Rahul Gandhi: Imagined Inheritor or Raw Clay?

While he recognizes the reality of ‘two Hindustans’ how does he plan to address it?
Joe Athialy Delhi

Book:  Rahul

Author: Jatin Gandhi & Veenu Sandhu

Publisher:  Penguin - Viking 2011

Price: Rs 499

If what comes out of the book about Rahul in the ‘first authoritative biography’ has any semblance with truth, there are reasons to worry. He comes out as a parochial leader of a regional party (not all leaders of regional parties are parochial though), who cannot think much beyond Uttar Pradesh, believes in management fixes against political processes, has superficial solutions to complex issues and is lacking a pan-India perspective.

The authors should be credited for this lucid, easy reading story of a man about whom there is a lot of aura but seems to know very little. Having 'denied' an interview, the story they weaved is through secondary sources and interviews with people around him (but none from the family). The timing of the book cannot be ignored – it came just before Uttar Pradesh went for elections, where a lot of air time and newsprint were consumed by Rahul.

The book has a lot of interesting anecdotes. It tells the story of a boy who was coping up with one infinite family tragedy after another; how his grandmother Indira Gandhi and his father Rajiv Gandhi doted on him while he remained shy and elusive, and how he took a plunge into politics, while the party and media was expecting Priyanka, his sister, to do that. Was the imagined, reluctant inheritor, a natural, 'fated' heir apparent?

Significantly, what the book fails to tell is about what shapes up Rahul’s thinking, what his ideological moorings and influences are. For a potential 'prime ministerial material' what it matters to a nation and its people is the possible way in which he is going to tackle a multitude of burning issues which ravages this country as a ritualistic pattern. While he recognizes the reality of ‘two Hindustans’ how does he plan to address it? What is his vision, his synthesis of praxis and theory, his 'alternative ideology', his vision for a new India? The book does not tell us about it.

Winning and losing elections are part of mainstream politics. For a leader of Rahul’s stature, whether inherited or attained, how he is groomed into the shoes is more important, since his action/inactions would have a serious impact on a large sections of the population. 

There are a few instances in the book where Rahul’s interventions make a big difference. One is, when he visited a school in Hasua Survan village where the village school had only one teacher for two hundred students. After his visit, it had four. In another instance, Youth Congress’z Aam Aadmi ka Sipahi initiative (a brain child of Rahul) in North-east intervened to get electricity connection at a house, which did not have it earlier. While these are positive  gestures, what one fails to understand is how Rahul has not understood that these are symptoms of larger, more complex problems; that he has to  take these gigantic issues up to make a positive impact for a large population. While he talks at length about the plight of Kalavati in Vidharbha in Parliament, can’t he understand that the agricultural sector is in deep crisis and needs to be looked at the root problems?  

That this crisis is a direct result of the  policies of his own government? When he lands up in Noida, giving a miss to the police, to join the farmers who are agitating against land acquisition for the Yamuna Expressway, does he think it is a one-off issue in Noida? If he could not take a clue from these single instances to understand the larger problems, that is worrisome. If he wants these instances to use only to meet his immediate political ends, that is not good either.

The book refers to the likes of Mani Shankar Iyer grooming him on international politics to make him a rounded personality to take up the top job. Whether it’s about a slow student or a weak teacher, we are yet to hear about his lessons

What little one can understand him through this book is, he believes that better and high-tech management, in which he is trained, is the way to go, than a protracted political process. If one looks at his performance in the Lok Sabha as a Member of Parliament, it comes out very clearly. Quoting the work done by PRS Legislative Research, the book says, “…against the national average of about sixteen debates that every Lok Sabha MP participated in, Rahul drew a naught (between May 2009 and monsoon session 2011). His attendance was 63 per cent compared to the national average of 70 per cent. He had asked three questions in five years during the question hour as opposed to an average of nearly 180 questions each by other MPs.”

One is also clueless about  what he thinks of issues other than what happens in Uttar Pradesh, let alone international issues. The book refers to the likes of Mani Shankar Iyer grooming him on international politics to make him a rounded personality to take up the top job. Whether it’s about a slow student or a weak teacher, we are yet to hear about his lessons. Neither are there  references in the book, nor has one come across a tangible viewpoint in his speeches or writings on such matters. How does he relate to other political parties, apart from taking digs at other parties and tearing their election manifestos during elections?

Winning and losing elections are part of mainstream politics. For a leader of Rahul’s stature, whether inherited or attained, how he is groomed into the shoes is more important, since his action/inactions would have a serious impact on a large sections of the population. So, is there hope for the hopeless people of India, the millions invisible at ground zero, with the heir apparent of the first family?

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