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Home >Opinion >Online Views >Kejriwal vs Vadra: the net effect

At 10.20 last night, some five hours after India Against Corruption leader Arvind Kejriwal levelled a series of fresh charges against Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, the term Vadra in the google news search box threw up 804 news citings. At that precise moment a similar search for Obama, the one answering to the American president, pointed to 420 news articles. For that brief moment, thanks to Kejriwal’s exposes, our Robert Vadra was more written about than the world’s most powerful man.

Sadly that may be no more than a pyrrhic victory. For in that moment of popularity the Teflon coating of the Gandhi dynasty (not the original one but the one that changed to this name) was peeled away forever. In the past, for all the charges that were ever hurled at India’s premier political dynasty, none had really stuck. Time and tide swept most major and minor stigmas, including Bofors, out of the public space. And the doddering old party continued on its merry ways, smug in this knowledge. But while the old political order wasn’t looking, the internet changed the rules of the game.

By late evening of 9 October 2012 you could have been anywhere across the world, and you could still access the facts of the Vadra family going back to the pre-independence period. We knew about every major transaction of the man, his businesses (or the lack of them) as well as details of his dealings with the real estate company DLF Ltd. And we knew because there were enough of us wanting to know.

This was a marked contrast to his rather low-key public life in the eight years preceding. For this, we turn to another tool of the technological era – Google Trends (based on Google Search, this is a google service that shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages). In the last 7-8 years there has been so little written about Vadra that you would be forgiven for not knowing who it was that he was married to. Interest in Robert Vadra in the 7 years between 2004 and 2011 was at best lukewarm, never going into double digits (on a scale of 1-100). It scaled a high of 27 in 2011 when the irrepressible Subramanian Swamy claimed he would prove corruption charges against the unfortunate young man. It sparked again a bit later when there was a row over the transfer of an officer who stopped a Robert Vadra rally. From such an undistinguished past, suddenly that index rises to 100 (the maximum possible score) as of yesterday. Mr. Vadra is now public property and it is open season for news writers, bloggers, twitterati.

There in lies the looming problem for the Gandhi family and the Congress. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle and there isn’t any going back. Unfortunately from what we saw of the Congress’ show ponies last night on television, steeped in there old culture, of what the people can’t see they won’t believe, they still insist the genie never existed. That won’t work anymore. What might is a reasoned response, based on facts and data. Public memory may be short but technology has replaced that with an irreversible memory bank.

In history, anger can curve life to strange tangents. Arvind Kejriwal’s biggest use to history might just be to awaken our political dinosaurs to the disruptive power of technology.

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