Everybody has suddenly started discovering special qualities in the Gandhi scion. Are we going overboard in eulogizing Rahul Gandhi?
THE PRINCE OF FLIP-FLOP
The Gandhi scion has become a one- man organization, setting the agenda and rewriting it at whim.
On L.K. Advani
May 4: Before the polls, the BJP began talking of money stashed in Swiss banks. It did nothing when in power.
May 5: Everyone agrees on the Swiss banks. Why don’t we work together to bring this money back?
April 25: The communists are caught in an ideological bind an outdated one, which has failed in other places.
May 5: There are many points where we agree with the Left. I am hopeful that it will support a Congress government.
On Nitish Kumar
April 2: In Bihar, no one gets employment. The state Government revels in keeping its own people backward.
May 5: There are Opposition leaders like Nitish where the intention to work is there. All post-poll options are open.
On Chandrababu Naidu
May 11: Naidu believes that some parts of India can move forward and the rest can be left behind.
May 13: He did a good job as chief minister. He focused on Hyderabad and went on the wrong bend but I respect him.
Sleeves rolled back, he impatiently pushes his glasses back on his forehead and dashes about the countryside with a brief that goes far beyond that of a mere general secretary. Whether it is to the shirtless in the remote village or to the media in conference halls, the 38-year- old MP from Amethi has become the most audible voice of India’s Grand Old Party.
Shall we say the Rahul era has finally begun, when the finer points of party policies will no longer be debated behind closed doors at 10 Janpath by the so- called core group? Instead, it will be announced blithely and spontaneously, and sometimes in the middle of a televised press conference. In the blink of a flash- light, adversaries like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu have become worthy of his praise.
Even the communists, who did their best but failed to topple the Manmohan Government on the issue of the nuclear deal, have ceased to be untouchables. There is a lot of common ground with the Left… I am pretty confident that the Left will support a Manmohan Singh government, he said without a hint of irony as the rest of the party struggled for explanations and Nitish, Naidu and CPI leader A.B. Bardhan spurned his overtures. In the din that followed, few recalled Rahul’s reiterations that the Congress would not compromise on Manmohan’s candidature the way it did not compromise on the nuclear deal.
He is a mature politician. What is wrong in praising your opponents if they do good work? asked media cell chair- person Europa Moily with a straight and slightly worried face. It is easy to see why the Congress team of spokespersons looked so perplexed in television studios that evening. It was the same Rahul who blasted the fossils of Kolkata with such panache during his campaign in the state a few days ago. He thundered then: The communists in Bengal have been caught in an ideo- logical bind. That too an outdated one, one that has failed in all other places. Last year, I went to China and the Chinese communists asked me, what kind of communism is practiced in Bengal? Why don’t they change?
The Congress line
At first the party quibbled over Advani’s figures. Later Manmohan said he’ll bring the money back within 100 days if voted to power. Like Rahul, the prime minister has kept an ambivalent stand towards the Left. Sonia, however, has accused it of running a dictatorship in West Bengal and Kerala.
There is a section which wants to dump both Lalu and Paswan. But with Nitish sticking with the NDA, Rahul’s public overtures have embarrassed the party. Chief Minister YSR Reddy has just conducted a campaign attacking Naidu. His rival’s praise won’t go down well. However, Sonia hasn’t attacked Naidu in her campaigns.
Any sane person would ask this question. The mother also didn’t spare the commies when she toured the state. The state Government will have to answer why they have not done anything for the poor, she had said. For a while, even the prime minister was pretty daring in his anti-communism. Then one day, in the company of women journalists, he too changed the tone: I have great regard and respect for my Left colleagues.
I have repeatedly said that I greatly regret their leaving. As for the future, who can judge? We will cross that bridge when we get there. Maybe both Manmohan, the immediate choice of the party, and Rahul, the inevitable choice of the future, think they are getting there, and they need the support of that party with an outdated ideology to cross the bridge. Or, is it that Rahul has become the message a message that defies the standard party line?
Or, is it that he has become the party? It is as if he has all of a sudden realized the privileges of his surname. He has become the one-man organization setting the agenda and rewriting it at whim. Being the Inevitable One, he doesn’t have to adjust to the party. The party will adjust to him. His stream of consciousness politics has only confused his party and confounded his enemies. And it has hardly made him more comprehensible.
He is certainly playing a different kind of politics and the party elders are not getting it. Although most of the Congress leadership is not part of the decision-making process within the party, they are however aware of the endless rounds of discussions that take place between the Congress president and her core group before she finally takes a decision. Rahul’s style, in contrast, belongs to the lone ranger trigger happy style of politics. And one that seems to have mystified the party’s foes and friends alike.
Allies like the RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan and Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee were not too pleased at this rather amateur attempt to replace them with their regional foes. An irate Paswan demanded why Rahul was fielding candidates against Nitish if he was doing such good work while the mercurial Banerjee saw this as yet another example of the use- and-discard brand of politics that the Congress is notorious for.
Questioning the timing of Rahul’s comments, Trinamool leader Partha Chatterjee pointed out that these have come at a time when two phases of the West Bengal polls are still left. Such comments are not responsible from such a leader. It’s strange that these comments come when polling in constituencies where the Congress put up candidates is over, he said. Even NCP leader Sharad Pawar was not amused at Rahul’s attempts at sarcasm. When asked if he would support Pawar as prime minister, Rahul promptly replied that he would, if the NCP emerged as the single largest par ty. Being cheeky is not quite the politically correct way to win post-poll allies.
A Congress general secretary, however, says that there could be a method in Rahul’s madness. He sees this as a careful strategy chalked out by the moth- er and son, and not an off-the-cuff statement.
