Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi refuses to do a press conference to answer pressing questions over the Covid-19 situation, or any crisis for that matter, it was great to have former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan offer his expert views in a video chat with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Rajan’s insight on what India can expect economically during these times and what the Modi government should be doing to alleviate the mammoth problems that the coronavirus pandemic has ushered must be welcomed by anyone worried over the extended lockdown, which threatens to worsen India’s dwindling economy.
But other than the economic prescience gained from the half-hour-long chat, it was refreshing to see Rahul Gandhi interview Raghuram Rajan also for two reasons.
One, India’s political class is known to be a megalomaniac and it’s rare to see politicians publicly seek advice on matters that raise anxiety among common people. The interview was a departure from the know-it-all attitude that we too often see in the ruling BJP dispensation. Imagine a prime minister who has never even remotely been associated with the defence forces, let alone serve in the military, boasting about giving advice to the Air Force on how to attack the enemy — as Modi apparently did during the Balakot airstrikes against Pakistan by telling the IAF to use ‘cloud cover’.
The second reason the interview matters is that, at least this way, the Indian public got some perspective on the depth and darkness of the abyss that the economy is falling into, which the Modi government refuses to acknowledge to the detriment of all of us. With some insight from a world-renowned economist on what lies ahead in terms of employment and expenditure, Indians can mentally prepare for the hard times. A heads-up is essential especially because PM Modi has a perverse liking for surprise announcements, which are almost always disastrous — the 2016 demonetisation and the nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus being prime examples.
The possible interviewees
In fact, Rahul Gandhi should conduct more such interviews to help people better understand the times we live in. Hopefully, the Modi government will listen too.
Manmohan Singh: In the very opening lines of a recent op-ed, the former prime minister addressed the most crucial aspect of the thin ice that India is terrifyingly treading on. Singh wrote:
“India faces imminent danger from the trinity of social disharmony, economic slowdown and a global health epidemic… I deeply worry that this potent combination of risks may not only rupture the soul of India but also diminish our global standing as an economic and democratic power in the world.”
This is from a man who has been on ground zero, taking care of India for a decade as a Prime Minister, no matter how “remote-controlled” people accused him of being, and who has been the 5th chief economic adviser to the government of India, the 15th governor of the Reserve Bank of India, the 14th deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, the 22nd finance minister of India, and the 16th minister of personnel, public grievances and pensions. He is an alumnus of Oxford and Cambridge universities as well as a professor of international trade in Delhi School of Economics. He really has been there, done that and seen it all. In fact, for his credentials, he remains tragically under-utilised. India truly doesn’t know how to value its geniuses. Perhaps Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh does, which is why he has appointed him to guide his government in reviving the state’s economy after the fiscal lull brought upon the state and the country by the Covid-19 crisis.
Tablighi Jamaat members: The Congress is often labelled as a “Muslim party” that “appeases” the community. With an image as lethal as this in these divided times, it will be heartening to see Rahul Gandhi not shy away and leave it upon his ‘janeu’ to counter the image of “minority appeaser”. He should instead hold a video conference with the members of the Tablighi Jamaat who donated their blood plasma for Covid-19 patients.
It will be insightful for the common people to learn about the members of Tablighi Jamaat who were accused of deliberately trying to spread the coronavirus and still chose to donate their plasma ignoring all the hate directed towards them. Was it to correct their image or did they truly do it out of a sense of duty and charity?
A psychologist: A 23-year-old student from Punjab who had just returned from Sydney jumped to his death from the seventh floor of Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital where he was admitted following complaints of fever and headache. He later tested negative for Covid-19. A 60-year-old man from Noida “wakes up in the middle of the night screaming” the name of his grandson who is stuck in a coronavirus-infected country in Europe. But Rahul Gandhi shouldn’t be asking the obvious questions surrounding depression and anxiety. Many journalists have spoken to psychologists regarding this. What Rahul Gandhi should do is pick the psychologist’s mind over why certain politicians behave so peculiarly — such as stay in denial of the economic hardships people are facing, doing little to alleviate them despite being in a position to, or refusing to be questioned when relevant answers will make the world of a difference.
Arnab Goswami: Rahul Gandhi’s interaction with Republic TV’s host Arnab Goswami will perhaps be one of the most viewed videos of our times. But the interview should be conducted Republic TV style with Rahul’s mic at least two notches louder than Arnab’s and the Congress leader being injected with a serum that makes him go from his usual calm self to Arnab-like delirium where he keeps asking (or rather shouting out) the same question over and over even if the person has already answered it. Rahul Gandhi should also use the mute button for Arnab generously and keep telling him: “The nation wants to know, Arnab.”
Chief ministers of Congress-ruled states: Although Rahul Gandhi is not in a leadership position to be taking stock of how states ruled by his party are faring during the pandemic, he could still hold a joint conference call with Congress chief ministers. This way, the people will know what strategies have been planned once the lockdown ends and how these states — Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Puducherry, and even Maharashtra, are going to revive their economies. Such an interview will also straightaway put spotlight on what the BJP governments are doing. It will go a long way in changing the perception of the public with regards to the Congress’ leadership skills, which are always doubted, despite being better in almost every way, in comparison to Modi and Amit Shah’s.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.