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Why I Agree With Mount Carmel Student's Defence Of 'Stumped' Rahul Gandhi

04/12/2015 10:04 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Congress party Vice President Rahul Gandhi speaks during celebrations marking the birth anniversary of the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. The day is also marked as Children's Day in India. (AP Photo /Tsering Topgyal)

We, the media, look for angles in every single news item we have to present. We know we only have a few seconds to grab your eyeballs with the provocative headline or the sensational sound bite.

And sometimes to ensure that our story gets greater attention, we either build people up or tear them down. That "Loud Obnoxious Billionaire running for President?" Or that "Indian Bahu In Parliament"? Yes, we created those images because we knew it would work. And if in the process, some politicians and celebrities are romanticised or demonised, well, that's just the way the cookie crumbles, our tribe collectively shrugs. All in a day's work.

In America, we, "the liberal media" are always ready to ridicule Donald Trump, who is currently seeking the 2016 Republican Party nomination, because he says outrageous stuff about minorities and journalists. It angers us. It earns us the wrath of the conservatives but that's how journalism is supposed to be. We are not in the public relations business, we explain.

"The journalists who tried to show restraint and balance in their reporting were dismissed as 'Congress chamchas' or 'servants of the Italian woman'..."

In India, the media's soft target and the people's favourite punching bag is Rahul Gandhi, who been mocked and scorned for years now.

In 2014, India fell in love with the underdog story of the simple "chaiwallah" who rose to success and catapulted Narendra Modi to the position of Prime Minister.

Rahul Gandhi, 45, was the incompetent heir from a dynasty that had ruined and exploited India, the popular narrative went. In fact, Gandhi, the masses decided, was responsible for everything that was wrong with the Congress Party.

And then it began. The blame games, the name calling. Pappu, Baba and the regular jokes circulated on WhatsApp. A section of Indian journalists built their careers on "How stupid is Gandhi?" kind of stories.

The journalists who tried to show restraint and balance in their reporting were dismissed as "Congress chamchas" or "servants of the Italian woman" (a reference to his mother Sonia's Gandhi's Italian heritage).

The Indian media, quick to gauge public reaction, may have decided it was best to attack Gandhi on a regular basis. Let's give the people what they want, the reasoning went. And carefully choreographed lynch mobs on social media followed suit by trending unflattering hashtags and memes.

But fortune's tide is fickle.

Days ago, a student Elixir Nahar, who was at the infamous visit by Gandhi to Mount Carmel College wrote a Facebook post that went viral. In it, the she bluntly showcased the unfairness of the media portrayal of Gandhi, taking the press to task for its colossal failure in accurately reporting on an event that they weren't even invited to.

I was blown away by her honesty and it forced me to do some soul searching myself.

Here's my back story: My Sikh family was caught up in the 1984 riots. My father, a devoted Congress supporter, reversed his position and has never voted for the party again.

I am neither a Modi nor a Congress fan. I have never voted in an Indian election. I am a Non-Resident Indian and I just want India to be a stable, strong country and to take its rightful place at the table of the superpower nations.

The victims of the Sikh riots have never been given justice or compensation and that is a black mark against the Congress Party that will never be wiped out.

But should Gandhi pay for the sins of his father? His grandmother? For me personally, the answer is no.

After all, India forgave Modi for his role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat. The United States of America lifted the ban on his visa.

So, let me just say ask India this: Is it this hard to be fair to Gandhi, a young man, who has struggled with the family business? Who has lived under the shadow of his famous family? Hasn't he tried?

"Don't let the sun go down on Gandhi just yet. A star may still ignite."

Let's also be fair here, he could have used his family status to get a high position in the party but he didn't do that. He has never been accused of being corrupt and he has never been tied to unethical manoeuvres, to my knowledge.

And you have got to say this about him, he's not a quitter. He failed and he fallen many times. But he's gotten back on his feet and he's making himself heard.

In politics, taking a stand with a definite strategy against the leader is a small victory but it's a victory nevertheless.

To function effectively as a democracy of 1.3 billion people, India needs a strong opposition to have checks and balances. And for better or for worse, the Gandhis are the face of the Congress Party.

The headlines and attention show a clear trend. Gandhi can still be a player but it's going to be up to him to keep the momentum going. He has the grudging respect of the people now.

Because in politics, literature and life, legend says, "The Son Also Rises," even if he has faltered again and again. Examples of other politicians who were written off and came back? Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa.

So, don't let the sun go down on Gandhi just yet. A star may still ignite.

And can I work on changing the way the media works? Am I my brother's keeper?

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