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Posted on 29 June 2011
OPINION  
PRIME POLITICS
Sanjay Jha

The price of the long path

Sanjay Jha on how Rahul Gandhi may be doing the wise thing in Indian politics, sowing the seeds for a future and working his way up the ladder

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

TO UNDERSTAND Rahul Gandhi, Congress general secretary and possible prime minister of India, we may need to rewind to 2004. Popular opinion polls at that time had indicated a rout of the Congress. No one expected the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), basking in the Indian Shining hyperbole, to be rudely terminated. It was against such odds that Rahul Gandhi made his political debut, fully aware that he might have to spend a while in the opposition benches. It was going to be a long hard journey. But when Atal Bihari Vajpayee called millions of cell phone numbers with his prerecorded sales pitch, India disconnected. Even today, as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is in its second term, he looks at it as a long road. Rahul has an inherent inner strength to face problems, something that many overlook. In 2009, despite dodging worldwide recession and recording a striking GDP growth during the UPA’s first tenure, Rahul stated the obvious: India is not shining. Because for him India had to look beyond just BPO jobs, FII investments, SUV sales, shopping malls, the world’s biggest IPO and the super elite on the Forbes billionaires list. Too many Indians still exist precariously on a survival helpline. For Rahul, this is high priority. It is difficult to argue with that economic rationale. The buzz after 2009 was that there was a Rahul Doctrine, but he does not appear to be in a hurry to create private labels. He has a singular, uncomplicated agenda – national resurgence can only happen if economic polarisation and political purification is addressed. For him, income redistribution is India’s paramount challenge, not dividend payouts to corporate shareholders alone. Even per capita GDP conceals lopsided wealth concentration. The Youth Congress, for several years carrying cash-rich bullies with nefarious reputations, had to be promptly revitalised, reignited. For Rahul, the transformation drive is a mission; the Congress must go back to the people, like in the pre- 1947 Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru days. Of course, there have been sporadic oddballs but that barely detracts from its substantial ground impact. The democratisation of the Youth Congress is a bottom-up process of change, it is expected to create a value-based principled political leadership in the future, or so Rahul hopes. To expect an overnight metamorphosis is being naïve, but its long-term impact could be tectonic. In 2014, the demographics could favour him by a wide margin. By shunning cabinet positions, Rahul has sent an unambiguous message; the Congress needs grassroots resuscitation and that cannot be achieved by winning televised debates against animated lawyers on a vituperative roll. The real electoral battle is in the dusty interiors of rural India where electricity is still deemed divine intervention. The handicap of having an apolitical leader as prime minister impacts official communication. The UPA has been saddled with heavy baggage; corruption charges, price rise, Maoism, antiquated laws and some silly faux-pas.

THE FINE line between party objectives and government compulsions becomes blurred; in an aggressive media world, circumspection is seen as circumvention, silence is misconstrued as guilt. Neither is true. Manmohan Singh in his most effusive state is intrinsically laconic; Sonia Gandhi genuinely prefers non-interference. Hence the media focus on Rahul Gandhi. Bhatta-Parsaul is a manifestation of the larger critical national issue of land acquisition, not just a western Uttar Pradesh electoral ploy, one that Rahul champions with zeal. Perhaps Rahul’s critics are nonplussed at his steadfast adherence to larger complex issues as opposed to simply grabbing power. The problem with vociferous armchair critics, especially those with intellectual pretensions, is that they cannot decipher the term charisma. It is not easily quantifiable in charts. They believe it is synthetic gloss. This is an erroneous conclusion. Rahul’s great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru was a freedom fighter who graduated to be a world statesman in a troubled era, Indira Gandhi may have made some monumental blunders, but the emphatic victory in the Pakistan war in 1971 made her Durga-incarnate. Rajiv Gandhi’s much-caricatured laptop was a precursor to India’s IT revolution. Rahul is aware of his charismatic lineage. In a world prone to cosmetic confabulations, and instant assessments, he knows the power of magnetic appeal. It increases responsibility enormously on his young shoulders. He is aware of the treacherous territory of Indian politics; his father Rajiv Gandhi’s cataclysmic collapse from 403 seats in 1984 is an irrefutable reality. The handling of Shah Bano case and the shilanyas ceremony were tactical mistakes that were to jeopardise the Congress and help a non-existent BJP become nemesis. Hence, Rahul has relied heavily on self-introspection and firsthand discovery of the real India that he stands for. He candidly admitted that India has a rotten system, and that public disenchantment with politicians is disconcerting. Rahul is not just helping the Congress, but attempting to bring respectability to an abused political class commonly perceived to be a vulpine lot. Politician-bashing is assuming dangerous proportions, which several interest groups exploit craftily. The world’s most sophisticated democracy elected two Bush’s and almost two Clintons to the White House. In India, we are flogging a dead horse by the reference to political dynasty. Rahul openly acknowledges his political advantage, but is attempting to break that stranglehold by bringing in new faces in a free democratic environment shorn of ancestral privileges.

Sanjay Jha is co-founder of HamaraCongress.com.
sanjay_jha@dalecarnegie.com

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Posted on 29 June 2011
 

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