Rein in Rahul

From being sold as India’s future to being lampooned for jeopardizing the future of his own party, it’s been a steady ride down hill for the Gandhi scion. However the real problem is not that he is incompetent or immature; the problem is that his party cannot tell him that and must actualize his hare brained opinions.

As inauspicious goes, the Congress’ plenary at Burari in Delhi could not have started on a more disastrous note. The junior Gandhi’s reported statements to the US diplomat which were leaked the evening before by Wikileaks were by any standards a new low in the annals of Congress’ history. That led to hectic speculation within all manner of ranks that the Congress would have only two ways to get out of this hole: ignore and carry on; or admit a gaffe and makeover. It did neither. In a swift, if confused response first the organization stumbled out with a press release that was both ambiguous and ambivalent and at pains to re-order what the scion meant, really. Then Gandhi tried to put it in the context with all manner of terrorism [Hey, if that is what he meant, couldn’t he have said the same to the Diplomat!] But it was at the plenary that the spots really showed up. The party decided to act out Gandhi’s plot and reiterated the dangers that India faces from Hindu terror. Now this is where the rub lies. It takes a moribund, inward looking organization to figure that if you get into a hole, to get out just make the hole bigger. The two days that followed only provided more evidence of that, even as the media and political experts shook their head at the consummate state of denial of the 125 year old party. Many senior and more reasonable members of the Congress party have privately confided that the junior Gandhi’s missives are causing more hurt to the party’s prospects each time he opens his mouth. The insipid support of the party’s rank and file to the expeditious tweaking of the resolution that followed to suit the latest gaffe by the junior Gandhi has sent alarm bells ringing within the top brass of the party as well. Some of them wonder where this will all go, and how far. The blinkered vision of a party that created the myth of youthful freshness is slipping quickly into the mire of traditional politics at its worst – one whose subsistence remains the divisive nature of identity politics and the dangerous use of religion as its most potent tool.

Politricks. The politics of communal tricks.

I asked a few senior journalists what they made of this – why a political party in a majority Hindu country would resort to such a line knowing full well that it would hurt the sentiments of a majority of Hindus who neither subscribe to violent means nor believe the country is threatened by anything called Hindu terror. Their answer was straightforward: No party would compromise its electoral chances by making such statements if it did not help them gain votes. One of the political analyst I spoke to said “This is a clear strategy being followed by the Congress think tank and it is based on the premise that firstly Hindus don’t care to react collectively and can take this insult in their stride; and secondly, that each such statement, on the other hand, confederates the Muslim votes in their favour.”

But why would the Congress care to consolidate Muslim votes in a country where Hindus are a majority at the risk of upsetting the Hindus. Same logic, he said: the Hindus don’t associate with each other, don’t see themselves as one and emphasize caste and class distinctions while the Muslims vote en bloc. But Muslims constitute just about 15 to 16% of the population and that too I pockets. He countered: Do you know that Muslims can today affect the election outcomes of at least 200 Lok Sabha constituencies in India. My jaw dropped. But I continued the examination of this theory. I held out the Bihar example and the fact that the BJP and its allies today rule more states than the Congress. His answer was as chilling as it was true. The collective Muslim strategy is bilinear, he said – in states they will take advantage of whatever the state offers and use their negotiating ability to secure as much as they can from ruling regimes by way of extension of vote to stronger parties against protection of their interests [which explains the Bihar win]. But at the Lok Sabha level, they will all vote for the Congress throwing their weight behind the party to ensure that the BJP does not come to power. QED, he said.

I am not too sure about the influence of Muslims in the 200 Lok Sabha constituencies that he said and I have started making my own enquiries from psephologists and we will leave it at that until I have collated facts. But the real dangers lie elsewhere.

Fallacy as Policy: your mistake is my command.

What is starkly visible in the episode involving the loose talk by the junior Gandhi is neither his amateurish understanding of his country or his contempt for the Hindu community but his internalization of the strategy of the Congress to continue to try and split the Hindus and confederate the Muslims on religious lines. What is more alarming, if indeed he made the remark off the cuff and at an unguarded moment, is the attempt of his party to make policy of fallacy; of trying to true up a screw up. The aggressive underlining of his goofy outbursts by supporters in the party is more and more looking like the courtiers have bought into the story of the emperor’s new clothes. Now each minion, starting with Digvijay Singh is trying to outdo the other in justifying the junior Gandhi’s maverick ideas as the word of the Lord. This would be excusable, even entertaining in the context of the dynastic politics of the Congress but when the matter pertains to governance and impacts government policy, we need to be careful that we are not allowing the corrosive tenets of mai-baap or ma-beta politics to compromise national security or development or national integration. As things stand, we are poised at a serious junction where we will need to leverage national consciousness about the dangers such a trend indicates and it will take all the strength of the polity and its constituents – media, academia, political opposition and public opinion to keep the Gandhis in check. This is also a good reminder to all of us to beware of spin doctored themes and manufactured trends such as the euphoria manufactured around the Gandhi scion as a youth avatar here to solve the country’s problem.

