One-thousand three-hundred & ninety-four words

In 1997, when Outlook crowned the then Congress president Sitaram Kesri as the Villain of the Year, the magazine’s managing editor Tarun J. Tejpal described why Kesri had been picked for the dubious honour by simply describing the three pictures that had been used to illustrate the article.

“Take a look at Exhibit 1. It is a moment of rare quality. Three men have reduced themselves to a classic abjectness in the face of the formidable Indira Gandhi. One in particular shines through, the man in dark glasses, with the Gandhi topi. He has hit the critical mass of sycophancy: one jot more and he is in danger of dissolving into a puddle of slime.

“Now flip the page, and assess Exhibit 2. More than a decade-and-a-half has passed. But with the stamina and resolve of the finest long distance runner, the man—topi still in place—has saved up enough sycophantic energy for a strong kick down the last stretch. His head is at P.V. Narasimha Rao’s knees, and Rao is holding on to his hands to keep him from plummeting to the ground. In glorious servility, in a total surrender of the self.

“Now check out the colour picture on top. The glasses are no longer opaque, and the slit eyes visible through them have the casual menace of an alligator’s. The liquid lower lip for once has coagulated into some fuzzy kind of determination. And the wagging finger has the authoritarian quality of an executioner, condemning those at his mercy to the electric chair.”

Much the same narrative technique can be used to describe this telling picture (shot by V. Sreenivasa Murthy of The Hindu) from yesterday’s Congress rally in Bangalore, where the Sitaram Kesris of the State were in obsequious attendance to a third-generation Gandhi, Rahul.

You can see a near-complete absence of clarity of vision or leadership on stage. You can see fawning elders with one foot in the electoral grave falling over each other. You can see faux camaraderie in the palms of the upstart. You can see cringing inhibition and reservation in the eyes of some others. And you can see the grandmother of all garlands being held up by the youngest of the lot.

Before the jamboree began, one of those on stage SMSed a journalist: “Ivatthu naavu evathu Rahul Gandhi avara habba maadtha iddeevi (today, we are celebrating Rahul Gandhi’s festival).”