Facing The Mirror

In this season of extreme flattery, it will serve Rahul Gandhi some good if he sang like the chorus in Sophocles' 'Antigone,' recalled saint-poet Purandara Dasa and also read his great-grandfather meticulously
Facing The Mirror

Everybody in the Congress is celebrating the arrival of Rahul Gandhi with this election. During the campaign, he spoke with far greater confidence and authority than ever before. It was in fact visible at his press conferences and rallies. Although some of his cryptic remarks at times made his dimples appear like a dot below the exclamation, there has finally been a smooth landing for him. Many in the Congress who were waiting to offer his leadership a grand legitimacy have grabbed this opportunity to hail him as a visionary with an astute political brain. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in an unprecedented manner has publicly wooed the reluctant prince to join the cabinet. 

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Not long ago, Rahul was talking a slightly different language. A language that had the bleeding-intonations of NGO-talk with a mellow sprinkling of corporate consultancy. There were of course moral conjunctions that came in between the genuine haltings and earnestness of an apprentice. But in the course of this election campaign he has familiarised himself with the syntax of realpolitik. This graduation was necessary. It is only a pragmatic step forward. Rahul is being credited with playing a major role in formulating the election strategy for his party. His circle of influence will only grow from now on and for that matter he already speaks like the party president and not as one of its general secretaries.

How much ever Rahul is acquainted with public attention and adulation, this is a heady or rather a vertigo moment of success for him. As the media mindlessly showers praise, as his rivals silence their guns and his own insecure partymen grant him more victories than he should take credit for, the real problem begins for Rahul. The problem of tending to believe a little too much in his own 'destiny' and nourishing the surge of 'greatness' inside him. I am sure he is well groomed to stem this tide eventually, but then there is an antidote exercise that he can follow to handle it quickly and with some marked efficiency. 

All that he has to do is stand before the mirror, in classical style, and begin to doubt as well as deny himself all his election victories. Even at the risk of sounding like Priyanka Gandhi's Vipassana instructor, let me proceed to detail some plain-speaking that Rahul Gandhi should do with himself.

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The first thing he has to tell the mirror is that there is nothing called the 'Rahul doctrine' or that he has not evolved one as yet. He is being praised for the UP victory but he should emphasise that the twelve extra seats came not because of some great strategy but by default. The decision to go it alone in the state was also not a carefully thought out gameplan, but was more a slide of circumstances and a lingering vague idea that did not have confidence in its belly. He should ponder if people in the state were upset with the SP and BSP using them as herds in their social engineering experiment and wanted to recover their self-respect. If some yuppy sociologist has told Rahul that this is the end of the Mandal era, he should perhaps wait till the next round of elections to verify the truth. Usually people don't cast away their cultural/caste/religious identities overnight to embrace economic identities. They are simply fatigued by the fact that their leaders foreground and exploit these identities. Caste pride or caste-based subjugation and economic growth are mutually exclusive. To assume that one will mitigate the other is too simplistic. 

Rahul should ask if the Dalits in UP have begun to wonder about the whimsical ways of Mayawati and hence have opted for a change? Have a section of the Muslims come to the Congress as a result of SP's secular certificate to Kalyan Singh, the former BJP chief minister who presided over the demolition of the Babri Masjid? After all, what has the Congress done for the Muslims other than offer them a survey to measure their backwardness?  The seat tally could have also gone up due to some defections. It is best that Rahul assumes that the Congress has gained in UP not because it did something special, but simply because the regional forces failed the people. Wherever regional leaders have been sensible and responsive, like in Bihar and Orissa, people have rejected the Congress.

Next Rahul should converse with himself about Bihar. Here too the Congress went alone contesting 37 of the 40 seats, but instead of improving the 2004 tally of three seats, they ended up losing one. While the Congress vote share hovered around 10 per cent this time, its vote share in 2004 when it contested only four seats was 4.49 per cent. Despite casting a wider net, the volume of vote obtained is very low. Why has the strategy of going alone not worked here? If Congress was serious about its strategy of going it alone in UP and Bihar, wouldn't it have begun working on the idea much before polls were announced? Of the 37 who contested on the Congress ticket Rahul should do a roll call of those who forfeited their deposit. 

