Monday, November 14, 2011

Yeah Yeah Rahul Gandhi….lead on!

There is no doubt Rahul Gandhi is a charismatic leader. Let me repeat the two most important words in this sentence. Charismatic. Leader. Charismatic – because why else would his every move in UP attract so much attention in the media and amongst the people. Leader – because only a leader takes the risk of leading his party even in a “politically dangerous” state like UP – in spite of knowing he would be taunted by all if he failed….

I am expecting at least a hundred comments on this post of mine today – all of which will call me a Congress stooge for praising Rahul Gandhi. Many others will ask: What has Rahul done to be called a leader at all? Some more will question why he was so quiet during the entire Anna struggle. No blogpost on Rahul Gandhi is possible without getting the attention of every single reader of blogs!

What is the biggest complaint that people have against Rahul? That he represents dynastic politics. He belongs to a family of three PMs and hence he has been politically born “with a silver spoon”. How should Rahul handle this criticism? Should he stay away from politics so that he proves that he doesn’t want to take advantage his family gives him? In my mind, he could possibly have done two things. One, enter politics from the grassroots level – not taking a swipe at power directly but proving himself in the real battlefield. Or alternatively, do what most young politicians from political dynasties do – start as a Deputy Minister and gain some administrative experience. Rahul has chosen to do the first. 

If there is one person every anti-Congress politician fears in this country, it is Rahul Gandhi. There is a reason for this. Rahul represents the youth. His youthful energy has challenged many an established politician; many an established political belief. When he entered Mumbai after being challenged by the Shiv Sena to do so, he did it in style – traveling along with the common folks in the locals of the city. The coverage in the press the next day said it all. RG had created the impact no politician had created in Mumbai in a very long time. Rahul also represents the thinking of the youth – the divisions of caste, class and religion irrelevant to him like it is to many of us. “In his first interview with foreign media, he portrayed himself as a uniter of the country and condemned "divisive" politics in India, saying that he would try to reduce caste and religious tensions.” (Source: Wikipedia). Many of his UP efforts – sleeping over at a dalit house, breaking bread with the impoverished, refraining from religious rhetoric, supporting a class called farmers rather than a caste or a creed – are manifestations of the thinking of the young. No wonder then that he connects instantaneously with the youth. When it comes to women, his charming looks are enough!

Rahul Gandhi has earned his spurs. He could easily have become a minister the day he decided to join politics. He could have become the President of the Congress party when he entered politics. That’s what most others in the “youth brigade” have done. So many young ministers in the government – it’s almost as if having young people is a sign of progressive political thinking. But the young ministers – who know very little of the real problems faced by the people and who hardly empathize with them – should have looked up to RG for inspiration. RG chose to work his way up – admittedly at a faster pace than most other politicians could manage. He refused ministership; refused party position; preferred to travel through the length and breadth of the country; represent the youth wing of the party. Sometimes we forget that he’s been in politics for more than ten years now – joining for the first time in 2004 where he won the Amethi LS constituency against the entrenched BJP by a relatively modest 1 lac votes. He won again in 2009 – this time by a margin of 3.3 lac votes. In 2007, he canvassed for the Congress in the UP state elections, but fared poorly – with the Congress winning only 22 seats (out of 403) and 8.5% of the votes. But by 2009, his clout had increased. He held more than 125 rallies in UP during the 2009 LS elections and won the party 21 seats for his party (out of 80), pushing the BJP back to the 4th place in the state and becoming the 2nd largest party. The winner in those polls: SP with just one additional count: 22. If RG’s critics needed any proof of his political gumption, it was there for all to see during these elections.

Rahul Gandhi has galvanized his party in UP. There is a reason I believe for this. The Congress is actually more than a mere political party – represent as it did the freedom struggle before independence. It’s the only “umbrella” political party – the party which represents the widest possible section of people. Every attack on the Congress has come from more sharply and narrowly defined parties – the Left defined narrowly by its economic ideology, the BJP by its narrow religious politics, the BSP by its narrow dalit support base and the SP by its narrow caste-based philosophy. In the world of marketing professionals, such a broadbased party is considered vulnerable – as more focused opponents chip away at its monolithic appeal. And that’s what has happened over the years. The Congress has lost ground to its opponents principally because of their narrow focus. On the flipside, it is now the only party that transcends every section of the country. No wonder then that it has continued to rule the country for a bulk of its independent existence.

If there is anything that the Congress needs now, it is a dose of visible and vibrant leadership. Sonia Gandhi is fine – but she’s not a forceful orator. Her lack of grip on Hindi makes her weak in connecting with the people. Her rise to popularity came when she declined to take the PM’s job even though it was available to her. The PM on the other hand is a great economist, but a light-weight politician. Between the two, neither is able to provide the stirring leadership to the party at a time like this – challenged as it is by charges of corruption and attacked as it is by Team Anna. Rahul Gandhi has it in him to provide this desperately needed leadership in the party. He got the attention of the country by taking the Lokpal discussions to a new level – proposing to make it into a Constitutional Body. People pooh poohed him at that stage, but today’s papers talk of a near certainty of that happening. If the Lokpal is indeed made into a Constitutional authority – and if a strong Lokpal does emerge (even if it doesn’t meet all of Anna’s demands) – Rahul Gandhi would have earned his reputation on this contentious subject.

Yet, Rahul Gandhi has to be careful not to get taken in by his popularity. His father also came into power with a huge support winning 411 seats out of 542 in 1984 – and yet he wasn’t able to cling on to it for long, losing poorly in the 1989 elections. Rajiv was in a rush to reform India – changing quickly the basic License Raj system in the country, modernizing the telecommunications sector and expanding the education system. But Rajiv was impatient – and could not understand the nitty gritties of politics of the country – not having spent enough time in grassroots politics before becoming PM. Rahul has to remember the lessons from this. If and when he becomes PM, he will have to learn to do business “Indian style” – two steps forward (hopefully); one step behind. Making giant leaps is not part of the Indian style. Taking every citizen along is what he will have to learn. Maybe to learn this – Rahul should take up a ministerial role after the UP elections and do that till the general elections in 2012….

The real truth is that Rahul Gandhi is indeed the crown prince – not only of his party but of the country. That’s not what I am calling him – that’s what Mayawati just did. All politics in UP is focused on Rahul – as though he were the CM defending his government in that state. To be sure – Congress is only the 4th party in the state now. If RG can catapult it to 3rd or 2nd position – if not the 1st – that would be a good beginning for RG…..

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