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  • What Modi meant when he wished Rahul

    Posted On June 25, 2017

    By Karan Thapar

    To be honest my suspicions are easily aroused. I rarely take things at face value. In fact, I would add this is a trait common to most journalists. Whilst commenting on a statement we always ask ‘I wonder why he made it?’

    So on Monday when the Prime Minister tweeted his birthday greetings to Rahul Gandhi adding “I pray for his long and healthy life” I instinctively sensed there was more to this than immediately meets the eye. The longer Rahul Gandhi lives the longer he will be the head of the Congress party and, therefore, the longer Mr. Modi will easily defeat the opposition. In the circumstances, I’m surprised the PM didn’t wish him immortality!

    Now, am I being mischievous? Of course I am. But the joy of tongue-in-cheek comments is not unknown to politicians and the best of them are usually masters of it. Mr. Modi indubitably fits into that category.

    This is clearly not the first time a politician’s good wishes have had hidden double meanings. Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s comments about Tony Abbott, then Leader of the Opposition, made in an interview to me in 2012, is a memorable example.

    At the time her blistering parliamentary attack on Tony Abbott for his alleged sexism and misogyny had gone viral. She literally savaged him and all he could do was helplessly sit and smile. I told her I couldn’t take my eyes off the stunned and squirming Mr. Abbott. “Do you like the man?” I asked.

    Gillard’s response was immediate: “That’s a very hard question. Day to day I don’t spend much time thinking about the Leader of the Opposition. But I bear him no personal ill-will and I hope he is Leader of the Opposition for the rest of his life!”

    If ever there was a fork-tongued double entendre this was it. On the surface she wished him a long spell as leader of the opposition but hidden within that was the sting in the tail that he should never be prime minister! The Australian media loved it.

    However, wishing your opponent a long life can sometimes boomerang as Theresa May has just discovered. In the days before the June snap elections it was commonplace for Tories to wish Jeremy Corbyn a long stint as Leader of the Opposition because, they believed, the longer he led the Labour Party the longer the Conservatives would stay in office. It’s even said some Tories actually joined the Labour party to vote for Corbyn and ensure his survival!

    The June result turned that logic on its head, leaving Corbyn with the last laugh. His performance ensured he will continue as Leader of the Opposition whilst firmly uniting his party behind him. Now he’s become the single biggest threat facing the Conservatives.

    If earlier Corbyn’s alleged ineptness gave the Tories confidence, today his supposed popular appeal is the only reason the Conservatives have allowed May to continue. He’s become her lifeline!

    So far there’s no danger of Modi’s birthday greetings boomeranging in the way Conservative taunts of Corbyn have returned to haunt Theresa May. For that to happen the country would have to take a shine to Rahul Gandhi. Frankly, I can’t see that happening anytime soon. Nor can most Congressmen!

    But then the joy of politics is you never know when things will go topsy-turvy and when they do it usually happens in a jiffy. Alas, that’s the best hope for Mr. Gandhi!

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