Two days back, while scrolling through my facebook feed, I came upon a live video of a speech by Rahul Gandhi. It was already halfway through, but I decided to stop scrolling past him (which is what I would have done normally) and watch the video. At this point, Rahul Gandhi was amidst a Q&A session. He was talking about Congress being a conversational party and that at some point a certain arrogance had crept into the party in 2012 and they stopped having those conversations with the people. I continued listening to him and I thought to myself… that’s a huge confession for a political leader to make! That they erred big time. More importantly, he doesn’t come across as ‘pappu’ as the mainstream media has led me to believe. I realised most of us have stopped listening to him just because we have a strong ‘loser’ image of him in our minds which tells us that this man knows nothing. And whatever he is, he got it through ‘virasat (inheritance)’.
And I wondered, where has this image of him come from? It has certainly come from the countless memes and Rahul Gandhi jokes we see on our social media feeds. The idea also got strengthened when Congress was defeated badly in the 2014 General Elections under his leadership. But when he spoke of RTI and how providing the public with such a powerful tool of government accountability actually led to their defeat and when he spoke of realising that the neoliberal model of governance had stopped working… those admissions from him made me wonder, is there something more to this politician that we have been made to miss? A side of him that has been deliberately kept away from us so that only one narrative of ‘how my leader should be’ is propagated?
Most of the people on my friend list ridiculed him. Some continued mocking the ‘pappu’. The ones who still call him that don’t even bother to watch his speeches or listen to what he has to say. I don’t blame them either, we are all prey to the strong hoop-la which has successfully been injected into our minds about him. Others called him trivial, banal and not charismatic enough. Most leftists latched onto the dynasty comment or the numbers that he got wrong regarding the official languages in India and seats in the parliament. I also feel that for some, it is that time of the month on their timelines when they can declare, “Hey look! I am criticising Rahul Gandhi as well, so you see, unlike what you think of me, I am not just a right wing basher or a Congress supporter (because, well, supporting Congress or saying anything in their favour is so uncool these days) but I am completely unbiased in my political opinions, whether right or left.”
Frankly, now I find those statuses a bit absurd. To begin with, I can’t blame the ones who don’t even watch what he has to say, because I was one of them. I hardly cared what Rahul Gandhi had to say until the thought that I might have to make do with our current government and its leaders without any alternative to think about for the next 5 years bothered me so much that I started to look for options within opposition leaders that we currently have. To them, my suggestion would be: go beyond the Rahul Gandhi memes online to get a much clearer idea of the person. If you still don’t like him great! Just YouTube his speech at Dr B R Ambedkar International Conference in Bengaluru and his Q&A session at Doon School where he takes questions from all age groups.
Sure, he is not the best speaker we have and takes long pauses when reading from his paper, but is that all the reason we need to not listen to him? Or because he makes few minor errors while speaking, which are turned into parodies later? All this at the cost of completely ignoring what he actually said at a particular event. I don’t see us grilling our current PM for saying ‘Mohanlal Karamchand Gandhi’ or for saying that Alexander was defeated by the Biharis. Modi’s foreign trips make headlines but Rahul Gandhi’s visits to Gorakhpur following the death of 70 children only find fleeting reports on TV. I did not know about the visit myself until I saw it on YouTube while searching for some other details on him. That particular video had just fifty views.
Then others called him banal. Yeah, sure, topics like non-violence, love, compassion, secularism are boring Buddhist and liberal ideologies, especially when they miss the dramatic voice and hand movements of PM Narendra Modi. Unemployment, the obvious failure of demonetization are the topics we have been discussing everywhere in this country. But Rahul Gandhi mentioning the same at Berkley becomes insulting our country on foreign soil. Wel, the current government has actually insulted the common people’s minds for taking us on a ride with its current policies like demonetization. Here, I am seeing an opposition leader who is talking about working with the small and medium scale industries to turn them into global opportunities for employment. He is talking about agriculture and poor people. How much of it will actually work out, time will tell, and his actions will speak if he ever gets elected as the PM. But aren’t these the issues which even we, as common people of this country, want to talk about? Of jobs, of inflation, of growing tensions between communities, of inequalities? If Narendra Modi was given a chance based on precisely these issues, why can Rahul Gandhi not be given a chance to represent the opposition on the same?
So, Narendra Modi has the Gujarat Model (which is of debatable merit) to show as his homework. What does Rahul Gandhi have? A corrupt UPA regime? I am yet to find a single explosive proven allegation against Rahul Gandhi in his 14-year long career as a politician. Even amidst all the corruption in UPA, Rahul Gandhi has managed to stay clean. Can that say something about his personal character?
Now, before you bring in the brother-in-law and the mother, can I request that for once we see him as a politician? As an individual, and not a shehzada who has come from a powerful dynasty? Why can’t he have ideologies and principles completely opposite of his mother? I and my father don’t agree on most things. But we belong to the same family and we have to live with it. Why can it not be the same for Rahul Gandhi? Why do we conclude that he is just like his mother (whatever our perception of her is) or that he represents the entirety of the corrupt Congress?
The current narrative sounds like Congress lost only because of Rahul Gandhi’s inefficiency, and their loss had little to do with the party’s corruption, which must have gone out of his hands just like Gau Rakshaks have gone out of the hands of our PM today. The discussions about Rahul Gandhi and his failure revolve more around mocking him on a personal level than critiquing him for his work. Both of these subjects have become the same now, and one can’t tell the difference. This looks like malicious propaganda set loose.
Yet, we let our current PM have all these options. He can be synonymous with the ruling party, but when it pleases him, he can be himself, away from the party. We don’t allow these luxuries to Rahul Gandhi at all. Why? Because we have been taught to hate him and not look at him with any interest. We listen to him yet dissect him not on the merits of his arguments, but based on the fact that it is Rahul Gandhi who is speaking. How can one take Rahul Gandhi seriously, right? The focus is on the storyteller and not on the story, and because we have cultivated this bias against the storyteller, we don’t bother to listen to his stories. Isn’t that a very narrow way of looking at things?
This is what I conclude when I see more and more memes being made about him and all the speeches he makes. It is like we don’t want to let him talk. And it’s interesting how, even after all this, the man still speaks his mind. So much ridicule, so much hatred directed towards him but he still appears calm and composed. I don’t see him coming back with anger and vengeance when he speaks after being severely trolled. I see hope in such an unaffected politician. Even though he is a politician, I must say.
NREGA, RTI, Right to Food, Land Acquisition Act, democratising the internal structure of Congress by electing young leaders, have been amongst the most progressive changes this country has ever seen. No one would want to believe that Rahul Gandhi had anything to do with these reforms. These reforms have no value for the middle class because, well, we deserve something as earth-shattering as demonetization and GST to happen to our lives. And whatever be the outcome, good, bad, or horrible, we Indians are ready to accept it as our fate.
As a liberal, I see some hope in Rahul Gandhi. Not absolute hope, but some hope, yes. This hope is not in his politics. He is yet to display that to us with his vision of fighting unemployment and corruption. But the hope is in his ideologies. As a concerned citizen, I would request him to come out more often, talk more personally to us. And in today’s day and age this is very easily achievable. It doesn’t need any heavy investment to be out there. If it’s the age of wrong information and fake news, it is also the age of instant, easy and direct communication between common people and their leaders. Rahul should be available to us everywhere, engaging with us. That’s my complaint.
The politics of Congress has been a disappointment for a while now and that too under his leadership. We still don’t see them giving a tough fight to BJP. In all of this, I can sense Rahul’s intent, but I can’t see his actions. And unless that happens, there is nothing worth fighting for and standing up for!