Dear Mr Gandhi,

Even as we read fawning reports about your Dubai trip from mainstream media, the most interesting part of the trip came in the form of questions from a 14-year-old girl who showed the kind of courage we have never seen anyone from mainstream media display. 

During the emergency, LK Advani had described the media’s conduct as “crawling when asked to bend”. It occasions me a great deal of alarm that in the four decades since that black spot on our democracy, the media, if anything, has only become more craven. As demonstrated by their non-condemnation of you calling a journalist pliant, the mainstream media of India has continued to crawl when asked to bend, and the fact that your ecosystem wields this power after being reduced to 44 members in Parliament should scare the daylights out of the masses. 

From the time you brazenly brushed aside the monumental failures of UPA-2 as “losing direction towards the end”, to your continued allegations over the Rafale deal, we kept waiting for the media to pull you up, to ask you the hard questions, and only kept getting laudatory tweets of you setting the narrative from these craven celebrities.

Well, if the mainstream media is failing to hold you accountable, I must look at the 14-year-old for inspiration and ask you a few questions that the mainstream media would have asked if India had a functioning fourth estate. The questions can be roughly divided into how (how will you win 2019?) and what (what will you do if you win?).

First the how: what is your path to a winning mandate? If you take the 2009 one — the best show by your party in recent times — as the benchmark, what is your plan to win 209 seats this time? 

If the recent pre-poll alliance between Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party is any indicator, clearly, the days of all parties aligning behind the Congress are over. If your party falls short of the 200 mark, it is unlikely that you will become the Prime Minister. In 2009, the Congress had won 13 seats from the Northeastern states, where it is all but decimated. You had won over 60 seats from south India, 33 from the then Andhra Pradesh alone. 

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These two parts of India send 155 MPs to the Lok Sabha, of which you managed to sweep close to 50% in 2009. With your party getting decimated in the Northeast, losing power in Kerala and having alliance partners (which will reduce number of seats available) in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, do you realistically feel a repeat is possible? If not, what states do you see making up the shortfall? 

What is your confidence level about winning all seven seats from Delhi this time around? In the light of your working president of Odisha quitting to join the BJD, how confident are you of winning seats there? And if this equation is not working out, aren’t you effectively campaigning for a third front Prime Minister, a 21st century IK Gujaral or HD Deve Gowda? Seeing what a disaster such khichadi governments are bound to be, won’t a vote for your party ultimately be a vote for another costly mid-term election?

Now to the “what” part: what will your cabinet look like? Can you name your finance minister and home minister at least to start with? How many ministers from UPA-2 will make a comeback? Recently you appointed Kamal Nath, an accused in the 1984 Sikh massacres, to the chief minister's post in Madhya Pradesh. A few days back, another accused Jagdish Tytler was in attendance while Sheila Dikshit took charge of the Delhi unit. Going by this, is our apprehension that a Congress government of 2019 will mark the comeback of many tainted politicians completely unfounded?

The prospect of handing over power to a leader who refuses to change opinion in face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is a scary one, and in that context I have a question about your rhetoric on Rafale, which has continued unabated, in spite of you failing to produce one shred of evidence, and in spite of being rebutted by everyone, from foreign leaders to the Supreme Court of India. 

What kind of political leader continues to level false allegations against the Prime Minister of the country and makes the CEO of a large business house a victim of collateral damage? Is that a payback for the criticism your family, including your late father, had to face in the Bofors scam? And how will your personal animus towards Narendra Modi affect decision-making if you have the power? Will you wreck vengeance on Anil Ambani, and destroy an enterprise that employs hundreds of thousands of people, just to send a message?

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Equally worrying has been your stance on the EVM. As someone who remembers the pre-EVM elections ruled by thugs and ganglords, the prospect of going back to paper ballots scares me. If that happens, in effect 2019 will be the last election where vote of an ordinary voter like me will really count. Tell me sir, if voted to power, are you planning to coerce the Election Commission into bringing back paper ballots?

Apart from the Goebbelsian propaganda, systematic intimidation of institutions, be it public or private, has been the other constant theme of your leadership since 2014. From an impeachment motion against one Chief Justice of India to maligning the personal image of another last week, you and your followers have shown an alarming streak of intimidation and authoritarianism. This pattern of not brooking any dissent and going after the people involved personally reminds one of the darkest days of the Emergency and once again we shudder when we realise you doing it while having less than 50 MPs in the Lok Sabha.

And still, even the intimidation of the judiciary pales in comparison with the decimation of independent media. Your leaders have manhandled reporters, your spokespersons call journalists “North Korean” and lapdogs, you called a respectable woman journalist as “pliant” and the token statement issued by the Editors’ Guild of India still managed to drag the BJP and AAP into it. Strong, independent institutions, both government and private, are a vital part of the checks and balances of democracy and so far you have shown nothing but contempt for the very concept of it. Will we see the kind of pliant institutions (RBI/judiciary/CBI) under Congress governments of yesteryear and Pravda-like mainstream media if you manage to become the Prime Minister later this year?

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On to the issues now. What is your stand on the issue of cow-protection? Members of your party slaughtered a calf in public in Kerala. Your media support base almost entirely consists of people who think killing and eating a cow should be made a national, federally-funded pastime. If you are the Prime Minister of India, will we see the beef-eaters' lobby become even more brazen? Will the many attacks on cow-protectors by smugglers go up under Congress rule?

Last but not the least: you and your team have accused the Modi government of failing to create jobs for Indians. But across half-a-dozen or so election campaigns, we have never heard any plan of action of your own, apart from your heartfelt desire of seeing made in (insert the name of the town you are campaigning in here) utensils/mobile phones/ washing machines and so on. What exactly are your economic policy tenets Mr Gandhi? Do you break to the Left or the Right on the issue of taxation? What is your 100 days action plan to alleviate the agrarian distress?

You see Mr Gandhi, as Hillary Clinton found out to her grief in 2016, just telling what a horrible person your opponent is does not work. Your challenge is only compounded considering the immense personal credibility your principal opponent enjoys, no matter what your admirers write in their op-ed columns. To get to the chair that you covet so much, you have to convince voters that you are as serious about doing the job as you are about getting it. I look forward to your answers to my questions. Thank you.