 Youth, and the rise of bambino politics.

For far too long now we have been subjected to the strange new staple of youth in politics and if I remember correctly, this was never an issue before the junior Gandhi had to be accommodated in the Congress hierarchy without the requisite qualifications of a record of public service, ground work or exerting himself intellectually to any great extent on matters of the state. In a PR blitz choreographed by overpaid executives, we were suddenly in the midst of a media maelstrom of the fount of eternal youth as embodied by the young Gandhi. I have to admit the scam worked well enough for a while to even influence other, more mature parties to change course and repeat the mantra without validating the theory. It has taken almost two years for reason to prevail and all to realize that organised experience trips to Dalit homes and holding primaries for youth congress elections do not mean much if you sink your parties’ chances each time you campaign for it. PR agency theatrics or gizmo aides from New Jersey are no substitute for a good head for politics, and a decent understanding of the way the world works. But, in a milieu where charisma is Krishna, it is understandable that it must be perforce created if it doesn’t exist. And so the hatchet job put together by some hacks to create a halo for the newest Gandhi on the block and hey presto! the New Improved Youthful solution to all of the great problems of India, Ladies and Gentlemen, we give you Rahul, the Gandhi you needed and never knew!

Thankfully the joke is turning insipid if not outright rancid and hopefully more and more people will see the principle of expertise and qualification and performance as the hall mark of success – not a tweaked surname by descent or a pubescent countenance that hides more than it tells. After all, why should Politics be any different from other vocations: if Ratan Tata and Narayanmurthy and Azim Premji and Rahul Bajaj could and continue be valid leaders of industry post the age of 60 why does politics specifically need young people so badly. In every other area of professional work we pay a premium for experience and excellence, so why should we seek inexperienced politicians? Does anybody prefer to be operated by an intern? Does anyone ever even want a youthful, inexperienced driver? We must answer that before we sing the bambino tune.

Gandhi Vs Gandhi: the opposite of extreme is another extreme.

Notice the furore that Varun Gandhi created with his reported remarks before the last Lok Sabha elections which the media took to town and reams and reams of material was published demonizing him for his intemperance, although he denied saying what he was reported as saying. A lot of whisper mongering ensued which debated furiously the value of such controversy and whether the party could be harmed in its poll prospects in other parts of the country as well because of the reported anti-Muslim temper of Varun’s reported statements. Be that as it may, and irrespective of the facts of the case, even at face value it has to be noticed that Rahul Gandhi’s remarks to the American diplomat that put ‘Hindu terror’ as a qualified threat far greater than ‘Islamic terror’ in his mind is a statement, to my mind of the other extreme. In effect if Varun is charged with antagonizing Muslims by making them to be collectively responsible for the actions of a few, so does Rahul of Hindus by his latest reckoning. What is the difference: their use of words? The sum of it is clearly that one Gandhi has mirrored the other and that in totality both their expressions contained communalistic meanings. And if that is the case, why is there no murmur about what Rahul said, or indicated or surmised, or allegorized. This is the most blatant example of media and civil society double standards we have seen in a long time. After the scurrilous statements of Rahul Gandhi to the US diplomat, let nobody now try and paint one cousin as better or worse than the other. And if that is the case, it becomes imperative to restrain Rahul and let saner elements within the Congress take centre stage.

Congress: Ability Vs Liability.

It is now plain to see that the simmering discontent in the Congress has created more cracks within the ranks, one section of which swears by the dynastic arrangement for their own survival and dominance while another is getting increasingly wary of the liability the weight of such a culture is putting on the party, its apparatus and performance. In a world which increasingly wants to reward merit, the dissonance within the Congress culture could not be more striking and thus the disquiet within the party. Muddying the waters is the recent disastrous campaigning by the Gandhi scion in Bihar which only resulted in the party losing even the paltry number of seats it held earlier. [The joke in town is that even the opposition is asking for Rahul to campaign, because then their victory is guaranteed!]. The corrosive bootlicking in the bloodstream of congressmen and women, is now beginning to look more cancerous than ever to many people within the Congress. My sense is that the Congress would do better to pull Rahul up for his indiscretions rather than lionize him, or it would be doing so at its own peril. I am no well wisher of the Congress and so it would not really concern me, but I am a conscious citizen of the Country and it concerns me when a leading political party is subjected to such dim-witticisms and then has to justify the same to protect the organisational hierarchy which in turn has the potential to impact policies. It is for that reason that I propose that the Congress should rein in Rahul and let other, more mature and less communal people lead the party in the future.

Stop Press: Year 2011 and More of the same.

In the duration between this blog being written and posted, the year changed digits. So while this is the first post of 2011, the subject of this post got a further boost by the go-go Gandhi’s latest gaffe when his Mummy’s government came under attack for rampant price rise. He said that inflation and rising food prices are related to coalition politics. I rest my case.

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Image courtesy: http://www.outlookindia.com

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