Rahul Gandhi got back from his ‘mystery’ sojourn abroad today. It must be very discomforting to disappear and do so after creating a froth of wrath about the country going down the tube save for his hand on the brakes and then return to find the country still in one piece and not in a state of collapse.
Not just there and carrying along to the best of its ability, but that the country did not notice Rahul Gandhi had even gone somwehere. And if it did notice, it did not really care whether he was in situ or gallivanting around the world.
Only media seems to retain a certain fascination.
Remember when he vanished last year and the media went on the town and Gandhi got dollops of publicity and the space and time surrendered to his adventure doubled?
This time, the media tried to create the same sort of excitement about his leaving so soon after the announcement of five crucial elections. And what was he thinking? Not just that, here was the great Opposition leader’s opportunity to put Modi into a corner over the fallout of the demonetisation disarray and he was leaving the scene, exit stage left chased by a bear.
It had the same effect on India as trying to open a padlock with a wet noodle.
So, is it the media’s fascination with the Gandhis that endures, whether it is in the form of hostility, mockery, mild affection or Pavlovian response to the past?
That while India has gone past the Gandhi dynasty and moved on, the media continues to perpetuate its presence as a viable political force. Some of it sticks and if there are enough cameras and microphones around, there is a surge of publicity.
For the media at large, this national indifference has been a bit of a wake up call. The first couple of times in 2015, the trick worked pretty well. The usual pigeons in the TV talk show panels fetched up and were raked over the coals by shrill anchors over the deliberate disappearance and there was heated debate and a great deal of prevarication and blatant lying. For a few days, it topped the new charts. The print media wrote editorials, gave scenarios of deep profundity and built up this mystique.
Whether we liked it or not, we were given the feeling that Rahul Gandhi is still a viable force in the political firmament.
The media tried it again this time and it broke a wing, refused to fly. There were no takers. Rahul Gandhi may have returned today and to his dismay, when asking how he was missed, may have been told: 'Oh, did you go somewhere? We thought we just hadn’t spotted you in the corridor.'
It probably is not so much blame as it is conditioning that prompts media to continue this dead as dodo affair with the former first family. The old habit doesn’t die hard, it just stays on life support and it is also the only Opposition game in town to create a check and balance to the BJP’s stranglehold over the Centre.
Consequently, by default, Rahul keeps being pushed back into the limelight by the media while the rest of the country doesn’t give a toss any more.
Perhaps there will be someone else who will rival Modi like Virat has done Dhoni in the realm of political cricket but for now, the captain of Congress has only the critical media to propel him forward.
And in that, lies the paradox.