Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Rahul Gandhi: India’s young political enigma

Leadership is action, not position.

India’s youngest political heir Rahul Gandhi is all set to lead India’s oldest National Party, the Indian national Congress in the forthcoming 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However, instead of focusing on the policies and the paradigm shift from the older Mrs. Gandhi to the vibrant Rahul and the Congress strategy to get the requisite numbers or the policies that may be adopted, the question doing the rounds is whether Rahul Gandhi is the perfect candidate to lead the Congress and is he Prime Ministerial material? This isolationist targeting of one individual speaks volumes about the immaturity of the Indian mentality. I am yet to witness like treatment to other members of the Indian National Congress or any of the members of other parties being questioned and scrutinised to this detail.

Rahul Gandhi, an active participant of the first family in Indian politics is one of the favourite subjects for the Opposition here in India. The youth leader is popular for being a recluse in assuming key positions in the government preferring Party responsibility to direct governance. Many of the Opposition leaders consider the young scion to be a ‘recluse’ shying away from media attention and a man who does not want to assume official responsibility.

Unfortunately the media portrayal of the junior Gandhi has been graphical but never complete. This demure gentleman has a different style of working and an attitude that typically defies conventional Indian Polity. What the common man is aware of is that he is famous for lashing out without reservations against the Mayawati government when the need arose. He has been vociferous in his advocacy of the plight of the farmers in Maharashtra (The famous Kalavati case in Parliament made headlines at that point) The Congress leader has ensured that he has consciously turned down every offer to be a part of the Cabinet. And this is where the conflict in our story occurs. The Indian populace is acclimatised to the notion that if their leaders are not working with a formal position in the centre, or if they aren't a part of the erstwhile Cabinet committee either they are not worthy of it or they aren’t too confident of yourself. In the case of the young Gandhi, people have been quite blatant in assuming the latter, a proposition which is only a sign of hasty judgement for a leader who has spent less than a decade in politics.

Rahul Gandhi has invited media attention not only as a politician; read the New York Times 1989 edition and you will see a prejudice against him even as a young lad. His entry into St. Stephen’s was perhaps the first of many controversies to follow. The Times of India newspaper simultaneously and quite sensibly took the lead stating the controversy over Rahul's entry into St. Stephen's “is indicative of how insensitive our social reactions have progressively become.” Much later when he entered the political fray the hullaballoo was raised as to whether he had completed his degree or not, the irony being that educational qualifications are not a constitutional pre- requisite for any candidate standing for the elections. Much later the issue died a natural death. Some believe it is the price you pay as a celebrity. I think it’s the peril of being a Gandhi.

In 2004, when he was chosen by his mother as the candidate from Amethi, the speculation started as to whose footsteps would he follow. Would he be an aggressive male version of his grandmother Indira or his soft spoken yet firm politician father Rajiv? The second inconsequential question was why he and not his equally charismatic sister Priyanka had been chosen to contest the elections. It was stated in The Guardian that some political commentators  believed that the main effect of Rahul Gandhi's run for office would be to stop the decline of the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh. Rahul won with a thumping majority. Unfortunately, different sections of the Indian diaspora be it the Opposition, the media or the people have always been comparing the heir- apparent to the legacy that he carries with him. What we fail to understand is that each politician has his own USP. By comparing the various generations of politicians and the class of politicians this family has produced, we are only committing a reprehensible error. Where Pandit Nehru lived in the comfort of luxury, Rahul too lived a privileged along with the knowledge that his father and grandmother had been brutally assassinated and the additional awareness that almost half the country did not accept his mother only due to her Italian origin. Hailing from a family that has gifted the country with three Prime Ministers, it is difficult to keep up with the tenor of the Indian polity especially when your vision is a long term goal where the rest of the political class is worried about the immediate benefits.

If one observes at the outset, defying convention for the better is something the Nehru-Gandhi clan embellishes. Motilal Nehru was a moderate who believed that Indians should play a part in politics whilst under the British stronghold on India. He believed in moderate politics and is reported to have even told his son that this was the best solution. Jawaharlal Nehru on the other hand pursued aggressive nationalism and held close the idea of a Free India. Post –independence India had NAM under the aegis of Nehru, a concept which the world had not countered until then. His daughter Indira earned the title, ‘The only man in the Cabinet’ for her grit and determination. The analysts wrote her off after 1975. Her comeback was least expected but nonetheless it happened. Her son Rajiv was a politician forced- in- the making it seemed on the face of it but very soon the Indian mise-en-scène changed and he was the fresh face of the Indian democracy. Bofors marred his tenure and with the tragic death of Rajiv Gandhi India lost another part of this family’s legacy.

The reason behind listing the varying personae of the Gandhi family is to bring to the reader’s notice that each generation is surrounded with a different circumstance, a different outlook and each one pursued a different path towards the same goal. Each made their fair share of blunders and history is witness that each of them emerged as better leaders. In the case of Rahul Gandhi, notice that he prefers to work at the grass- root level, something most politicians should be doing but really aren’t.

