and thereby preserve the sanctity of the first sacrifice.

Sonia Gandhi now had to go to the dusty old battlefield of Rae Bareli to win back her political authority. The district was a traditional Congress bastion where non- Congress leaders had been elected only thrice before.

As it turned out the emphatic Congress victory in Rae Bareli was something of a disaster for Mulayam Singh. Both Amar Singh and Mulayam’s son Akhilesh Yadav had been engaged in a marathon campaign against Sonia. They even resorted to mocking her Hindi. It was to no avail. The opposition was annihilated. The sense of disgrace in the big parties- the SP, BJP and the BSP was palpable. Mr.Chaudhary, the SP candidate got all of 57000 votes- less than the one-sixth share needed to reclaim a deposit.

Perhaps the greatest loss of face however, was for the BJP. Hindutva icon and hardliner Vinay Katiyar lost his deposit of course; but he also took his career to a new low by winning a truly paltry 19, 000 votes. The word is that Katiyar had been made the bali-ka bakra -the sacrificial lamb of the party. He was after all made to campaign himself with heavyweights like Adavni and Rajnath were busy with their ‘ Bharat Surksha Yatra’ and other prominent leaders were busy dealing with the aftermath of Pramod Mahajan’s shooting.

But the story does not end there. For while the political arithmetic was largely along expected lines, the electoral and political theatrics played out on television screens still held some surprises. There was a new holy trinity of words, the three S-words: Sonia, Sacrifice and Son (Rahul Gandhi). The Congress was torn about whether to present the victory in Rae Bareli has a ‘sun rise’ for the Congress or a ‘son rise’ as one prominent newspaper put it for Rahul Gandhi.

Either way it was the Media that took the lead and Rahul Gandhi became the next big thing. News outlets propagated views that suited them rather than news. The same story was colored in different ways to suit every kind of political agenda.

The woods were lost for the trees. Facts were ignored for trivia. The electoral battle became a political soap opera. Despite hours and hours of TV coverage, one was hard pressed to find anyone on TV giving us the scorecard for the Rae Bareli elections: who won, by how many votes and who lost their deposits in the election. But what can we expect from say, a news channel editor who does not know the numbers of seats in the Lok Sabha.

Apparently presenting facts for the viewers to make up their own minds is not enough anymore. News channels and newspapers with agendas simply overlook inconvenient facts or even manipulate them. What are, after all headlines like ‘Victory for Sacrifice’ and ‘Son Rises”? Sonia’s resignation over the office of profit issue controversy is presented as a sacrifice, and the notion that it was a sacrifice in turn is presented as incontrovertible truth. Why not instead just give people the facts and let them decide?

Many in the media as historic also described Sonia’s victory. But was it really? The late Prime Mimister P.V. Narsihmaha Rao had a victory margin of more than 5.8 lakhs in the Nandayal seat in Andhra Pradesh.. But the record for highest margin of victory is held by MP Anil Basu of the CPI (M) , who won by over 5.92 lakh votes in 2004 in West Bengal.
Ram Vilas Paswan won an election by a margin of 5.5 lakh votes in 1989 in Hajipur, Bihar. By contrast, Sonia Gandhi won in Rae Bareli by a margin of 4 lakh votes- no small margin but not ‘historic’ either.

Also, what was it that caused all those opponents of Sonia to lose their deposits? We were never told. Instead Rahul was made hero and there were discussions on the future of the Congres in UP .The Conress choose Rae Bareli as a launching pad for Rahul Gandhi but it was news channels that actually launched him .

By promoting Rahul and initiating the debate over whether he could bring back the glorious old days of Congress-raj in UP the media have helped shape an agenda. Remember, India Shining campaign? All major media outlets confidently predicted the continuation of NDA power in 2004. Such was the hype that the surprise verdict left Atal Bihari Vajpayee flummoxed and prompted him to declare,“ We don’t know how we lost, and they don’t know how they won”.

If only the Media would put the facts first instead of jumping to the conclusions. If only
they put news first and let the truth prevail.

In the most famous of these upsets, the Iron Lady herself, Indira Gandhi was swept away in 1977 by what was called a janta lahar. The victory was so unexpected that the winner Raj Narayan of the Janta Party actually went quite mad. Indira fought the 1980 elections from Medak in Andhra Pradesh but also tried to win back her old bastion in UP at the same time.

Cut to 2006. The lady in question was now Sonia Gandhi and there was no Janta lahar but the battlefield was still old Rae Bareli. This time, there was no doubt about the victory of the Nehru-Gandhi scion. The only question was the margin by which Sonia would win.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How many have read the story that appeared in Times, London-Captioned 'from waitress to world leader' that was published around the time Sonia was demonstrating that famous 'Balidaan drama'?