Seeking balance in his life and avoiding power seems to be the result of the inner journey and contemplations of Rahul Gandhi. He is now supposed to be leading the Congress into the future. But hear his Jaipur speech carefully and we must contemplate what Rahul will possibly do or not do, and how his dynastic turn at leading the affairs of the nation’s pre-eminent party could turn out. We must ask: is Rahul Gandhi for real or is he just the latest strand of an idea of a national beginning once made by his great grandfather? Is he just the emblem of a party now structurally tied at the Centre to the strings of dynasty? Or the apprenticeship over, is he rolling up his sleeves to get into the nitty gritty, the dirt and the grime, of politics in the age of coalitions?
At the end of his speech in Jaipur, largely seen as his coming-of-age address, Rahul Gandhi spoke of balance. He said that he loved to play badminton as a little boy because it gave him balance. He learnt the game from two security guards who later shot his grandmother and took away the balance in his life. Having moved the captive audience to emotion and some tears, he then went on to speak of power. He said that his mother understood that “the power so many seek is actually a poison”. The only antidote to this poison, he said, “is to not become attached to it. People should not chase power for the attributes of power.” Three days later, Rahul, now vice-president of the Congress, showed up at the party headquarters on Delhi’s Akbar Road and met all the functionaries. He told the media he only intended to raise “positive issues”.
Critics call the charming vagueness and apparent shunning of power a deliberate tactic. If the Congress does well, he’s the face of party and government; if they do badly, he tried his best! That is why Pinaki Misra, BJD MP, says Rahul has learned the art of wielding power without responsibility. “As long as the prime minister of India reports to him, why would he choose to take that responsibility and come into the direct line of fire? He enjoys his private life as well and I don’t think he wants to compromise with the space of his private world.”
Talent Pool? NSUI members celebrate at AICC headquarters
But a veteran Congressman stresses that Rahul has never been inclined towards any government post and even in the future he does not see him as hankering after becoming the PM. “That is why other senior leaders still hope they can be the Manmohan Singh to his Sonia,” he adds. Perhaps having learned from his mother, Rahul too would seek no office, but he already has great power. And if Modi does indeed emerge from the other corner with his unbridled ambition, Rahul would be showcased as the contrasting figure reluctant to have power but with all the noblesse oblige instinct of a dynasty that has always used rhetoric about the poor and the powerless. If the plan around Modi is to highlight his corporate-friendly credentials, show him as the efficient epitome of an aspirational leader, the supporting plan for Rahul is the direct cash transfer scheme and pushing the food security bill. In short, he will be showcased as the gentle Prince of the Poor.
Yet there are many who believe Rahul can deliver nothing on the ground, just a sense of well-being at the Congress headquarters. Congress functionaries at times say this off the record, other parties say it openly. Ram Achal Rajbhar, the UP state chief of the BSP, says that the Congress has celebrated Rahul’s new role with crackers and sweets in Jaipur but there is no welcome or warmth for his new role, “at least not in UP, the state he claims he belongs to. Nothing would change at the ground level. He was never a charismatic leader nor do we see any possibilities in the future.”
The first step Rahul filing his papers at Amethi in 2004
Before the general elections next year, there is a slew of assembly polls where the Congress takes on the BJP and its prospects are not believed to be good in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi. It does fancy its chances in Karnataka, though. The reality of politics also is that the impact of central politics on the states is diminishing. A former Congress minister from the state attending the Jaipur meet told Outlook, “At the state level, Rahul campaigning or not will not matter. But it is important in the context of the Lok Sabha if he proves himself by then.”
D.P. Tripathi, the general secretary of NCP, makes an interesting point. “It is very good that Rahul Gandhi has taken bigger responsibility in the party,” he says, “but please don’t forget that whenever a vice-president was appointed there were serious problems within the Congress. I am merely drawing your attention to the history of Arjun Singh and Jitendra Prasada who were given those posts by then Congress chiefs Rajiv Gandhi and Sitaram Kesri respectively.”
Rahul rebelling against his own party is an interesting prospect as his speech was rather unusual in critiquing a system largely created and upheld by the Congress. For instance, he spoke passionately about people who are kept out of the system because they are not connected and on the need to empower them. But surely, the Congress across India has perpetuated the rise of clans while its most prominent younger leaders are all children of political heavyweights?
Rahul also spoke of a more decentralised system, and power being shifted to the states. Again, it is the Congress that has been the most resistant to this and strong regional leaders have traditionally been cut to size by the national leadership, most famously during the reign of Rahul’s grandmother Indira Gandhi, but also by his mother Sonia—for instance when Jaganmohan Reddy was shortchanged in Andhra Pradesh.
Still, we must take Rahul’s word for it that he is inclined to break some old patterns in the Congress. But whether he will be able to do so and if it will all add up to anything really new or transformative remains to be seen. As of now, he has merely changed the mood in the party and lifted its spirits at a troubled time when opinion polls predict a slide for the ruling party. Rahul’s long-overdue coronation is only the beginning of a story that presumably will have more substance beyond the token presence of a dynast.