Rahul should then journey down south of India to analyse his party's performance. He should make a stopover at Maharastra and then enter Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. He should try to see what is common to the results in these three states. Without the Maharastra Navanirmana Sena (MNS) in Maharastra, Chiranjivi's Prajarajyam in AP and Vijaykanth's DMDK in TN could the UPA/Congress have gained what it has in these states?  If the MNS has eaten into the Sena/BJP vote share in Mumbai and places like Thane, Vijaykanth's DMDK has secured over one lakh votes in about nine constituencies where the UPA fought a close battle with the AIADMK-led alliance. The party has maintained a vote share of about 9 per cent from the last Assembly elections in TN. Similarly, the PRP has within a year of its formation secured an astounding 15 per cent vote share, literally blowing up the chances of the TDP-led alliance in AP.

Coming to other states where the Congress has gained -- Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana -- Rahul would know better that his role has been limited here. In Rajasthan and Delhi the good run of the Assembly results continued and in Madhya Pradesh the Congress gained more seats but the vote share did not go up commensurately. In Haryana it has been a status quo. 

Rahul should generously credit his allies like DMK and Trinamool for shoring up the UPA's numbers in TN and West Bengal. If in TN the Congress numbers dipped from 10 to 8, in WB they stay put at 6, while the DMK improved to 18 from 16 and the Trinamool jumped from one seat to 19. In both the states Congress has been lucky to ride piggyback on its allies.

People, including the PM, are also crediting Rahul with inspiring the youth in urban areas to vote for the Congress, but then were we not rueing the poor voter turnout in cities a few weeks ago? In constituencies like Mumbai South and Bangalore South the voting percentage actually dropped below the 2004 figures.

Rahul should modestly point these facts out to himself and suggest that he should be given a couple of more chances before such burdens of victory are placed on his delicate shoulders. He should repeat to his mirror-image what the chorus sings in Sophocles 'Antigone': "Our happiness depends on wisdom all the way. The gods must have their due. Great words by men of pride bring greater blows upon them. So wisdom comes to the old."

More importantly, in this season of extreme flattery, Rahul may also benefit from appointing some critics around him. The sixteenth century saint-poet Purandara Dasa sang: "Nindakaru irabeku, Kerige handi iruvanthe...'" roughly meaning there should be critics around like there are swine to clear the mess in our lanes and localities. Rahul's father Rajiv too had once quoted Purandara when he came to inaugurate the first world Kannada meet in Mysore in the 80s. He had picked the lines: "Eesabeku iddu jaisabeku, Hesige samsaradalli, Aase lesha illadange, Eesabeku iddu jaisabeku." A paraphrase would mean: You have to swim, stay on and win. Renunciation is not the answer. In this dirty world (read politics) you shouldn't be greedy if you have to finally emerge victorious. You have to swim, stay on and win. 

If all this is too esoteric and alien, here's something that may instantly appeal. I found a brilliant quote on the Hamara Congress site, run by Rajeev Gowda an IIM Bangalore professor and his friend Sanjay Jha: "What is he aiming at with all his want of aim? What lies behind that mask of his, what will to power, what insatiate longings? His conceit is already formidable. It must be checked. We want no Caesars."

Apparently, this quote is an excerpt from an article titled 'Rashtrapati,' published around 1937 in Calcutta's Modern Review and it was a critique of Jawaharlal Nehru by a person called 'Chanakya.' The entry on the site says: "It was an era when dictators were running rampant in Europe. In India, Jawaharlal Nehru was president of the Indian National Congress. Already the question of 'After Gandhi Who?' was in the air. It was only some years later that Indians learned that the 'Chanakya' who raised questions about Nehru’s potentially autocratic tendencies was none other than Nehru himself.

So, do as your great-grandfather did, Rahul: Talk to the mirror.

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