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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 19 New Delhi May 2, 2015

Importance of being Rahul Gandhi

Saturday 2 May 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

Rahul Gandhi is in the news for one reason or the other. Yesterday, the debate was on his 57-day leave of absence from the country. In fact, Rahul himself should have told about his passion for chanting if that is what he was doing in Myanmar. That the party leaders, except her mother Sonia Gandhi and Congress President, have preferred to make his absence as his private affair does not help.

Public leaders have no private life once they are in the people’s domain. People like their leaders to take them into confidence. It gives them a vicarious satisfaction of intimacy. Jawaharlal Nehru, Rahul Gandhi’s great grandfather, always told about his trips abroad to people in public meetings and also conveyed to State chief ministers in letters that he wrote every fortnight.

Today’s debate is about Rahul’s vitriolic attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Land Acquisition Bill. Not that Modi is above criticism. But Rahul’s remark that the Prime Minister had brought down the reputation of India by saying in Canada that they were cleansing the litter left behind by previous regime was churlish. It would have been better if Rahul had preferred to stay quiet on Modi’s observation in Canada.

I recall when Inder Kumar Gujral, then in the Opposition, was in Geneva, he resisted the temptation of criticising the Congress. He said that he had plenty opportunities to do so in the country itself. Why should the dirty lines be washed abroad?

Many will agree with Rahul that Modi should have avoided commenting on domestic politics while in foreign countries. Ideally, there should be a bipartisan approach in comments on this subject. In fact, this was the attitude that continued to be reflected till the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. The party behaved like the Opposition party even while in office. Unfortunately, that habit has got stuck with the BJP.

Rahul’s biggest asset is that he is from the dynasty that has guided the party from its inception. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, will see to it that he succeeds her. But the disadvantage from such a practice is that the merit in the party is ignored. Nehru did not allow Morarji Desai to have his due because he had his daughter, Indira Gandhi, in mind. Maybe the dynasty has given the country a sense of continuity but it has put several genuine claimants in jeopardy. It is a Hobson’s choice which a democratic country can ill-afford.

The absolute majority that Prime Minister Narendra Modi got in Parliament showed that the nation wanted to move from this scenario. The resurgence of the BJP was essentially an expression against the Congress, not for the former. By and large, the country has come to develop a secular temperament, realising that only parochialism will undo the idea of India. The pro-Hindutva BJP too has come to realise that. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has endorsed this view in a recent speech.

The 10-month non-rule of Modi shows that the rhetoric during the election campaign has not gone beyond the paper. This may have disappointed the core of Hindutva. But Rahul Gandhi has found in it a climate favourable to him. He seems to have drawn a page from his grandmother, Indira Gandhi’s book to make most of the situation. She played the garibi hatao (oust poverty) card and rehabilitated the Congress at a time when there were fissures appearing in the party.

 In the same manner, Rahul has coined the phrase of ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’. He too has realised that the criticism of the rich goes down well in a country where the have-nots abound. His party has, however, gone miles away from the ideology of socialism which it once proudly owned and propagated. In this way, the Congress has somewhat repudiated Nehru who would say that a country which had so many poor people had no option except to move to the Left. Rahul, whatever the jibes of the BJP, has touched the respondent chord. The untimely rains have damaged wheat crop in northern India, particularly Punjab and Haryana, India’s granary. The case in Maharashtra is no different from most States in the north. It is a bitter story for the mango and sugarcane growers. For the State’s beleaguered farm sector, crippled by two drought years in 2012 and 2014 and recurrent hailstorms and unseasonal rainfall, the latest blow came as recently as earlier this month when a fresh hailstorm destroyed standing crops including, cruelly, some ready for harvest.

The State Government may bail out the farmers but cannot do to a great extent because their financial condition is not too happy. Rahul has found a convenient target. But this does not help in the long run. It may be a scoring point during elections. The political parties have to join hands to face the calamity which has befallen on the country, not on a particular political organisation.

The Opposition built on the basis of the Land Acquisition Bill is counter-productive. The Congress itself had moved a similar legislation when it was in power. Of course, the consent of farmers and social impact have been wrongly dropped from the BJP’s Bill but, as Prime Minister Modi has said, he is open to suggestions indicates that he may agree to some points which Rahul had made.

Rahul’s attack on the government may give a wrong impression that he was for a pro-gressive set-up. Jyotiraditya Scindia was quick in saying that his party was not anti-corporate because he knows that all political parties draw funds for elections from industrial houses and businessmen. Whether the Congress, with its close connection with the corporate sector, can reclaim its constituency among the poor is yet to be seen. But if the perception of Rahul’s speech spreads such an impression, he would have underlined his importance.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com