Millennium Post

A sheltered existence

The regret expressed by law minister Salman Khurshid about Rahul Gandhi confining himself to playing only 'cameo roles' instead of providing the Congress with a 'new ideology' is unwarranted. There is a simple explanation why the heir apparent has not been proactive as a party general secretary. It is that he does not have to prove anything. Where other members of the party have to showcase whatever talent they have, whether it is their oratorical skills or organisational capabilities, in order to climb the so-called greasy pole, Rahul has no such need since, in his case, the top position is already assured.

This is the difference between an ordinary member and a special person like Rahul. As is known, whether it is in a political party or a corporate office, it is almost always an uphill journey for an ordinary member, unless he is exceptionally talented. Otherwise, right from the beginning of his career, it is a struggle to prove himself – a difficult task because, as a callow youngster, he is liable to make mistakes at the start.

To make matters worse, there may be jealous competitors who are ready to take any opportunity to trip him up, or an unsympathetic boss, who may be under pressure himself from his superiors. As anyone who has had to run what is called a 'rat race' knows, building a career is never easy. But, not when the person is the chosen one, as in Rahul’s case. Nowadays, even the boss’s son in a corporate office is put through the mill at the beginning even if he is assured of favourable treatment later on. But, there has been no such trainee periods for Rahul. Even if he is at present just a general secretary, there is little doubt among his seniors that his views count for more than theirs. The situation is not unlike what happens in an organisation – either an office or an educational institution – where the quota system is in operation. Since an applicant belonging to a favoured group is assured of an initial entry, and perhaps even of subsequent promotions, he has far less initiative than others to prepare himself by studying hard or diligently learning the basics of office work.

One reason why the Anglo-Indian community in British India did not make a mark in the academic field was that its members were assured of a job either in the police services or the railways once they passed the matriculation examination, as the school-leaving tests were known at the time. Since employment was assured, few would waste time studying.

It was the opposite in the case of the European Jews. As David Edmonds and John Eidinow said in their book, Wittgenstein’s Poker, 'Because the Jews were originally excluded from the civil service and the higher ranks of the army, it was in education and the intellectual professions that those of Jewish descent, if no longer of Jewish faith, made their way'.

In India, the Parsis prove the veracity of this observation. As a small and distinct ethnic group, they have risen to be a prominent community by the dint of their own merit without the benefits of reservation.

It may be unkind to see Rahul’s place in the Congress in terms of the quota system. But, at least the similarity with the feudal order is obvious. It has been argued that the members of the dynasty still have to win elections. Up to now, none of them has ever lost an election. But, their party has begun to do so, starting from 1977 at the national level. And a possible reason is that the security of tenure  provided by the certainty that the post of the party president and even that of the prime minister are theirs for the asking has made the members of the first family uncaring about carefully assessing the imperatives of the political and economic scene.

As a result, they tend to take the easy way out to retain the grip on power – proposed quotas for Muslims, doles in cash and kind as under the rural employment scheme and the food security bill.
But, these are palliatives which hark back to a time of low growth and are out of sync with the present-day India of middle class affluence, which acts as an incentive to the underprivileged to make use of the opportunities provided by the entrepreneurial enterprises fostered by the higher growth rate. But, a leadership rooted in the feudal traditions of paternalism is apparently unable to grasp the nature of a changing India.

To provide a new ideology, as Khurshid wants Rahul to do, the not-so-young prince will have to check out of his sheltered existence – an occasional night spent in a Dalit home is not enough – and participate in the hurly-burly of politics, as a new employee in a corporate office does when he experiences the pull and pressures and intrigues of his place of work.
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