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Millennium Post

Where Abhijit went wrong

Abhijit Mukherjee, son of President Pranab Mukherjee and Congress MP from his father’s former Loksabha constituency Jangipur had not known that he would be kicking up such a storm when he was commenting derisively on the women demonstrators in Delhi. The utter inability to sense the impact of a statement shows Abhijit’s lack of maturity in communication.

But Abhijit should not be unduly pulled up for that. A much more suave Sashi Tharoor, a person with huge global experience, too suffered from similar unguarded comment when he tweeted derisively calling economy class on planes as cattle class. A more recent example is that of a most decent person, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s innocent poser to TV technicians, ‘Theek Hai’. Some will recall a controversy that was created by a statement of H R Bhardwaj on how brokers invaded Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s cabinet. Both Bhardwaj and Dr. Singh thought they were off the record while the televised programme carried their comments.

Why do those in the public glare make comments, which they might regret later? Most commit the folly in their unguarded moment when they forget the straitjacketed life they live. For Prime Minister Singh it was a normal expression from a senior person after completing recording of his speech. How was he to know that a technical error will lead to the telecasting of his comment?

If anybody is to be blamed, other than the recordists, it should be the PM’s personal staff. It was their responsibility to check and seek comments from the TV crew. Clearly the support staff did not act efficiently.

In case of Bhardwaj it was an indiscretion to chat warmly to the interviewer of the Pritish Nandy show. When one is in a formal interview one must never take chances and start gossiping. If Bhardwaj thought that he was speaking off the record he should have moved away from the set before opening his mouth. He had to pay the price for the elementary mistake.

Sashi Tharoor thought his tweet audience were his cronies who would have had a hearty laugh. He would have been right had there been restriction on followers in case of twitter. But the dent in his image has become permanent of sorts. The elitist character of Sashi Tharoor the politician remains indelible.

Abhijit Mukherjee’s case is different. He cannot take refuge behind any excuse of innocent mistake. He was talking to some TV channel. And see how he presented himself. Abhijit does not know how not to appear before a camera. He cannot articulate his views. If one cares to listen to his entire comment one will find an utter lack of tight logic or strong expression of view. At best he was incoherent, forcing some personal venom against the agitators in Delhi. The utter lack of ability to communicate embarrassed his President father.

Abhijit got further exposed when television channels rushed for his clarification. His utter inability to use English as a medium of communication and keenness to appear in channels, only to be torn apart by witty anchors, made him a forlorn and ridiculous figure. He should have issued a written statement, apologising for the intemperate utterance and withdrawn completely from the channels. It would have even served had he tendered his resignation or at least offered to do so to the party high command. Damage control is a difficult task.

Abhijit should have remembered that he was an MP only because he is the son of Pranab Mukherjee. Any comment from him would harm his father’s carefully cultivated image. The fact that he winked at this critical aspect of his political life and felt he was a public figure in his own right shows his arrogance. Or should one say lack of  intelligence?

This brings one to another critical issue of public life. Politicians create a constituency of their own and like to pass the same to their family members. The same logic saw Nehru-Gandhi family taking centre-stage in Indian politics. The feudal mindset of India helps the family lineage to perpetuate. Thus the quality of politics suffers. Even the Great Mughals, the longest ruling dynasty of India, could produce just one remarkably great ruler in Emperor Akbar. Post his great grandson the empire had nearly vanished.

Political families, at least judged by the predicament suffered by President Mukherjee due to his son, too face the similar ability deficit. Unfortunately political families fail to accept the reality and continue to push their family members in public life. 

The sin of Abhijit Mukherjee is to jump into the arena lured by the attendant perks of the system without trying to assess if he had the necessary acumen for the task. But will aspiring family members of Indian politicians learn a lesson from Abhijit’s folly?

Sugato Hazra is a communication professional
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