Why grassroot politics is essential:

The theory of Bharat versus India may not be accepted but no one can refute the fact that there exists a divide between rural and urban India and urban India itself is further divided into the privileged and unprivileged factions. Amidst all this comes a politician who believes the best way to win the confidence of the people is to be among them, away from the limelight.

To quote the man himself, “If the country is to be changed, it cannot be changed from the top, it can be changed from the ground level. Policies can be from the top, ideas can come from the top, thoughts can come from the top, but their implementation has to be at the level of municipalities, panchayats and wards” Much to the chagrin of some of my readers I find nothing wrong in this ideology. In fact I find it the hallmark of a true leader. The need of the hour is to connect with the proletariat in order to get the system working.

Opposition and criticism especially in Politics is inevitable but revulsion to the name not the policy is unacceptable. The South Asian Mail recently quoted a senior BJP leader’s statement on Rahul Gandhi comparing him to a wedding horse. The statement which received sharp criticism from the Congress reads, “The horse is always stuck at one place. It does not move. Similarly, Rahul Gandhi also does not move. Many efforts are being made to get him to do something, but he doesn't. Some try to push him but he still refuses to move. Till the time he isn't ready, how can Manmohan Singh do anything? This is the crisis today.” The crisis unfortunately is less with Rahul Gandhi’s methods of functioning and more with the Opposition’s expectations from him to function in a stereotypical fashion in a typecast political rut.

What has various leaders disgruntled is not this young leader’s choice to refrain from assuming a post in the Government but their inability to understand why he has chosen this path. A politician may make a Cabinet but the Cabinet is not the only criteria to be a certified excellent politician. Unfortunately, many seem to disagree with this proposition. The wanton hype created by right wing leaders and their loyal party workers has almost ensured that masses have already a pre- conceived notion that this young leader may not their best choice. If one consciously spends some time to read through you will come across these following oft- neglected facts :

  • In 2004, in an interview to George Iype, Rahul Gandhi’s mission statement was, ‘I will create a new brand of Indian politics.’ And he did. According to the DNA newspaper, the number of Youth members grew from a dismal two lakhs to a whopping twenty- five lakhs under this same dark horse. A resurrection of a nearly defunct organisation led to a positive difference in youth participation, a facet of party politics that most others quite regularly neglect. The IYC in Tamil Nadu (a non-Congress – ruled state if I may add) itself saw 12.5 lakh youth joining hands with the young leader.
  • This young leader believes “Truth’ is the most important principle in politics.
  • His method of open membership in the Youth wing of the Congress has ensured that people interested in becoming members are inducted directly into the organisation. The aim is to increase the cadre-base and to empower the youth of the country by helping them enter the political sphere. Those criticising him could possibly take note that with the Parliament home to octogenarians and septuagenarians what India currently needs is maximum young blood in the political fray and that can only happen if there is someone who knows the political arena like the back of his hand. The Congress has left that responsibility to Rahul Gandhi. In fact the other parties should perhaps follow suit in the interest of the nation.  

The reason behind this article is to bring to light that a politician without a Cabinet position is capable of creating a difference. Talk about the Gandhi family and 1975 comes into the picture.  What many have quite clearly forgotten is the family's positive contributions in the pre- Emergency and in the post Emergency era as well. 

This heir apparent has made his fair share of mistakes but how can any politician learn without making a mistake. For now we need to give him some space to bloom independently rather than live in the shadow of his family’s past. He has already proved his mettle with the young people in the Congress, and it is his class of non- media loving people oriented politicians that India needs today if we really need want a progressive state.

For his part Rahul is no political accident. His lifeblood in that sense is politics. What is unacceptable is trying to fit him in the mould of the ancestry he belongs. Unfortunately, politics is not determined by your lineage but your performance and just like the others even Rahul Gandhi should be judged by his performance in the years to come. I find it miserable that each time I tweet about the young leader I am countered with baseless allegations filled with sarcasm and dry humor in bad taste. Rather than speculating on whether he would make a fine Prime Minister for it is time to take cognizance of his vision and his interest in furthering grassroot politics and youth participation. If he prefers to follow his path without receiving the limelight on the National front so be it. Judge him on his methodology not his name.

"Do not be led by others,
awaken your own mind,
amass your own experience,
and decide for yourself your own path."
                                                             -The Atharva Ved

May be its time to let this young leader choose his own path.

To end this piece I rephrase what the 1989 Times of India stated,
'Whatever be any party's disagreement with Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s (*or any of the previous of the Gandhi) policies, they should not be brought to bear on his offspring.''

Katherine. A

The writer does not bear any affiliations to the Indian National Congress or any other political party. The views expressed are personal.


    (my personal views)

  2. I am not even Indian, but I do share Rahulji's vision. I wish him and the Indian people the best.