Like all men in a hurry, Rahul Gandhi is slipping. Had his shoes been worn out, one might have excused it. In his case, he is slipping because he wants to show his feet are on the ground, not despite it.
This is not mythology where the gods can come down to earth, live the life of the common man, and provide a panacea. It is also wrong to assume that he has been pushed into this role. The version about the reluctant conformist is just good marketing strategy where you gain sympathy only because you chucked a few pebbles in the slush. The Congress is so devoid of any alternative that even the Prime Minister says he would be happy if Rahul Gandhi played a more important role. Does Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was himself in some ways anointed rather than appointed for the role, have a choice?
It was said that he was keeping the seat warm for the ‘scion’ – an undemocratic term. As events unfolded, it became a seat too hot. Rahul Gandhi knew that he would one day be the democratic monarch of the Republic of India. He did absolutely nothing to stem the rot he accuses non-Congress states of. Rather unfortunately, he is behaving like the destined to rule “yuvraj”, when his contribution to the Indian political scene has been essentially about the discovery of India. He walked through the villages, he took a local train, he sat on the floor, he ate here and slept there. This is what a politician is supposed to do. It is not a favour he is granting – it is not the equivalent of throwing coins at the junta in a durbar, even though it works at one level in our colonised mindset, as I had pointed out in an earlier piece.
Unless he wants to be a kingmaker in the Mahatma Gandhi mould, which he cannot, he ought to be setting targets for himself. Pugnacity is a part of polls, but by using a slogan like “Jawaab Do/ Jawaab Hum Denge” (give answers and get a fitting reply), reminiscent of his father Rajiv Gandhi’s “Nani yaad dila denge” (we shall make you remember your grandmother) he is using threat as an alternative to action.
He started the Congress campaign from Phulpur near Allahabad on his grandfather’s birth anniversary, reminding the people of how Jawaharlal Nehru started the path of progress from the state. Uttar Pradesh has been considered the test-drive for most politicians. It is an over-rated idea, for although it is the largest state, the chief minister Mayawati has talked about a division into four states. This may or may not happen, but it reveals that no state in today’s times has any uniformity. You cannot play a single card and come out trumps.
Rahul realised it when he made the horrible error of addressing the rally by saying:
“How long will you beg in Maharashtra (for work)? How long will you work as a labourer in Punjab? It will take only five years and the change will come.”
Then he asked the crowd to give the Congress "a chance for five years". Who was the one begging? His comment has expectedly brought about a reaction from the Shiv Sena and the UPA allies. The Congress has ruled in UP, and yet there was migration. Does it make a difference whether a person is working as a labourer in Punjab or in Lucknow? Will he use a similar speech in the other states he campaigns in? Does this not amount to being anti-labour?
In his speech, he also said:
“The people of UP taught me that a leader belongs to his people, he should visit them and listen to their problems…A leader should be aware of the ground realities, to see how poor the people living in his constituency are - he should eat at their place to see what they eat, he should stay in their place to see how they live there.”
If many have left to “beg”, then which people is he talking about? These visits are like doctor visits – check the ailment, provide a temporary cure. It does not result in understanding the circumstances that cause it. Can you get the rid of the virus?
He has thrown up a challenge if he believes that a state, any state, can be better off if its people remain within its borders. This goes against the free movement of citizens within the country, it goes against the right to livelihood and it goes against the belief of a unified India.
As expected, the Congress party members came to his rescue with the ‘he was misinterpreted’ argument. Kripashankar Singh, president of the Mumbai Congress, said:
“We need to understand Rahul's sentiments. He was only expressing pain of the people of Uttar Pradesh.”
Has any organisation approached him to express their pain? Have the taxi wallas and halwais sent him a letter pleading that they want to return to their hometown?
Party spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury went further:
“Rahul tried to awaken the sense of self respect of those from UP.”
When she left Andhra Pradesh and moved to Delhi, did it negate her self-respect? Why is such self-respect awakened only among those who probably respect themselves enough to want to earn an honest livelihood and are not restricted by such parochialism as the leaders would wish them to be?
Mayawati is on her own trip, so it was entirely in keeping with her persona that she wondered: “why does the prince get angry?” Rahul Gandhi responded at the public rally:
“I get angry because the poor are being exploited. Mayawati and Mulayam too used to have this anger, but it is now dead because of their power lust. They are always running for power.”
It is pertinent to note that he did not contradict her reference to him as “prince”. He should have taken her to task on that. The anger of a prince is not much different from that of the power-hungry. He might think he is benevolent royalty, but that is certainly not what this country is looking for. If UP is ruled by “the mafia”, then his street-fighting mode of giving a fitting reply falls into the same category.
The government machinery cannot be lubricated with anger. If he believes that India is developing and UP is going backwards, then he has already bitten the tail. Will he be able to say this in Gujarat? Using the corruption mantra, he said that people had to pay money even to file FIRs in the police stations. Has he looked at the crime statistics in the capital, in Mumbai? How many of them are reported?
He must realise that corruption will rear its head soon when the horse-trading begins and the change in five years he talked about will come through the backdoor entry of the same “mafia” into the legitimate fold of the Congress.
The level of sycophancy expresses more than it reveals. One hoarding put up by Congressman Baba Awasthi said, “Mata bimaar, mantrimandal lachaar, Rahulji, netritva karo sweekar (Mother ill, Cabinet helpless, Rahul, accept leadership role).” It was hurriedly removed, but tasteless though it is there is a message in there: No matter what he does and where he eats, he will have to play Yashodha to the country that is seen at the grassroots as just another child-god, where even serious corruption amounts to being a makhan chor (butter thief, that the child Krishna was indulged for).
I stand corrected regarding my earlier premise. We are living a mythology or a living mythology we are.
(c) Farzana Versey
Also published in Countercurrents