The Prime Minister’s residence at 7, Race Course Road. October 2.
Manmohan Singh is taking small sips from a cup of good Darjeeling and nibbling on a Thin Arrowroot biscuit or a variation thereof. He is still deeply jet-lagged from his trip to the United States where Barack Obama, unknown to him, had had a Rohypnol tablet diluted in the Indian prime minister’s glass of water before his flight back to India, thereby compounding his jet-lag.
[The American president ensured that Manmohan-ji was knocked out as Obama wasn’t looking forward to his government’s battle with the US Congress and the federal shutdown that would follow, and had wanted to make the meeting with the Indian PM as brief as possible without being rude.]
Manmohan-ji is now thinking about his morning at Rajghat where he had gone to pay tribute to Mohandas Gandhi (no relation of Rahul Gandhi) on the latter’s 144th birth anniversary. While thinking about how he was greeted by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi at Rajghat, the economist-prime minister, sharp at calculating numbers and that sort of thing, realises that he’s 63 years younger than Mohandas Gandhi, exactly the age of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, whose name he had uttered publicly for the first time yesterday. This thought elicits a sharp cough, which in turn returns Manmohan-ji’s thoughts to his visit to Rajghat just a car ride before.
He had noted, while walking stiffly past the gathered, that the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi (no relation of Mohandas Gandhi) had not been there. Sources within the PMO had told him while in the car to Rajghat that Sonia-ji had told her son, Rahul-ji not to come to Gandhi Smriti (no relation to the Nehru-Gandhi family) unless he got “that ridiculous beard off his face”. The Congress Vice President did not think it fit to come to Rajghat after that.
A PMO official walks in, coughs discreetly and breaks Manmohan-ji’s thoughts about Rahul-ji choosing the very day after his 81st birthday on September 26 — a few hours after it, actually, if one factored in the nine-and-a-half hour time difference between New Delhi and Washington DC — to publicly shame him as the leader of the Cabinet that had passed the ordinance that sought to protect convicted parliamentarians and legislators. Rahul-ji, lest we forget, in the presence of Congressman Ajay Maken who just minutes ago had been defending the ordinance, had wanted the ordinance to be “torn up”.
PMO official: Sir, Rahul-ji has arrived. Will you meet him inside or shall I bring him here?
MS: “Nonsense”. “Nonsense?” [Snaps out of it] Hmm? Rahul-ji? Let him wait for ten minutes. No, make that five minutes. And then bring him here.
PMO official: Yes sir. [Pause] May I have your permission to ask you something personal, sir?
MS: Yes, go on.
PMO official: You’re not going to tender your resignation, are you, sir?
MS: [Smiles almost as much as he did when flashing the “V” sign after inking the India-US civil nuclear deal, but this time without flashing the “V” sign] Don’t be silly. Of course, not.
PMO official: Thank you, sir. I’ll bring Rahul-ji here in five minutes. [Looks at his wrist watch] I mean four.
RG: Namaste, Manmohan-ji.
MS: Namaste, Rahul-ji. Please be seated. Some tea and biscuits?
RG: Yes, please, thank you. I just came to tell you that I hadn’t meant to embarrass you. I was just reflecting public sentiment.
[PMO official serves RG tea and Thin Arrowroot biscuits or a variation thereof and leaves.]
MS: That’s all right, Rahul-ji. [Awkward silence] So you have shaved. You look less — how will I put it Rahul-ji? — scruffy.
RG: [Smiles with dimples radiating] Heh. It was getting itchy anyway. But Manmohan-ji, you know what I felt about the ordinance…
MS: I understand, Rahul-ji. You know my coalition compulsions and why I had to go along with it with the Cabinet.
RG: Yes, Manmohan-ji. But still the timing and the language I used…
MS: They’ve gone, Rahul-ji. [Flashes the “V” sign from under the table and let’s out that smile] Now the BJP can’t claim credit for scrapping the ordinance and the bill. I told you that this plan would work!
RG: [Looks around before rolling his kurta sleeves up] Heh. Manmohan-ji, your passive-aggressive stunt was too cool! But you think the UPA allies and your Cabinet members will create a ruckus because we just made them redundant?
MS: Don’t be silly, Rahul-ji. Who is going to go against the scrapping of the ordinance and the bill now? But may I suggest you do something now?
RG: Please, Manmohan-ji. Your wish is my command.
MS: Just let it out to your friends who are friends of the media that I’m not going to resign because of some sense of being [grins] “humiliated”. I’ve already done my bit to say I’m not quitting, but those folks like Sanjay Baru and Shekhar Gupta who seem to think that they should be speaking for the nation’s prime minister should be made to squirm.
RG: Rightio, Manmohan-ji. That’s an excellent idea! So now what?
MS: A bit later, as we had discussed, you tell the press that you think getting political parties in the ambit of RTI is a must.
RG: Oh yes! Should I make that statement anywhere in particular?
MS: I leave that to your discretion. And then, sometime early next year…
RG: [Smiles and rolls up kurta sleeves again now that they have rolled down again]…announce that I would definitely not be the next UPA prime minister even if the UPA comes to power in 2014.
MS: [Beams] Yes, that should go a long way to fulfil Bapu’s dream for the Congress party.
RG: It’s dismantling.
MS: Exactly, Rahul-ji!
RG: I shall then take my leave, Manmohan-ji? [Stands up] You have a Cabinet meeting to go to. Namaste.
MS: [Stands up] Namaste, Rahul-ji. [He sees the Congress Vice President to the exit and then, out of the earshot of the PMO official in front of Rahul, he stops] Rahul-ji?
RG: [Looks back] Manmohan-ji?
MS: [Smiles and flashes the “V” sign close to his chest] Rahul-ji, who’s your daddy?!
RG: [Dimples bursting] You, Manmohan-ji, you!
MS: [Suddenly grim] Don’t be silly, Rahul-ji. Your daddy was Rajiv-ji.
Rahul Gandhi leaves 7, Race Course Road to grow a stubble and fight political and social crime as someone’s secret side-kick another day.