Millennium Post

Echoes of Rajiv in Rahul’s address

Having covered the historic plenary session of the Congress in December 1985 in Bombay in which Rajiv Gandhi made his frank and forthright ‘power broker’ speech and having listened to Rahul Gandhi at Jaipur AICC meeting last Sunday, I can draw comparison between the two. Though the times have changed, the tone and tenor of the speeches of both father and son were almost identical. While Rajiv read out from a prepared text, Rahul spoke extempore, looking occasionally to the notes he had jotted down. Rajiv spoke of the plans to rid the Congress of power brokers and vested interests; Rahul put the party’s old guards on notice with a forceful plea to change the mindset of the party and for systemic changes in the governance.

Twenty-eight years back, Rajiv told the plenum: ‘Millions of ordinary Congress workers throughout the country are full of enthusiasm for the Congress policies and programmes. But they are handicapped, for on their back ride the brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy. They are self-perpetrating cliques who thrive by invoking the slogan of cast and religion and enmeshing the living body of the Congress in their net of avarice’. ‘For such persons, the masses do not count. Their style, their thinking – or lack of it, their self-aggrandisement their corrupt ways, their linkages with vested interests in society, and their sanctimonious posturing are wholly incompatible work among the people. They are reducing the Congress to a shell from which the spirit of service and sacrifice has been emptied’.

Power, Rahul told his party men, is far too centralised and young people felt alienated from the system. Only a few control political space and ‘We don’t empower people at the bottom. People feel they are outside the system. That happens because we don’t respect knowledge. We respect only position. If you don’t have position, you mean nothing… ’

‘Why people are angry’, he asked and replied, ‘they are angry because they are alienated from the political class. They watch the powerful drive in lal battis. We need to meet their urgent demand for jobs.. they feel alienated from the system, their voices are trampled upon. All our systems – justice, education, politics, administration – are designed to keep people with knowledge out. Mediocrity dominates discussions…’

A generation had changed with Rajiv’s taking over reign from his assassinated mother. With Rahul taking over the baton from his mother, having been appointed Vice-President of the Congress, there has yet been another generational change. A new era has begun as it had dawned 28 years back with young Rajiv Gandhi taking over the leadership of the country.

If Rahul represents a generational shift in terms of age group, he will have to chart a brave new course that is uniquely his own. Every change of guard in the Congress has brought with it new direction and a new slogan. In 1971, Indira Gandhi took a decisive Left turn and swept the country with
garibi hatao.
In 1984, her son Rajiv came as a breath of fresh air with his youthful dreams of taking India into the 21st century. He changed direction subtly, paving the way for huge economic changes that were to follow. Twenty years later, Sonia Gandhi’s aam aadmi proved to be a winner as she too shifted gears to soften the harsh glare of the BJP’s ‘shinning’ India with a slew of government-funded welfare measures.

The aam aadmi seems to have disappeared from the Congress party’s calculus in a deluge of corruption scandals, spiraling food prices and policy paralysis. The task before Rahul is not just to provide leadership, but to craft a new idiom for his party that will give shape and substance to his promise to change.

Sonia won over the aam aadmi with doles from the state. But it must be evident to Rahul that his mother’s politics cannot work for him, not in the new emerging India.

Today, almost 30 per cent of India lives in cities and towns and the number is growing rapidly. Nearly 200 of the 542 Lok Sabha seats are either fully urban or semi-urbanised. And the under-35 age group is around 50 per cent of the population.

This is the constituency that Rahul has to capture – and if the mood of the two big protests that took urban India by storm is any indication, he will have to learn a completely new language to get through.

The politics of patronage perfected by the Congress over decades of single-party rule will not work with this class. The road ahead is a tough one. Innovative ideas are only one part of the solution.

The other is to breathe a new life into an ancient regime to transform it into an instrument of change. Of all the Nehru-Gandhis to rule the Congress, Rahul probably has to work the hardest to earn his political space. (IPA)
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