In the conversation that followed this post -- I had promised to give Rahul credit when credit was due. So, I decided to follow his speech in Parliament today and 'live blog' of sorts, report what he said and give my thoughts etc. Here goes you goes (btw props to Lalu for this highly entertaining speech that I am watching as I post this!)
… The day seemed to pick up with Rahul Gandhi. “I have decided to speak as an Indian” he said as the BJP erupted in flames. He then asked some BJP members to listen to him, and also to speak as Indians (and that they do, he does not doubt that). He made the assumption that all parties speak for the interest of the country. Why are we meeting he asked, because of the “serious problem of energy security”. To an interrupter, he said, “I will explain how energy security is directly related to poverty”.
Talking about his recent visit to Vidharba, and meeting a woman laborer with three sons; their income, their lives. (We had entered the ‘common man’ part of the speech). The sons want to collectors, engineers and in the private industry. Sasikala is confident her sons will achieve their dreams. That house had no electricity. He asked them how they study. They pointed to a lamp and said that was how. Energy security reflects itself everywhere – Sasikala, industry, all Indians.
The opposition was unable to shut the hell up, probably as not to give Rahul the respect I thought he deserved. Energy is necessary for growth – both for BJP schemes and Congress schemes. The point, that if we do not supply our energy supply into the future, growth will stop and we will not be able to fight poverty, he said. He had stated the problem, and now wanted to give the solution.
At the mention of another farmer Kalavati, the opposition interrupted. Rahul burst into a smile, while the Speak tried to keep the calm. Rahul graciously told him “aap se sikhe hain”. After repeated interruptions, Rahul got angry “I’m glad you find it funny, but Kalavati is a woman whose husband committed suicide because he was dependant on only one crop – the cotton crop.” Kalavati, who only depended on her husband, told Rahul that she- - (we had to wait a while for the story, because big, hairy men kept screaming at the Chair and Rahul) -- the Speaker got totally frustrated and said he would fix a time for the vote and allow no further discussion. Pranab Mukherji asked the House to allow Rahul to speak. Back to Kalavati, she said, instead of sowing one crop, she sows three, including milk from her buffalo and a pond for backup water. “So the answer to our problems is..” he said, as the BJP burst out into flames again. Renuka Chowdry very cutely (I thought) got up and sternly wagged her finger at the Opposition, lost in the din. Pranab Mukherjee actually had to physically go to where the Left was to calm them down. The Speaker got frustrated and adjourned the house.
Back to the TV channels, the news of numbers of MPs shifting around seemed crass in comparison. Barkha asked, “Why didn’t he speak as a party member? (in politics you are judged by how political you are)” – I could not disagree more. Jayanti Natranjan said the speech would resonate with the young people of the country – and she is right. I personally feel (having heard only the first half of his speech) that he has shown me a glimpse of the lead that he could be. But Chandan Mitra, editor Pioneer, looking more and more like a pet of the BJP, says of Rahul’s speech “Barkha, you and I have been seeing villages with kerosene lamps for years. And the Congress was in power all that time.” What the hell does that even mean? Does that solve the problem from any angle? Does it look forward? I can’t understand it at all.
My mother came for lunch (reminding me I have a dental appointment, but I’m missing it for the rest of the show) and said – “It is a measure of his success that he is being interrupted.”
Chandan Mitra, while not defending interruptions at all, said that if Rahul was seasoned he would have continued because the “decibel level was not that high”. About horse-trading, Mitra said, this marked the end of ideology. Newstrack India, a website, wrote an editorial saying that a “political party is a group of people who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government” -- very apt I thought.
Meanwhile, IBN was tracking Mayawati and her impromptu meetings as indicative of desperation outside, to keep her flock together. Dipdosh Majumdar said that the opposition might be interrupting to try and postpone the vote – which is why the Speaker at one time burst out to say that he might as well have the vote right now. Is this a strategy while more horse-trading goes on behind the scenes?
IBN then said the numbers for the government have changed to 272 as a MP from Nagaland had just decided to support the government. Has the government “fixed this vote?” Many allusions were made to the fact the Congress is an old hand at riding out no-confidence motions in the past, and can do it again. A smug Brinda Karat told NewsX that Manmohan Singh was finance minister when Narasimha Rao won his trust vote, so has the experience necessary to win this.
