Prime Minister derails Rahul show at Pravasi Bharatiya Divas
by Ashok B Sharma on 07 Jan 2014 2 Comments

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to have inadvertently foiled the planned ‘Rahul Show’ at the gala 12th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas beginning January 7. While interacting with the media at his third press conference in nine years, Dr Singh used the official venue of the National Media Centre last Friday to declare Rahul Gandhi’s “outstanding credentials” for being the Congress party’s prime ministerial candidate for the forthcoming 2014 polls. This came under a barrage of criticism because a major official function of the UPA Government was (mis)used for a party purpose. It did not help that the Prime Minister used the same forum to denigrate the Gujarat Chief Minister, who also happens to be the prime ministerial candidate of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.


This made the Congress conscious about further use of the official machinery or an official function to promote Rahul Gandhi, as he is not a constitutional functionary and only a Member of Parliament. Thus, the slated ‘All Rahul Show’ at the gala conference of Overseas Indians was hastily dropped and a new modified programme printed. Excuses are being given that “Rahul Gandhi will not be available as he has some other engagements on the same day”. Others cite “security problems” as the reason for the sudden change in schedule. The Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Vyalar Ravi, sought to clear air in a press conference on Monday [Jan 6] and said “however, Rahul Gandhi may come in one of the three days of the event to meet some foreign delegates.”


Congress now intends to move cautiously on the issue. In fact, the Amethi MP’s proposed anointment as prime ministerial candidate on January 17 may also not take place as expected. When asked at a recent discussion on television, senior party leader Mani Shankar Aiyer said he is not aware of it. However, the Prime Minister had declared from an official podium that he would not be “a candidate for Prime Ministership if the UPA were to come back to power” and would hand over the baton to the new incumbent. He left no one in doubt about who that new incumbent would (hopefully) be, “Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials to be nominated as the (Prime Ministerial) candidate. I hope our party will take that decision at the appropriate time.”


Further seeking to clear the way for Rahul Gandhi from his formidable rival Narendra Modi, Dr Singh said “I have full confidence that the next Prime Minister will be from the UPA coalition, and without discussing the merits of Mr Narendra Modi, it will be disastrous for the country to have Shri Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister.”


The criticism that followed put paid to the projection of Rahul Gandhi at the 12th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Delhi, where he was slated to deliver the keynote address at a special session on ‘Aspirations of Youth Diaspora’ on January 7. Attempts were already on to rope in youth celebrities from the country to participate as audience. To their chagrin, the organisers found a number of regrets pouring in from celebrities like master-blaster Sachin Tendulkar, shooter Gagan Narang, Olympics gold medalist Abhinav Bindra, boxer Mary Kom, athlete Milkha Singh… According to the old programme schedule, confirmations for participation were awaited from Chess Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand, wrestler Sushil Kumar, professional golf player Jyoti Randhawa and cricketers Rahul Dravid and Kapil Dev. Thus, despite the bests efforts by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to persuade as many celebrity sportspersons and athletes as possible to participate in the event, a flop show seemed inevitable, and the programme was mercifully cancelled.


In contrast, some young political leaders gave their consent to participate in the Rahul show, namely, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Jitendra Singh; Minister of State (Independent charge) for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari; Minister of State for Human Resources Development Jitendra Prasada; Minister of Corporate Affairs Sachin Pilot Agatha K Sangma MP, Rajeev Satav MLA, Naveen Jindal MP, Ashok Tanwar MP, and Supriya Sule MP. Incidentally, Sandeep Dikshit MP sent his regrets.   


To make up the deficiency, the organisers had made efforts to register the presence of some notable youth diaspora from abroad, such as the youth ambassador from Netherlands Ms Kirty Mata Badal; Chancellor and President of University of Houston Systems Dr Renu Khator; Chairman of GOPIO Australia Business Council Dr Jagvinder Singh Virk; Dr Mamta Singhvi from the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI); Canadian politician Dr Ruby Dhalla and Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi of New Zealand’s National Party.


However, the President of Whistling Woods International Ms Meghna Ghai Puri, and the Chairman of the Gandhi Foundation of USA Subhash Razdan gave their consent to participate.


As per the previous schedule, Day One of the 12th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas was entirely dedicated to the Rahul Show. Day Two was slated for inauguration by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where Malaysian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment G Palanivel is to be the Chief Guest. Day Three of the event will close with the valedictory address by President Pranab Mukherjee and presentation of Pravasi Bharatiya Sanman Award to the Malaysian Tamil Minister Palanivel.


The Congress is now in a bind about how to project Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidate for 2014. All efforts are on to clear his path. The Prime Minister sought to nullify the tag of “shahzada” hurled by Narendra Modi by saying it would be “disastrous” if the latter becomes prime minister; he accused the Gujarat Chief Minister of presiding “over a mass massacre of innocent citizens on the streets of Ahmedabad.”


But Rahul Gandhi has not been successful in attracting crowds to his rallies, while Narendra Modi’s are attended with enthusiasm. Modi has proved a successful campaigner in the recent polls where the BJP bounced back to power in three states and emerged as the single largest party in Delhi. The rise in prices of essential commodities and unemployment are some of the reasons for the Congress party’s decline, as admitted by the Prime Minister. Corruption is another issue which Rahul Gandhi will have to explain to the electorate.


Congress president Sonia Gandhi is cautious by nature. She had said that the party will name its prime ministerial candidate at the right time. She has also indicated it would be “him”; her problem is to determine when.

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