There are two ways of analysing the speech delivered by Rahul Gandhi at the Congress conclave at Jaipur on January 20,2013, after he had been chosen by the conclave as the Vice-President of the party. He was already the de facto No. 2 of the party. The conclave decision made him the de jure no. 2.
The first way of analysing it is as the debut speech of the de jure Vice-President. Seen in that perspective, it was an impressive speech--thoughtful, well-drafted, well-articulated and with a right touch of emotional references to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
The speech showed that he has had the benefit of a good speech-writer, with possibly idea inputs from a number of people such as Sam Pitroda, Jairam Ramesh and others.
It was addressed to the party and not to the nation as a whole. It sought to give the impression of being introspective and self-critical, but lacked in originality in thinking.
Though the party was the intended audience, it was designed to make a positive impact on the people of the country as a whole in an attempt to erase the widespread perception that Rahul Gandhi is still a political novice with no in-depth approach to the problems of the country.
Rahul Gandhi and his speech-writers largely succeeded in creating positive vibrations about him in the party as well as outside and in making it clear that he cannot be underestimated as a political leader. It was a well thought-out tactics on the part of his advisers to avoid all contentious references to the BJP and other political formations.
The second way of analysing it is as a visionary document, analysing the state of the nation and indicating a policy framework and a way forward for the future. In that perspective, it was a disappointing speech devoid of any references to serious problems facing the country such the growing public demand for a Jan Lokpal to deal with corruption, the stalling economy, inflation, national security in the light of new tensions in our relations with Pakistan, the recent upsurge of the people on the question of crime against women and the alienation of the growing community of netizens, which is already playing an important role in influencing perceptions.
Surprisingly and disappointingly, these issues were merely referred to in passing without any idea of his thinking on them and how he would like them to be tackled. His reference to the burning issue of corruption was dismissive and flippant. He seems to have inherited the flippant side of his personality from his father.
His references to various issues were from the point of view of the party and not the nation and the state. He carefully avoided stepping into the policy and performance world of the government headed by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.
Overall, while he succeeded in rallying the party under his leadership, he failed to inspire and rally the nation under his leadership. Rahul Gandhi has been widely perceived as an uninspiring leader with no intellectual spark. This perception will remain strong even after his speech.
The Jaipur Conclave was held as the first step in the Congress Party’s preparations for the forthcoming elections to the Lok Sabha due in early 2014. It must be said to the credit of the traditional office-bearers of the party that they have started the organizational poll preparations well ahead of the BJP, which is still in a state of disarray and confusion. The BJP has not been able to take advantage of the widespread disenchantment in the country with the Congress Party and with the style of leadership of Dr Manmohan Singh.
Despite its deficiencies, Rahul Gandhi’s speech will be a shot in the arm for the Congress party as it prepares itself for the polls. What we saw on January 20 was not an inspiring or electrifying leader, but a leader who has been well-advised to make mid-course corrections in his personality.
It will be childish and presumptuous to compare Rahul Gandhi to President Barack Obama or to project his Jaipur speech as his Obama moment. Rahul Gandhi is no Obama either in his intellectual attainments or in the true dimensions of his personality.
Rahul Gandhi is Rahul Gandhi, an average leader, who is unlikely to set the Ganges and the Yamuna on fire. We should avoid over-stated expectations from him.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.