Rahul Gandhi’s formal ascension as vice president of the Congress can be said to be Sonia Gandhi’s ‘Dhritarashtra moment’, the occasion when Indian polity’s supposed great renunciate failed to resign her own post and transfer power to her aging son and heir-designate of the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty. Far from empowering Rahul Gandhi to assert himself within the party and the UPA dominated by the Congress, this could frustrate his maturation process and emergence as a ruler in his own right.
In Mahabharata, Bhishma prevents the elder prince Dhritarashtra from ascending to his father’s throne as he was born blind; the worthy Vidur refuses because he was born of a palace maid; hence the younger prince Pandu is coronated. When Pandu dies, none of the Kuru princes is old enough to be crowned, and so the blind Dhritarashtra becomes the regent as Bhishma shuns this duty.
Subsequently, in the tussle between the sons of Dhritarashtra and Pandu, Duryodhana becomes crown prince of Hastinapur while his father remains the regent — a grave mistake that should never have been permitted by Bhishma, Kripa, Drona and others. Being blind, Dhritarashtra had no right to the throne, but sat on it by accident of family circumstances. Once either Yudhisthira or Duryodhana was chosen as Yuvraj, he should have received the throne and Dhritarashtra should have retired with grace. Yet even the wily Shakuni did not voice this obvious truth as he was intoxicated by his vicarious power over the blind king and his nephew.
Similarly, Sonia Gandhi, who has gone abroad at least twice for medical treatment, and whose nervous twitches are now visible on television, failed to trust Rahul Gandhi with the power she wants him to exercise within the party and the Government should the Congress manage a third term in office. This exposes her inability to relinquish power and post, and her lack of faith in Rahul Gandhi’s ability to rise to the responsibilities thrust upon him. In other words, the mother who ‘cried because she understands that power is actually a poison’ is not willing to pass on her sceptre.
Rahul Gandhi is thus second in power and rank to his mother Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Congress. It is not an enviable position, as hidden coteries behind both will be watching his every move.
Fellow travellers have tried to project Rahul Gandhi’s acceptance speech in Jaipur as a prelude to a massive makeover of the Congress, undoing without admitting the mistakes of his ancestors, and reaching out to all alienated sections of the people.
The admirers display a desperate anxiety that the middle aged heir apparent somehow connect with the upwardly mobile youth and growing middle classes that have taken to displaying their anger on contemporary issues, as also the traditional vote-banks of the poor, women, Dalit and minorities.
They are keen that he deflect blame for the corruption attached to the ruling UPA, as also responsibility for the price rise, inflation, zero job opportunities and petty appeasement of minorities. It is a tall order.
Rahul Gandhi’s speech writers may have hoped to touch a chord with the youth by making him mouth platitudes like, “Why is our youth angry… because they are alienated… They are excluded from the political class. They watch from the sidelines… as the powerful drive around in their Lal Battis…” This, and the rest of the attempt to speak up for women and the poor, was an amateurish critique of Nehruvian socialism and the structures it spawned over the decades, which are now falling apart.
All talk of corruption is vacuous in view of the fact that the Gandhi family is personally linked with some of the worst corruption scandals in the nation’s history. Leaving aside past scandals, Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra has made fabulous wealth in real estate in the past few years in deals questioned by IAS officers of high integrity. Moreover, in none of the serial scams rocking UPA-I and UPA-II did the two-term MP from Amethi take a stand.
At Jaipur, his speech writers projected a rosy view of the world. Ignoring serious problems associated with the Aadhar project which is being imposed without parliamentary sanction – such as experts’ warning that fingerprints can be picked up and superimposed elsewhere – Rahul Gandhi eulogised it as a mechanism for direct cash transfer. He called it a revolution, oblivious of its sustainability and long-term disempowering effect on the people.
Surprisingly, none of his media admirers even mentioned that in his long eulogy on his father and mother, Rahul Gandhi said that India was “worthless” in 1984 (when his grandmother died and his father took over), because it did not have cars and other trappings of wealth and modernity. Today, he averred, “India is not like what it was in 1984. We are no longer worthless”. This writer is speechless.
As Rahul Gandhi coyly slides into the role of shadow Prime Minister, it would be appropriate to ask him to end the opacity associated with his life and at least offer the details of his educational qualifications for public scrutiny. At Jaipur, he revealed that he loved badminton and regularly played with the men who later assassinated Indira Gandhi, a remark that enraged Punjab deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal who felt that he (Rahul Gandhi) should also have expressed regret for the anti-Sikh pogrom that followed.
The moot point, however, is that Rahul Gandhi later took admission in St Stephen’s College via the sports quota for rifle shooting. When and where did he receive this training and why did he never enter any competition in this regard? He left St Stephen’s College after a year and went abroad, and managed an MPhil degree in Development Studies from Cambridge University, Britain, though to this day not a single person has surfaced anywhere in the world to say that Rahul Gandhi was his/her classmate at ‘x’ college.