Rahul Gandhi: Tying secularists in knots
by N S Rajaram on 13 Apr 2013 2 Comments

Media idol Rahul Gandhi’s pathetic performance accompanied by Narendra Modi’s meteoric rise has put India’s left-leaning intelligentsia in a bind. Nehruvian Ramachandra Guha’s recent performance on Karan Thapar’s television show maybe an indication of more such face saving exercises to come


Rats, we are told, desert a sinking ship in order to save their lives. I cannot vouch for it having never been on one. My late father who was on a ship torpedoed by the Japanese couldn’t confirm it either; he was too busy attending to other things. I have noticed, however, a similar rule seems to apply to public intellectuals and media figures, especially those that have prospered under the patronage of influential figures, especially the Nehru-Gandhis. It is their credibility that is stake if not life and livelihood.


Late Russi Karanjia of Blitz fame (or notoriety) was a virtuoso at this. A Nehruvian to the core until Nehru died and a bitter critic of Morarji Desai, he morphed overnight into a Morarjian when the latter became Prime Minister. The same Karanjia, a staunch socialist, turned admirer of the late Shah of Iran, calling him a ‘Royal Socialist’ when the Shah’s minions invited him to Teheran and plied him with caviar and cognac.


To this secular-liberal tribe that came of age worshipping Jawaharlal Nehru and everything he stood for, and continued to worship his dynasty (and profit from it), the Crown Prince Rahul Gandhi is an icon. In India today, their credibility is intimately tied to maintaining their image as ‘secular liberal’ in the Nehruvian mould. This tribe is now in a dilemma: their hero and savior, the Great White Hope against communal monsters like Narendra Modi, the one and only Rahul Gandhi, is in the doldrums. Holding on to his coattails is beginning to yield diminishing returns, if not leading to acute embarrassment.


The problem is how do you erase your years-long identification as fan of Rahul Gandhi without being labeled a traitor who has turned his back on Nehruvian secularism? After all, Rahul who claims to see Saffron Terror as a greater security threat than Pakistan-sponsored Lashkar e Toiba and the like, and his family, are seen as the bastion of Nehruvian secularism. Increasingly the family is seen also as the cesspool of venality and corruption— what with the Italian helicopter deal, Robert Vadra’s land grab, and Sonia’s own National Heraldgate assets grab, now in the courts, but this line is not pursued here.


It is not easy to abandon this lofty Left-Liberal position and all that goes with it, especially the financial aspect, and find a new patron and still preserve face. This has reached a crisis point now with the Crown Prince turning into a Clown Prince. This was most evident following Rahul Gandhi’s bizarre ‘speech’ before the Confederation of Indian Industries. The Hindu in an editorial called it a soliloquy - a dialogue with himself, posing questions to himself that he could not answer. It was a curious performance - Hamlet’s “To be or not to be...” delivered by Bertie Wooster.


An indication of how things might be handled in the aftermath of Rahul Gandhi’s public meltdown was given by commentator Ramachandra Guha on Karan Thapar’s program ‘Devil’s Advocate’. Guha has long been seen as close to the Nehru-Gandhi family whose patronage he is believed to enjoy. He, of course, now vehemently denies this claiming only to be an admirer of Jawaharlal Nehru.

It may be so. But on Thapar’s program, Guha was unusually candid in his criticism of Rahul Gandhi’s performance. I didn’t watch all of it - it wasn’t substantial enough - but only towards the end. But before going further, I have to say that I find any comparison between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi absurd; one is a total non-achiever and one a completely self-made man of impressive accomplishments.


Still, one was struck by Guha’s candid comment towards the end: the “country will not be safe in Rahul Gandhi’s hands.” For good measure he added that it won’t be safe in Narendra Modi’s hands either, citing arrogance as the reason, but who was more arrogant than Guha’s own hero Nehru, and with less reason? Pride in one’s achievements is not arrogance. That is what drives excellence. Nehru’s arrogance was rooted in privilege not performance.


Let us for the moment pass over Guha’s gratuitous comment about Modi - after all a person of his record cannot be seen as endorsing Modi without losing caste - and look at some of his reasons for opposition to Rahul. They are the same as everyone else’s - Rahul has never carried through any work to a conclusion and at every turn has shied away from shouldering the slightest responsibility. This makes him unfit for any office, not just prime minister.


The highlight was Guha’s candid observation - “the country will not be safe in his hands” – and this maybe truer than he realizes. With my bias, I look at it from a national security point of view (I serve on a few international committees). Here is my reason: if Rahul G ever becomes PM, the first crisis he will have to deal with will be a major terror attack launched to test his mettle. Is Rahul Gandhi equal to the challenge?


This is exactly what Narendra Modi had to deal with within months of assuming charge as Chief Minister. Modi was an unknown quantity then and the Jihadis saw it as an opportunity to test him by launching a terrorist attack on the Godhra pilgrim train.


How did Modi fare? According to the media which tried to shift the blame on to the victims for ‘provoking’ the attack (ignoring the obvious conspiracy behind it) and the Hindu-baiters calling themselves liberals, Modi failed. This is a matter of perception: would someone else in his place have done better? After all, Modi was not responsible for the riots though he had to deal with the consequences. Would Rahul Gandhi have done better in his place? Let alone Rahul, what did Mahatma Gandhi do when his own Khilafat backfired and resulted in the Moplah Mutiny? He fled from the scene and let the British handle the mess he had created.


Unlike the Mahatma whose Khilafat Non-Cooperation Movement was the direct cause of the Moplah Rebellion, Modi had nothing to do with the train burning that led to the Gujarat riots, which just landed in his lap. Unlike Gandhi who fled from the scene, Modi stood firm and tried to bring things under control. (For a balanced account based on facts please visit http://folks.co.in/blog/2012/08/17/modi-and-the-mahatma-who-was-more-guilty/)


Apart from assigning blame, the important thing to recognize is that the next prime minister is likely to be tested by terrorists. Also, over the next decade, the greatest challenge will be improving the lives of people in the lower rungs of society, improving their basic living conditions. This means improving the basic infrastructure, especially electricity, water and waste management. Here the UPA record is dismal while Gujarat has done much better, no matter what Modi’s detractors (including Guha) might say.


So, over the next ten years, we should judge any Government, no matter who is in power, by how it deals with these issues, and also roads, river water management and renewable energy. The UPA has done nothing but offer gimmicks. Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia have left the country, and even Delhi, far worse than they were when they took charge.


At a personal level, I confess to a certain liking for Mr. Guha. On the rare occasions when I have approached him, he has been unfailingly courteous, the model of academic décor. I find him an engaging writer on cricket, a subject of some interest to me. He is not much of a historian; I find him too tied to Nehruvian positions to see things with the detachment that objectivity demands. He strikes me also as insular, with little familiarity with European or world history, a common failing among St. Stephens’s alumni with their excessive Anglo-centrism. They know next to nothing about Indian history and tradition, but that is not germane here.


None of this may matter in the present. Mr. Guha must be complimented for his brutally candid views, whether one agrees with him or not. But he, and others like him, should expect some cynicism as being opportunistic and trying to distance from the stinking cesspool that 10 Janpath has become, and with which he has, rightly or wrongly, long been associated.

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