Photograph by Reuters, From Outlook 04 February 2013
Coming Up Next: Rahul Vs Modi?
Neither the Congress nor the BJP has announced their prime ministerial candidate for the next general election yet, and probably won’t, but the hot money is that it is going to be a head-to-head encounter between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi.
By Saba Naqvi in Jaipur with Panini Anand
The coronation of Rahul seems to be another attempt to push a reluctant man to centrestage (Just Prince Charming?, Feb 4). Whether choosing a mere ceremonial post for him was a folly or a blessing remains to be seen. Rahul had two great opportunities, Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement and the protests against the Delhi gangrape, to make a mark, but unfortunately for him and the Congress, his proposal to give the Lokpal constitutional status sank without a trace while he was missing in action in the second instance. India today is seeking a strong leader, someone who cuts short messy political procedure, without violating human rights or due processes or using extra-constitutio–nal powers like Sanjay Gandhi did. Rahul needs to assert himself more if he’s to be the answer to our prayers.
S.R. Gadicherla, Bangalore
Rahul would win hands down were elections to be held today. Besides the ‘holy’ bloggers who perform ritual puja online, murderer Modi does not have much support.
Imran Ahmed Khan, Bangalore
The unanimous election and coronation of Rahul baba bore all the signs of a long-planned, well-rehearsed and orchestrated pantomime. The maudlin ‘inaugural’ speech also plainly seemed to be the tortuous effort of a professional PR firm. The Congress can only be exhibiting a death wish in choosing to be led into oblivion by the Pied Piper of Rae Bareli and Amethi. This way, the bjp will be laughing all the way to the polling booth in 2014.
Ramesh Ramachandra, Bangalore
Just look at the whole pantheon of Congress leaders in the lead photograph fawning over the prince, especially home minister Sushilkumar Shinde who is a total disgrace to this country and himself.
Prakash Joseph, Oakville, Canada
“Seeking balance in his life and avoiding power seems to be the result of the inner journey and contemplations of Rahul Gandhi.” What a rigmarolish way to avoid saying he is incompetent and cannot handle responsibility.
Does the writer of this piece have a PhD in absurdity?
Pradip Singh, Stafford
In light of all the scepticism around Rahul, I would like to quote Napoleon Bonaparte: “A leader is a dealer in hope.” And that’s exactly what the speech of the Nehru-Gandhi scion held out.
Beena Mathur, Pune
One question. Pray, why is Rahul wearing a saffron pagdi and patta around his neck? Saffron rules, is it?
Ashok Kumar Ghai, Mumbai
Rahul is a big cause of concern for the Congress; they don’t know what to do with him. Hence a chintan shivir.
Lata Mehta, Madrid
Rahul Gandhi is no match for Narendra Modi, either in manner, or in political wiliness. The Congress should think of projecting someone like P. Chidambaram to take on the Gujarat strongman.
K.P. Rajan, Mumbai
It’s just a matter of time before servile Congressmen order the issue of a postage stamp for Sonia and her children.
G. Anuplal, Bangalore
The question you pose on your cover, ‘Is He for Real?’, should be put to the Mani Shankar Aiyars and Digvijay Singhs of the Congress durbar. One (Aiyar) sees in the coronation of Rahul “a resurrection of Rajiv”, which politically is bad news, while others want us to believe that Rahul is the messiah India’s been awaiting. Step up the drumbeats, Outlook.
At last someone is asking some hard questions.
"The voter’s question about Rahul Gandhi is uncomplicated: what precisely has he achieved to justify a claim to become Prime Minister? Genetic entitlement is passé. Rahul is 42 but has never held a job in either the private sector or public life. A fitful presence in Parliament, interspersed with long holidays abroad, does not constitute a job. Rahul could have become a minister at any time in the last eight years, and proved he was competent"
M J Akbar has nailed it.
Imran Ahmed Khan >> Rahul should win hands down if the elections are held now
The dynasty of Rahul has ruled India for 50 (out of 65) years and yet the 150 million plus Muslims of india are rotting on most parameters. And yes, a tiny minority of this 150 million people are doing very well and making good fortune. And it is understandable that any election held with only this tiny minority elite among the religious minority will overwhelmingly vote for the dynasty that has kept them rich and well fed (at the expense of the majority of the muslims of india)
Rahul should win hands down if the elections are held now. Besides the 'Holy' bloggers performing their religious services from abroad, murderer Modi does not enjoy popular support.
Pay careful attention to the photo of congress leaders doing their best to kiss ass.... especially our home minister who is a total disgrace to the country and to himself.
But why Rahul is shown wearing Saffron Turban with small grey lines on the page of OutLook and is wearing orange Hindu welcome Phatas around his neck ? Seems Saffron is all pervading .
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