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Will Rahul be Congress’ brahmastra?

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on January 21, 2013 Published on January 21, 2013

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi... India needs younger politicians at the helm.— Rohit Jain Paras

Unlike his father, Rahul Gandhi is up against a sceptical, impatient and angry country.

Any guesses on how many 40-plus Indians would give an arm and a leg to swallow the “poison” that the Congress scion Rahul Gandhi was made to ingest at the party’s Chintan Shivir in Jaipur on Sunday?

After the decision to elevate him to the No 2 position in the party in the form of Vice-President, Rahul told us, his mother came to his room at night and cried.

Addressing the AICC delegates, he said, “Last night each one of you congratulated me. My mother came to my room and she sat with me and she cried... because she understands that the power so many people seek is actually a poison.”

This is not to take away from a mother’s concern for the safety of her child in a family where the last three deaths have been violent, with that of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi through assassination. But then Rahul went on to say, touchingly, that his mother could see that power is poison “because she is not attached to it”. He also gave us a homily on the “only antidote to this poison” being to see it for what it was “and not become attached to it” or chase it for its “attributes”.

Excuse us for being a little confused… but doesn’t Sonia Gandhi wield the utmost power in this government? Whether being ‘attached’ to it or not. There can be no two opinions that this was an emotional and even a passionate speech that was delivered sombrely and without any flourishes. Keen political observers compared it with Rajiv Gandhi’s Mumbai address at the Congress’ centenary meet in 1985 where he talked about vested interests and power brokers having taken over the Congress Party. Rahul himself drew quite a bit on his father and even grandmother’s memory. His body language was sober, and he exuded both earnestness and sincerity.

A different India

And yet Rahul’s dedication of his time and services to the Congress Party and India left most of us dispassionate, if not cold. That’s perhaps because however much you’d like to give him the benefit of doubt, as an entire nation shocked by the gruesome assassination of his mother was willing to give Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, Rahul Gandhi has to face the reality of a very different India. A quarter of a century down the line, our political classes are pitted against an Indian population that is not only sceptical, but also impatient and angry.

And our politicians today have to face not only the urban, educated middle-class India which can erupt, as happened during the first phase of the Anna Hazare anti-corruption campaign and much more definitively after the December 16 gang rape in Delhi. The have-nots and the neglected chunks of rural India are also disenchanted with the shenanigans of politicians.

Another factor that has taken a lot of sheen off the anointment of the heir-apparent is the lapse of at least two to three years. Rahul Gandhi is no longer the fresh-faced, full of beans and dashing icon of young India that he was a few years ago. As when he shook off his security cover, used an ATM to draw money and jauntily took a second-class ride in a Mumbai suburban train. Or appeared for dinner at the Rendezvous restaurant in Puducherry just like any ordinary Indian. Or when you stared with absolute horror at the communal poison spewed by his cousin Varun Gandhi during the 2009 Lok Sabha election campaign, shook your head and compared him with the soft-spoken and culturally/communally sensitive and courteous Rahul. Many such elements must have come together to return the Congress-led UPA to power once again in 2009.

Invisible, reluctant

But over the last couple of years, as the clamour by both sycophants and sincere Congressmen that Rahul Gandhi play a bigger role in the party and join the government fell on deaf ears, the clear signal from Rahul was that he was not prepared to take on any responsibility. And this despite the fact that he was the most powerful person in the Congress after his mother.

After he tasted success in getting Congress a rich haul of MPs from UP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, he did return to put in some grinding work in the UP Assembly elections last year. But once the Congress performed dismally and his counterpart in the Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav, ran away with the victory cup, Rahul simply disappeared. And he has played hide and seek since then, making a pathetic and half-hearted attempt to woo voters in Gujarat last month, fetching him the rather unkind title of the shoot-and-scoot Gandhi!

So now the Jaipur anointment appears as the desperate measure of a Congress that has few or no options left against an increasingly aggressive BJP, which has spared no opportunity to attack the ruling party. And in the recent past, from the anti-corruption crusade (in which it had the misfortune of seeing its President Nitin Gadkari ensnared), the Delhi gang rape and, more recently, the Indo-Pak LoC incidents, the BJP has had enough ammunition.

Introspection or hypocrisy?

Coming to the content or the core message of Rahul’s Sunday speech, despite the few nostalgic passages where he shared some intimate moments from his earlier years — always a big turn-on for the masses — some parts of it were a little surreal, too. Such as Rahul berating the “system” for being too centralised, concentrating power in only a few hands and not accommodating the voices of the aam aadmi and keeping him out of the decision-making process.

Pardon me for getting this wrong, but I thought we, the Indian janata, should be asking these questions to leaders like Rahul who have been lording it over the system. Of course, Rahul’s admirers have been quick to say how “candid” he has been about what is wrong with the system, but how can somebody who is still asking such questions after being in power for nearly nine years inspire hope or trust ?

The jury is still out on whether the media is being too cynical in not embracing the elevation of the younger Gandhi.

Those who have had the opportunity to interact closely with Rahul vouch for his sincerity, his intelligence, focus and the earnest desire to do the right thing and bring about a change. But will he be the Congress’s brahmastra in 2014 remains the moot question.

However, the one welcome feature in Rahul Gandhi finally being given the baton is the desperate need of India to have younger politicians at the helm.

If nothing else, he will at least bring down the average age quotient of our top netas in an era where the prime minister is an octogenarian and another one — L.K.Advani — at 85, is still eyeing the chair in the next round.

Response to rasheeda.bhagat@thehindu.co.in and blfeedback@thehindu.co.in

Published on January 21, 2013
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