Edited excerpts of a student in Mount Carmel, Elixir Nahar’s open letter, republished here with permission:
As we students made our way past the lurking media and into our college campus, the fact of the matter was – this is about us, not them. It was going to be a friendly interaction between him and us, discussing matters that concern the youth and the country. We were definitely eager to see how he had tailored his interactive speech to suit our audience of young women.
He opened with why he chose our college in particular. He spoke about societal norms: What is ‘pretty’, what is ‘skinny’, how irrelevant these terms are to him, and why women are so important in his life – his grandmother, mother, and sister. He was humourous, and he struck a chord with the audience right from the start, before jumping into the nitty-gritty.
What touched most of the audience was Mr. Gandhi’s emphasis on ‘starting a conversation’ about all the issues. He informed us about how his government was being shunned out of Parliament, to the extent of their mics being turned off while they were speaking, despite them being the Opposition and still having a foothold in there. He brought us up to speed on how the Central government has not once been open to starting a conversation with them, about anything under the sun that concerns the citizens. He drew up examples from the past, when former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in office, and how he would pick up the phone and directly call the Opposition just to have a conversation. Let me add that these facets arising on the eve of the Winter Session in Parliament could be more than a mere coincidence.
He emphasised on the need for a collective ruling body, and that change cannot be brought about by just one man, including himself. He said the body should be made up of people like us and that we should be allowed easier access into politics, including Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. These were all facets that resonated well with his young audience. Questions were raised about the GST Bill, the Suit-Boot Sarkar, the situation in the north-east, tolerance in India and opportunities for differently-abled citizens. He was understanding and answered seamlessly.
The best part was that he recognised corruption in higher levels of the Youth Congress. He admitted to things going wrong in Congress which led to their loss in 2014. He spoke about rejuvenating the party and giving it a new face and image. It was touching to hear him question why there isn’t more love and kindness being spread – something I highly doubt any other politician in India would do. Now before you write that off as being weak, it is the strongest relationships that are built on love, kindness and respect, and that very well applies to matters concerning the country.
Rahul Gandhi was able to have an intimate conversation between himself and 2500-odd people, and how! Little did we know the situation that would transpire immediately after. Young women left the campus that afternoon with starry eyes and a cheerful air. I too walked to the car, in a headspace of recollection and appreciation for the man of the hour, when my phone exploded with news updates from the very event I was at.
“Rahul Gandhi stumped by Mount Carmel students”
“Rahul Gandhi questions crowd; backfires”
I was appalled, more so because not once have I questioned the authenticity of the top-tier news app on my phone, where I get my news on-the-go. Clearly their reputation precedes them, if they were publishing something that they could not even vouch for at that very stage.
This is how that exchange in question went, minus the hullabaloo surrounding it:
“Do you think Swachh Bharat is working?”
“Ok. I don’t think it’s working”
“Do you think Make in India is working?”
“Then do you think more jobs are being created?”
That’s what an adult conversation looks like, media folks and other not-so-well wishers. You may want to sit up and take note! There are two or more sides, and opposing ideas make for healthy banter. To deliberately cut these circulating videos is to cut off our voices. I felt an iota of what Mr. Gandhi must be feeling on a regular basis, thanks to misrepresentation by the media. To have the screams of my peers and I shouting “NO, IT’S NOT WORKING” to be cut off and tuned down like that. Also notable, if the same audience who thought ‘Make in India’ is working, also thought jobs were not being created – perhaps there is a questionable aspect to how much the audience collectively knew about the topic.
Who are we without opinions? They shape our character. Just because half the audience might not have shared the same opinion as Mr. Gandhi about the Central government’s pet campaigns, does not make them any less right or wrong. Not a single news report spoke about how he wants to make India safer for women. How he doesn’t want us to feel uncomfortable walking down the street. How he doesn’t want us to have to think twice about going to a pub. No. All the reports focused on how his question round allegedly misfired.
As journalists – isn’t it a basic rule not to believe what’s on the surface? Aren’t we taught to always dig deeper and find out more. The Indian media fed off a measly leaked clip from ANI and *BOOM*, cue #RahulStumped posts, memes and more. Smart alecks are raising imaginary toasts to the Mount Carmel students for helping the country immensely. Yet, almost the entire student body—and they will back me up on this—are bewildered and almost apologetic to Mr. Gandhi that their answers were also misinterpreted by the news.
What struck me is that all the media were synonymous in one approach: Trying to pinpoint what he did WRONG. It’s so unfortunate that before he even attempts to do anything, there are vultures circling… waiting to pounce on any potential screw-up, or churn up something out of nothing. They’ve procured this image of him in their minds and they expect him to stay in that frame, and if he ventures out, they will find some way to put him back in there. Up until this event, I too would take whatever the media fed me, without questioning it much. It makes me wonder – are we all just victims of good or bad PR? This seems to be a realisation that has hit many Mount Carmel students and teachers.
Noteworthy also, the very evening that the GST Bill issue was raised by students in Bengaluru, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley surfaced to address the same. He was optimistic about the Bill, and echoed a few concerns. This comes on the heels of Mr. Gandhi enunciating to us on not accepting being thrown aside and wanting the GST Bill to suit and benefit the country, it being the most ambitious tax reform since Independence.
Arnab Goswami took it upon himself to orchestrate his daily screaming match around the events of Rahul Gandhi’s visit, when at that point leading news channels had moved on to other, more pertinent matters, and #RahulStumped was reduced to news for the ticker.
The Central government seemed to be having a field day, making suggestive statements of the youth siding with them and not Congress. All I can say is that the majority of youth will go wherever they feel safe, where their opinions are heard, where there is tolerance and where women feel comfortable. They will side with someone who makes sure secular is not just another word in the dictionary, but a way of life once again.