The Congress vice president, Rahul Gandhi, has many more miles to walk so as to redeem himself in the eyes of the Indian people. He is perceived to be a reluctant politician, who has been unable to come to terms with the ground realities as they exist in this country. However, like his speech at the AICC session on 17 January 2014, his performance at the Berkeley University campus did provide glimpses of his political evolution. It is another matter whether he would continue to speak as coherently and more importantly, act in a similar vein in the future as well.
Rahul’s Berkeley address was an attempt by him to set the record straight that he was not as dim-witted and politically naive as he is perennially projected on social media. In fact, he made it amply clear that his image diminishment was the handiwork of thousands of Sangh activists, who at the instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi were actively engaged in portraying him as an incapable leader without a mind of his own. In other words, the bottom line being that he was a victim of false propaganda unleashed against him to ensure that he was damaged beyond repair.
However, what he did not refer to is also equally true—that many senior leaders within his own party, particularly some close to Sonia Gandhi, had initiated, during the early part of the UPA-2 regime, a silent campaign to malign him. They evidently were intimidated by his imminent rise, which would have marginalised them and thus wanted to portray him in a poor light. For the execution of this exercise, the media was utilised. The BJP took over the anti-Rahul game much later and continues to play it consistently in order to ensure that there is no way that he emerges on the political terrain.
Rahul’s Berkeley speech was significant since he praised the Prime Minister for his ability to be an outstanding communicator, who in the same breath could send varied messages to various sorts of people in a single audience. Indeed, Modi excels in connecting to the masses and has the gift of seamlessly selling dreams. However, the Congress vice president noted that the Prime Minister was continuing to carry on with some of the schemes initiated by the UPA and designed for a designated period. They, therefore, had become outdated, resulting in the fact that he too was given to second thoughts, though the present government was continuing to push through the Congress architecture without recognising the inherent flaws.
The most salient feature of his speech was that he had the courage to admit that arrogance contributed to the rout of his party in the last Parliamentary elections. According to Rahul, arrogance had crept in the government by 2012 and this became a major factor in alienating the masses. While criticising Rahul, Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani remarked that he had described the government supported by his mother as “arrogant”. On the contrary, for any leader to concede any negative factor is in itself a quality which is virtually unheard of. It was a moment of unmatched humility, something from which other politicians too can take a leaf, thus acknowledging and accepting their failures if things do not head in accordance with plans.
Rahul was also hauled up for referring to the dynastic reality that exists not only in India but the entire subcontinent. It is another issue that even in the United States, the dynastic brand of politics was witnessed when George Bush junior followed in his father George Bush senior’s footsteps to become the 43rd President of America.
So far as India is concerned, dynasty is not confined to the Nehru-Gandhi family alone. Within the BJP, the Scindias are the prime example, though there are other instances such as Kalyan Singh and son Rajbeer Singh, Rajnath Singh and Pankaj Singh, Gopinath Munde and Pankaja Munde, Pramod Mahajan and Poonam Mahajan, Prem Kumar Dhumal and Anurag Thakur, Yashwant Sinha and Jayant Sinha and B.S. Yeddyurappa and B.Y. Raghavendra. Then, there are the Abdullahs and the Muftis in Kashmir, the Badals in Punjab, the Karunanidhis in Tamil Nadu, the Pawars in Maharashtra, the Yadavs in both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and so on... This is a fact and beyond politics as well, it is reflected in various other spheres such as the film industry, business houses, the medical and legal professions etc.
Being merely a dynast is not a one way ticket to stratospheric heights. As the saying goes, one has to work like a slave to live like a king. Indira Gandhi was able to outshine her father because she caught the imagination of the people. Being Nehru’s daughter may have initially helped her, but her stature was self-acquired through her own brand of persevering politics.
Rahul’s free-wheeling interaction perhaps would have gone unnoticed, had it not been for the BJP’s strong condemnation of it. If he is a non-entity and a “Pappu”, as painted by his detractors, the head-scratching question is: why did his visit to Berkeley spark such vitriolic retaliatory responses? For some reasons, Indian leaders tend to shed their inhibitions and say their piece when overseas; this is so from Modi to Rahul. Therefore, his speech should be seen as his endeavour to set perception issues straight. The final verdict on him, like everyone else, would be pronounced by the people of India. Between us.