Unravelling Rahul Gandhi

Posted on March 23, 2010 in Politics at Play

Swati Nandy:

Rahul Gandhi, the young General Secretary of the Indian National Congress has made it big in the Indian political arena. A fourth generation politician of the famous Nehru-Gandhi family, Rahul has made a name for himself by working very hard at the grass root levels of the Congress party. His active involvement in the youth congress and energetic political campaigning at the previous Lok Sabha Elections has resulted in a remarkable turnaround for the Congress party and brought the Congress led UPA government back to power for a second consecutive term.

Rahul Gandhi comes from a family of politicians of immense stature. His great grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the first prime minister of independent India, grandmother late Indira Gandhi the first woman prime minister and father late Rajiv Gandhi another popular prime minister who is often credited with many popular economic policies to have shaped the modern India.

The prince of the Gandhi family charmed his way into the hearts of Indian voters. Since contesting for the first time in 2004 from Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh, reaching out people, playing with children have been typical scenes in the Rahul story – all perhaps an attempt to showcase him as one of the ordinary folks. While the fair, bespectacled look was always drawing crowd’s questions were being raised about Rahul’s abilities to convert this crowd into votes. The first conscious attempt was perhaps made by Rahul in Parliament last year when he made an impassioned speech about his experiences of rural India. Rahul tried to draw attention to the plight of poor Dalits in a speech where he was constantly laughed at and jeered at by the Opposition. But on the campaign trail in 2009, Rahul adopted a different strategy. He took a conscious decision that he won’t budge under pressure from allies.

To veterans like NCP leader Sharad Pawar and RJD leader Lalu Prasad, it appeared to be an arrogant move. To Rahul’s supporters, it was Rahul lining himself up for the future – a future where the Congress would have been the only principal pole of the country’s politics. The BJP’s shrill campaign of criticizing Manmohan Singh as a weak Prime Minister also brought out a new trait in Rahul. So far unwilling to respond to any of the barbs from Narendra Modi and company, Rahul became aggressive when it came to defending the Prime Minister. “You say that he is weak, but what about Advani ji in Kandahaar,” he said at a press conference before the elections.

In a classic throwback to his familial predecessors, Rahul Gandhi too, is driven by the needs to know and internalize the strengths and weaknesses, genius and handicaps, naiveté and guile of people he is expected to lead. His great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, had done the same on returning to India from England at the age of 21. His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, did it under the tutelage of her father. His father, Rajiv Gandhi, too had embarked on a similar enterprise — one that proved abortive thanks to Indira Gandhi’s assassination and his sudden elevation to the top job.

The learning curve has indeed been steep. The young man, who’s widely acknowledged destiny is to be the country’s leader, has taken to a painstaking discovery of India. For the last few years, no politician of stature has made the kind effort Rahul has to gain a firsthand knowledge of how India works. Be it the nights spent with the poor in the hardy terrain if Bundelkhand or the meals he shared with socially ostracized Dalits of Amethi and Shravasti, or breaking heads with socialist scientists, activists and scholars in the big cities, Rahul Gandhi’s self —avowed objective is to “learn till my last day”.

Rahul Gandhi democratized the Congress organization, ending the traditional nomination culture in the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India. This has resulted in greater involvement of youth in politics and triggered a talent hunt by the party. Now youth organization office bearers will be elected by state members, and age limits will be enforced strictly. He backed the India-US nuclear deal in 2008 and swung the mood in the Congress decisively in favor of the agreement. The deal was followed by a historic waiver from the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group), which facilitated India’s entry into the N-club.

Some link his combative traits to his taking up boxing out of the blue last year. Boxing is the art of inculcating an eye-on-the-opponent habit and sets store by patience and endurance, tactical sharpness and stinging delivery of punch —qualities that he seems to display. Rahul Gandhi trains at a gym regularly. And quite often he has been spotted cycling around India Gate and even jogging in Rashtrapati Bhavan. This is clearly a man who likes to be fit for any fight.

Till now, he has not delivered in key Assembly elections. He campaigned aggressively in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat during the Assembly elections though and the hard work may just deliver good results now. He has been quiet magnanimous in sharing the recent successes of the congress party with his party workers. He has also distanced himself from the race of prime minister-ship or a cabinet birth in spite of an excellent individual effort that saw Congress party emerge as the single largest party at the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections. All these qualities make up for a fine young politician who will serve India well in the times to come.

Manmohan Singh is the top choice for Prime Minister at the moment with Rahul Gandhi at a fair distance behind him, but Rahul Gandhi will most probably be PM in 2014 —that’s the clear message from metropolitan India. The Gandhi name itself counts. His political style reminds a large chunk of respondents of his father while a smaller chunk think he has modeled himself on grandmother Indira Gandhi, but most think he’s a forged a style of his own.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

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