The very curious case of Mr Rahul Gandhi
by Sandhya Jain on 19 Nov 2013 13 Comments

If the prime ministerial hopeful of one political party is greeted with chants of his rival’s name at a venue honouring another legend, surely a point is being made. That this should happen in a State ruled by the Congress makes the issue personal to the individuals in question. The nation has been unusually patient with the Congress dynasty’s ‘prince’; but from the moment he uttered his first unscripted words in September 2005 (for which Tehelka took the blame), it was clear that Mr Rahul Gandhi was not India’s man of destiny.


He was then 34 years old. What made the interview memorable was his claim that he could have been Prime Minister at 25 (ignoring the fact that Congress lacked a majority and that its allies were unlikely to line up behind a novice). Chatting with his interviewer in Amethi, Mr Gandhi said one could travel across Uttar Pradesh and Bihar without finding “a trace of governance… a total collapse of the administrative system”. Congress, he said, could not continue support to the Mulayam Singh government, “I’ll do something about it”. Cut to UPA-II and that relationship continues, despite hiccups.


But as he said back then, he was not comfortable supporting Mr Mulayam Singh and Mr Lalu Yadav, but senior party leaders had taken the decision. It is easy to see why the interview had to be disowned. With hindsight one can also see that his September outburst at the Press Club of India, rubbishing the Ordinance to save Lalu Yadav from being disbarred from Parliament, conformed to a deep desire to dump either or both Yadavs at the first opportunity. Future allies with doubtless consider this ‘reliability factor’.

On his trip to Hamburg, he said, “When I meet people from other countries, they ask me about our problems. I think that if they are asking me this, there must be something wrong with the way we do things... I’ll tell you one of my experiences in Hamburg. There was this president of a small country ... he looked at me and said it all depends on aid… I wondered what’s wrong with this guy. How can development rest on aid? Then he laid it out for me. He broke it up into little facts and showed me how important aid is… How am I going to pick up something like this in India?”


As is well known, immediately after the horrific commando attack on Mumbai in November 2008, the now seasoned politician partied all night (December 1, 2008) at a Delhi farmhouse at a pre-wedding ceremony of Capt Satish Sharma’s son. The wedding, a few days later, was attended by the entire Gandhi clan, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi; in Mumbai, many eminent families cancelled similar festivities to honour the dead.


And months after that Pakistan-sponsored attack, Mr Rahul Gandhi told American envoy Mr Timothy Roemer that “the bigger threat (to India) may be the growth of radicalized Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community” (courtesy Wikileaks). The occasion was a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July 2009; Roemer asked about the Lashkar-e-Taiba threat in view of the support extended by “certain elements in India’s indigenous Muslim community”. He must have been startled when Mr Gandhi expressed greater concern about some “more polarizing figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi”.


Perhaps these views account for Mr Rahul Gandhi and the Union Government dominated by the Congress failing to show minimum courtesy to the Bharatiya Janata Party when almost its entire national and state leadership was endangered by the mega bomb blasts planned to explode at the Patna rally (October 27). Other senior politicians are also guilty of this gross breach of etiquette.


Much of the Congress vice president’s problem is that people cannot keep pace with his unique intellect. Speaking on the Indo-US nuclear deal in Parliament in March 2009, he said, “I spoke about two poor families - one of them was called Mrs Kala. Mrs Kala said she had diversified her income sources and used that to bring up her nine children. Nuclear energy acts as Kala’s main crop...” (figure that out yourself).


The Bihar assembly elections of May 2009, where Congress under his leadership won just four seats, took much of the shine off Mr Rahul Gandhi. Congress (and his) decline was confirmed in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2012 where it won just 28 seats. In between, Mr Gandhi had to exit a meeting with students of LN Mishra University at Darbhanga (November 2010) after he told them they would have to change Gujarat (instead of Bihar) if they wanted to change India; he was booed and asked to explain the treatment meted out to Biharis in Congress-ruled Maharashtra!


In May 2011, as part of his now famous shoot-and-scoot politics, Mr Rahul Gandhi tried to encash a farmer’s agitation against the UP Government over compensation for land acquisition at Bhatta Parsaul; he claimed to have seen ‘74 mounts of ashes with dead bodies inside’, and added that women had been raped in these villages. The mounds out to be dung heaps and the rapes were given a quiet burial. The same year, he jumped into the Parliamentary debate over the Lokpal Bill and claimed his suggestion for Constitutional status for the Lokpal was a ‘game-changer’. He disappeared the next day; the rest is history.


Most memorable was his exhortation to Bengal youth (September 2013) to join politics because, “Politics is everywhere. It’s in your shirt, your pants”. Then, “If India is a computer, Congress is its default program. Congress comes natural to India’s ethos” (whatever that means). Above all is the homily at Allahabad (‘Culture, Deepening Democracy and Most Marginalised Communities’, August 2013), “Poverty is a state of mind. It does not mean the scarcity of food, money or material things. If one possesses self-confidence, then one can overcome poverty”.


The irony that his bête noire has done precisely that – overcome poverty and disempowerment with self-confidence and hard work – has escaped Mr Rahul Gandhi. Yet the BJP’s prime ministerial contender has done what ‘shehzade’ exhorted the Confederation of Indian Industries to do - built the roads on which his dreams were paved; roads without potholes, “big roads because they are going to carry strong people, strong forces”. One hopes that is a consolation to Mr Gandhi.

The Pioneer, 19 November 2013

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