By our calculations, both Lalu and Paswan are not expected to retain their tally in Bihar. Both could lose in their own constituencies. The situation in Andhra is not good for the Congress. Given this scenario, it makes sense to woo new allies, he explained. Whether Rahul’s comment was political opportunism or a stray soundbite, from the confusion that followed, it was clear that this was not a unanimous party strategy.
And it is not that Sonia has handed over the reins of the party to her son. This is just the first phase of the takeover which began during the last round of assembly elections when Sonia stepped back and let Rahul emerge as the star campaigner. Now another dimension is being added to his public persona that of a decision-maker.
Rahul has always played a crucial role in the party’s leadership process. But earlier when he was questioned about matters beyond the Youth Congress (he is general secretary in charge of the youth organizations), he used to stall the questions with an ask the Congress president. What has changed now is that Rahul has begun articulating decisions beyond his stated brief. The youngest of the nine general secretaries now does not hesitate to take questions on issues beyond the youth wings.
The party leadership has always given serious consideration to every word he speaks. It was his decision that the Congress should not contest the Lok Sabha polls under the UPA umbrella. As he is fond of saying, he is not playing a one-day match but is there for the long haul. He needs to build the organization at the grassroots level even if the Congress loses out in these polls.
This prompted a bitter Lalu to say sarcastically that while the rest of them were fighting an election, the young idealist was building the Congress. It was again Rahul who allowed party General Secretary Digvijay Singh to be a stumbling block in the alliance with the SP. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar used to be the heart of our strength and it is here we have declined considerably, he said at a media interaction recently and asked: Did we leave Lalu and Paswan or did they leave us? Technically, he may be right: it was the allies who ended the relation- ship. But it was the high-handed attitude of the Congress that pushed them to do so.
Again, it was keeping this organizational revamping in mind that Rahul came up with the naive suggestion of giving 30 per cent of tickets to the youth. He soon did a mid-course correction and admitted to his colleagues that perhaps it would be better to field the youth first in the assembly elections. However he stated that in non- winnable Lok Sabha seats, it might be better to field the youth! As a result, a very unhappy Karnataka youth leader and a Rahul protégé Krishna Byre Gowda was asked to take on the BJP stalwart Ananth Kumar from Bangalore South.
Still, Rahul is never short of words that denote a cultural shift. Even though he is the most privileged beneficiary of hereditary rights in this party, he wants to be the champion of inner-party democracy. Just because I am the outcome of a system does not mean that I cannot change it, he says, adding, It also gives me a position to do certain things. I consider it my honor and duty to change the system of which I am a product.
Yet there is very little evidence of this blueprint at the ground level. Most of the young fresh faces that got tickets were from local dynasties. Take the example of Punjab where eight new faces were fielded and three of them were from privileged families: Captain Amarinder Singh’s son Raninder, Beant Singh’s grandson Ravneet Singh Bittu and Sukhwinder Singh Danny, son of a former Punjab minister Sardool Singh.
Look ma, both hands!
Decoding Rahul’s body language as he walks his talk…
From the heat and dust of Election 2009 has emerged Rahul Gandhi, the orator. A suave, self-assured public speaker who doesn’t read from prepared speeches. But what explains the Gandhi scion’s peculiar body language in his speaking engagements his two hands gripping the lectern. This is what speakers know as the double-handed death grip and what myriad books on public-speaking warn against. We got conflicting diagnoses from the two psychiatrists we consulted. Dr Harish Shetty says that the peculiar grip reflects fear and in- security.
When you are holding the lectern the way Rahul is,you are trying to cling on to something or seeking an anchor, he says. The deeper meaning could be more ominous. It probably has to do with the realisation that his father was assassinated after delivering a speech, he says. But there’s hope. Dr Jitendra Nagpal feels that Rahul’s body language signifies progressive levels of confidence and self-esteem. People who do this want to show that they are ready to meet challenges.
He is boyishly proud of the fact that the election process has reached the Youth Congress with Punjab being the first off the block. Yet when he touts Punjab as a showcase, it is ironical that the man to emerge victorious from this little experiment with democracy is Bittu. There is an expectation that democracy will come just by pressing a switch. You have to start somewhere, he says with a shrug. But he himself has the habit of pressing the wrong switches.
His vision for India, like his mother, harks back to the Nehruvian model of socialism. He talks in earnest cliches. He wants to bridge the gap between the two Indias. While he agrees with the Left that the distribution of wealth has to reach the poor, unlike the communists, he realises the need to build corporate India as well. There is a connection between growth and distribution that the Left ignores. The Left supported us on the Employment Guarantee Scheme but where did the money come from? It did not fall from the sky but came from 8 per cent GDP growth, he says, putting his M Phil in Development Economics to use.
His night-outs at Dalit and tribal homes have been ridiculed by his political opponents and by the media, but that did not deter him from continuing his self-appointed task of discovering the other India. Still, the one big idea that marks change is missing. If he is the change that Congress wants to be, or the change that the party wants to sell to post-Manmohan India, Rahul has to reveal his mind with more clarity.
He doesn’t mark an audacious break from the past; he uses the hoary tradition of Congress’s subordination to the Dynasty to his advantage. His performance as a parliamentarian or as a Youth Congress leader is pretty dismal; at no point he convinced the country that he was the change India had been waiting for. A few contradictory statements about potential allies do not mark the repudiation of politics-as-usual. He is still the Dynasty’s indulged child enjoying his freedom and the knowledge that he is the One. Unlike his voters, he doesn’t have to worry about an Employment Guarantee Act. His employment was guaranteed the moment he was born. If a Gandhi is entitled to such a privilege, we are entitled to know whether he is worthy of it.
– OE News Bureau