From Father to Son, Sam Pitroda Moves Into the Spotlights Again
Pitroda floods the media with interviews, taking credit for Rahul Gandhi make-over
NEW DELHI: Sam Pitroda, supposedly a tech-whiz, has brought himself back into the news again with a series of interviews where he has waxed eloquent---as he used to in the 1980’s about Rajiv Gandhi---about Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.
“Rajiv lost his mother, after which, he was made to lead the country. Rahul was a young child when he lost his father. The circumstances may look similar, but are quite different. But I can say that Rahul is more analytical than Rajiv”, he said in an interview to a web daily, thus emphasising his intimate knowledge of both father and son.
Pitroda emerged on the Indian political scene after Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister. In an article he wrote subsequently, he spoke of how he and his wife Anu had sought an appointment with the then PM during his visit to Washington; how they became close friends; and how he went on to develop a personal and powerful relationship with the Congress PM. Pitroda was in Chicago when he relocated to India, at what he says was Rajiv Gandhi’s request and went on to become his technical advisor setting up an apparatus to harness information technology and bring the Information Revolution to India as it were.
But for scribes at the time, Pitroda’s influence was far wider and deeper. He admitted this himself in a subsequent article where he wrote of getting a call from Rajiv Gandhi’s principal secretary saying that the PM had fired the water and environment secretaries; how Pitroda rushed to persuade Rajiv Gandhi to hold the dismissal for just 48 hours; how he held meetings with the two secretaries, gave them a fresh insight, re-worked the problem; and then finally a happier Prime Minister reversed the dismissals.
C-Dot that Pitroda set up was hit by financial bungling allegations, and after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Pitroda remained a family friend but went below the radar altogether. He has surfaced recently, and last year he was made the Chairperson of the Overseas Congress department. It was under this banner, that he organised the highly successful visit of Rahul Gandhi to the US and in his media interactions accepts the credit easily. As he told the Print, “Yes, the trip was planned. But it was not about repackaging Rahul Gandhi. Public relations is needed for people who are fake. It was about presenting the real Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi was projected as ‘Pappu’ by the paid Indian media and social media. Therefore, we felt it is better to organise interactions abroad, and present him before people with no bias, and let them judge him. We started with UC Berkeley, and then he met a lot of people ranging from students, intellectuals, businessmen, politicians, Hollywood stars.
It was important for the world to know the real Rahul Gandhi. And I am telling you, whoever met him in the US, had only praise to offer about his persona, his clarity of thought, his viewpoints, his idea of India. You must have noticed that the media back home has started recognising his potential as a leader. He is a young man who wants to work for the country, and has a fair idea of what to do. He doesn’t need any promotion from anyone. He is an honest man, who just needed an honest audience. I am glad it worked.”
Pitroda did not get along with Congress leaders when Rajiv Gandhi was PM, as he used the proximity to throw his weight around according to them. He crossed swords with Ministers in government, and made it clear that he enjoyed more knowledge, and more power than all of them together. In those days the Congress leaders did not hesitate to speak out, and would share their resentments with reporters fairly openly. This did not faze Pitroda who by the way was back in the public spotlights just after the Congress won the elections under Sonia Gandhi in 2004. He headed the National Knowledge Commission, but not much came of this as while he had access to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh his influence remained limited.
It is now that 75 year old Pitroda has blossomed again, and is now in Gujarat actually wearing a campaigners hat. He told the media that he was here because of a “moral duty and obligation” as his “dear friend” Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress had given him a “platform to do a number of things for the country.”
So Pitroda arrived in Surat, Gujarat, met the media, gave interviews and let it be known that he is basically the power behind the throne. He said that he will be meeting residents of five cities to evolve important inputs for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress on various issues such as education, environment, technology. Pitroda addressed a press conference that he dominated with Congress senior leader Madhusudan Mistry sitting quietly beside him, reminiscent of the days when Rajiv Gandhi’s Ministers maintained their counsel in front of Pitroda.
Pitroda has taken little time to emerge from the backroom into the spotlights, taking full credit for the Rahul Gandhi make-over, starting from the US. He is now in Gujarat as a campaigner, in a move that clearly has the Nehru-Gandhi sanction but has surprised the party that is now having to deal with the technocrat, and indulge him as a political campaigner. Pitroda likes control over the space, and the last four to five days have not been very easy it seems for the politicians on duty with him in Gujarat.
He had alienated sections of the party in the 1980’s. Will history repeat itself again? And at a time when the Gujarat Congress was just consolidating into rare unity.