Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, showed that when the hour was on hand, he was the man, says Mohan Guruswamy.
Most of us do not fulfill our potential because we are not at the right place when an opportunity arrives. Whether it is a hero in war or a political leader who achieves greatness, it is all a matter of being where the action is. It is pure kismet.
Take, for instance, Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha. He would never have been near the centre stage if the Congress party didn't get decimated in 2014.
The elections saw Rahul Gandhi clearly projected as the national alternative to Narendra Modi and he got thumped. Never a confident leader and at best a diffident speaker, with little of what makes a person charismatic, Rahul Gandhi would have hardly been a foil to Narendra Modi, a communicator par excellence and a rabble rouser without a peer.
So the Congress party reached down to pluck Mallikarjun Kharge from obscurity mostly because he was the only other leader with some standing in the party.
Kharge is a Dalit from Gulbarga who began life as a labour organiser. He joined the Congress party in 1969 and rose slowly in the party dominated by the Vokkaligas and Lingayats. But being a Dalit is not without its advantages and Kharge grasped the opportunity with both hands and made it to the higher ranks of the party in Karnataka.
Kharge came to Parliament in 2009 after the Congress debacle in the state in 2008. He was the minister of railways in the Manmohan Singh government in June 2013, not long enough to make a mark or make his presence felt. And in the intensely feudal durbar of the Congress party, who can afford to make his or her presence felt?
Kharge got his chance to shine in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, August 12, and he showed that when the hour was on hand, he was the man. He spoke in the simple Hindustani brogue of the Deccan. There was nothing flowery, but he made his points with deft rapier thrusts.
He pointed out that the minister (Sushma Swaraj) had not even consulted the Indian high commissioner in the UK or senior officials like the foreign secretary on the issue of Lalit Modi's travel papers. It was entirely her initiative and done by her stealthily, bypassing all established procedures.
When Sushma Swaraj tried to hide behind a technicality by her claim of there being no proof/record of allegations made by the Congress, Kharge pointed that there had been verbal communication between the external affairs minister and British MP Keith Vaz, hence there was no record of the same.
Kharge said Swaraj had accepted to have spoken to Vaz for Lalit Modi's travel papers, and there was no point in claiming there was no record. He deflated her and the whole country heard the hiss of the escaping bluster.
Kharge then twisted the knife deep and hard by pointing to the prime minister's silence on the matter. One can't say whether Modi is silent because he wants Sushma, Vasundhara and Shivraj Singh, all of whom are his rivals, to stew in their juices or because he is aware of the full facts and doesn't want to get involved.
Instead of replying to very specific charges of malfeasances by her, Sushma Swaraj recalled a litany of charges against (then prime minister) Rajiv Gandhi and others. These are well-known and the Congress party has paid the political price for them. Sushma Swaraj has much to answer for, but she was clearly skirting that.
Rahul Gandhi too came good. The diffidence and hesitations were not visible. When he recounted the conversation Sushma Swaraj and he had in the lobby, he was fully believable and Sushma was truly exposed. He narrated, and she didn't contradict him: She held his arm and asked him why he was angry with her.
Then Rahul told her he was not annoyed with her, but was disappointed that she was not telling the truth. At this point Gandhi dramatically told the House, 'I kept looking at her and she dropped her head low and couldn't face him.'
Rahul Gandhi really tore into Sushma Swaraj and scored telling blows. All Swaraj could do was pour scorn on his family. Some of it deserved and some of it undeserved, but all completely irrelevant to the issue on hand.
Rahul Gandhi showed he is capable of holding his own in the rough and tumble of politics. To my mind this round goes to Rahul Gandhi. Sushma got clobbered and she is now definitely sullied.
But the big winner was Mallikarjun Kharge. When the hour came he was the man.
The ruling party was clearly on the back foot when the Speaker adjourned the House.
IMAGE: Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge speaks in the Lok Sabha, August 12. Photograph: PTI Photo