By Vijaya Pushkarna
Rahul Gandhi carries an enormous burden. The biggest among them is his family’s political legacy , and the expectations from multitudes of Indians that he or his sister Priyanka carry that forward.
“The Congress is not a political party like the BJP. It is a collective of people individually feeling a direct connect with the family of Jawahar Lal Nehru. If you take that family away, what will happen to the party? I shudder to think of it”, a Congress leader and former MLA from Uttar Pradesh told me a couple of years ago.
It seemed pointless arguing with him that the Grand Old Party has been nurtured by so many others. The party may not want to pull them out of history(not history books) and dust and bring them into contemporary political discourse , making them relevant—the way the BJP is doing with their leaders.That gives Rahul the TINA factor.
Rare flashes of brightness notwithstanding, hear Rahul’s many comments and speeches, and one gets the feeling the role has been thrust upon him. Congress President Sonia Gandhi entered that space very reluctantly. In a very rare interview she recalled what made her change her mind about taking the plunge. She was in her library, surrounded by books as well as portraits of the great leaders whose descendent her husband Rajiv Gandhi , also a prime minister and a martyr, was. In a very emotional tone, Sonia said she felt “they” would never have forgiven her if she let the Congress disintegrate. Possibly, Rahul could not articulate it this way, but feels no different.
When Sonia Gandhi made that infamous “Maut Ke Saudagar” she was reading out from a Hindi speech written by someone in the party. It could have been brushed aside because even though president of the Congress, she may not have known what she was saying—somewhat like the Bidar school kid who recited anti-CAA lines that have landed the mother in jail on sedition charges. Sonia’s words are still recalled , and not in a positive way.
But look at Sonia ! How she has traversed the political path from then .It is for this that many in the Congress know which Gandhi they will pick if they could choose.
The most enduring image of Rahul Gandhi is he appearing unannounced at the Press Club of India where a party leader was hosting a press conference, and tearing to shreds—literally—an ordinance to save convicted legislators from disqualification in 2013. He called it “complete nonsense”. While his stand was welcomed, his method of articulating it was an embarrassment to the Congress leadership as well as then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh who was on a foreign visit.
And when he referred to the incumbent prime minister Narendra Modi as “woh Narendra Modi…” a couple of days ago, he outdid himself, and diffused the real issues he charged the Prime Minister with ignoring: the economy.
Such habits tend to stay.
All is not lost for Rahul though. For that he has to work hard at overcoming his second biggest challenge. He lacks substantial and deep knowledge across the subjects. Political spins have to be embedded with this to make the right impact.
The phrase “taking to it like a duck to water” is no more than that, just a phrase. Modern day business families send their gen next to the best of business schools, top lawyers have their law graduate kids work in the chambers of other good lawyers. Rahul cannot be sent to a good school to learn some liberal arts or another political party to intern. But why not learn from his own illustrious predecessors? Why not spend time watching the late prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s speeches ? If he does this and a little more under good mentors, Rahul can come of age politically, raise relevant issues in a way that there is light and not frivolousness.
An Anurag Thakur or a Paresh Varma or even an Amit Shah are not to influence the style or tone or thoughts of Rahul Gandhi. On the contrary, he can learn some of the good things that Prime Minister Modi unarguably has –extreme hard work being one. For, the truth is Rahul is pitted against Modi.
Educating Rahul is important because democracy needs a good opposition party.