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National Interest: His Moral Highness

After hitting the prime minister’s office, Rahul cannot afford to run.

What does September 27, 2013 have in common with January 20, 1987? And why should we call it a most stunning example of history repeating itself? Except, while it triggered the decline of the father in spite of his unprecedented majority, it has pretty much finished whatever remained of the prestige and authority of what the son described as “my government” in this afternoon’s remarkable political turning point, designed for televised flourish.

Rahul Gandhi, in short, had discovered his A.P. Venkateswaran moment. That pre-internet, pre-news TV moment needs some recalling for a nation so innocent, nearly half a billion of its people are younger than Google. At a press conference at Vigyan Bhawan, a Pakistani journalist said to Rajiv Gandhi that there was some contradiction in his statement and his foreign secretary’s (Venkateswaran) about when he was likely to visit Islamabad. Rajiv Gandhi said, quite nonchalantly in fact, “Soon, you will be talking to a new foreign secretary.” Venkat, widely respected and utterly a proper establishment man, was taken by surprise. Unwilling to take that public humiliation, he resigned the same afternoon. He did this even though he was merely 56, had been in the top job for just about nine months, and had plenty of service left.

This Friday afternoon’s drama played out at the Press Club of India, just about a kilometre up the same Lutyen’s avenue, in pretty much the same manner. The only difference being, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had fired his foreign secretary, which he had every right to do, particularly when there were differences between them. This was a firing several ranks downwards and there was no likelihood of the then External Affairs Minister N.D. Tiwari (he of the more recent sex tapes and paternity test fame) or his MoS, K. Natwar Singh, complaining that they had been passed over in the decision. The only questionable thing was that he did this in public, at a press conference and, not to miss the foreign hand, in answer to a Pakistani journalist.

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