The markets started looking positive around 1.44pm, although I don’t think anyone could concentrate on anything but Parliament. Mohammed Salim meantime, very good naturedly laughed off Kumari Shailja statement that the Left has been living in an ivory town, now turning saffron. In retaliation to what Chidambaram said in the morning – Salim said that China is self reliant when it comes to energy, and India wants to depend on outside. He said to Shailaja – “You are working for ‘self’ and ‘Reliance’”!!! That was charming!
The thought was echoed again by Brida Karat to NDTV “Now we know why this government never takes action against black money because it comes in handy at times like this”.
Break over – and some MP I didn’t recognize was speaking. He was defending Mayawati, so I guessed he was from the BSP –Brijesh Pathak, as I found out. The Speaker chided him – seemed the grouse was about Amar Singh’s allegations about Mayawati. “Ab dekhiye sadan mein kya ho raha hai” says the man speaking out of turn. The irony! There was a curious defense of Mayawati going on, and how she will be trapped through the CBI despite evidence to the contrary. The man was screaming, claming that he was approached and that he was told that cases against Mayawati will be dismissed if the BSP votes with the government. Other members jumped in, apparently BSP men have been approached by the CBI. The Speaker told them to calm down as they were under the protection of the House, but they were too hysterical. Then Gurudas Dasgupta wanted to speaker to form a committee to look into the allegations “here and now” which made the Speaker laugh!
This went on for a while. The Left, BJP and BSP kept making the same point over and over again, probably nervous of what Rahul Gandhi was going to say, delaying it for as long as possible. The Speaker then graciously allowed them to finish, after which, asking Rahul to continue.
Rahul started again, “I spoke about two poor families..” and went to compare Kala’s pond to nuclear energy as the country’s insurance policy. The way our nuclear industry is today is neither going to act as insurance or a direct resource. The hands of the government are tied – we neither have the money or the technology. The PM, he said, has identified the problem. But, he added, Vajpayee, also saw the problem and moved to address it. A light moment when he encouraged the BJP to clap at this.
There is need to talk about energy security in the long term, and everyone needs to work together. Diversification means a balanced portfolio – solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear. “The magic of what PM is doing, is that out of within the problem, he has identified an opportunity that is significantly larger than the problem itself”. It is based on the fact that two countries will use the largest bulk of new energy that comes online – China and India – and can define how the world’s energy moves.
(Silence in the House followed the rest of the speech.)
“Like a big buyer… we have the ability to shape the global energy market... energy has destroyed nations and built nations. Our old opponents grew to their prominence because they controlled coal… the US controls hydrocarbons”.
Think like a big country, he said -- “Instead of worrying about how the world will impact us, we should start thinking about how we will impact the world”. Talking about the IT and Telecom industry – and the role that India has grown to assume in these industries globally – “we see the revolutionary impact that IT and computers have had on this country”.
The decision is not about 3% or 7% or usage of energy. “Whether India can become a global power in a type of energy that will become very important in the future”. We know the link between dependence on hydrocarbons and poverty today. One must not underestimate the link between industry and the poor. Many governments will run this country, but we should not be scared.
He repeated the point a few times, I thought it was to give the channels the best soundbyte possible. “We have to sit in this room and solve our problems together… Any voice can be heard in this room, any voice can disrupt another in this room... I’m proud of this”.
Act on courage. 70% of us are young, he said, he was above the average age, one that is brimming with confidence. We have to believe in our people and what they are capable of what they can do. These are guides for every single Indian.
He ended with a call for bipartisanship, and support for the motion.
What did the pundits make of him? Dipdosh Majumdar felt the first part of his speech did not work too well – stories about the poor women – but the latter half was good. He gave him a 5, because he did not begin in a way that “did not gel with the audience”. Perhaps he is right, after having seen Lalu, there are ways to control the house – yes – but substance, foreign policy and a point of view was clearly there, whether you agree with it or not. And posturing is important. He positioned himself as a decent, thinking man, in a rowdy, crass crowd.