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Wrong role model for Rahul

It appears that both mother and son, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, have chosen the wrong role model – Indira Gandhi – from their family. While Sonia seemingly imbibed all the unsavoury traits of Indira during her stay in her mother-in-law’s house when she  was new to the country and unfamiliar with its history and politics, the explanation for Rahul’s admiration for his grandmother is somewhat different.

However, both have given enough indications to suggest that they regard Indira as the ideal person to emulate. Surprisingly, neither has mentioned Jawaharlal Nehru, who towers over all the other family members in intellect and idealism. Sonia’s preference for socialistic precepts can be traced to Indira’s influence. Hence her liking for bank nationalisation, to which laudatory references have been made in the government’s Bharat Nirman advertisements. Earlier, she had said that India succeeded in withstanding the baneful effects of global recession because of Indira’s ‘wisdom’ in nationalising banks.

The attitude underlines an unthinking acceptance of the events of 1969. What Sonia ignores is the fact that Indira’s decision was motivated not by economic but political reasons. The then prime minister flaunted her nationalisation move as a tool in her fight against the so-called Syndicate, comprising the party bosses who were bent on ousting her. While doing so, she used the jargon of socialism which included the categorisation of the Syndicate as ‘reactionary’. Four decades later, these terms and the concept of nationalisation have lost their relevance. If Sonia still harks back to that period, it is somewhat unsettling because it shows that she hasn’t come to terms with the post-1989 world. Hence, her initial opposition to the nuclear deal, which reflected Indira’s anti-Americanism, and the advocacy of populist measures like the rural employment scheme although it entails huge unproductive expenditure in the countryside.

‘How many ditches will you dig ? How many ponds will be you rebuild?’, asked the rural development minister, Jairam Ramesh, in exasperation in the context of the rural scheme. If Sonia is imitating Indira’s faux socialism, Rahul is doing something worse. He is seeking inspiration from one of Indira’s most disagreeable traits – authoritarianism. Addressing a group of Congressmen recently, Rahul informed them that he was not as lenient as Sonia and would be tough on dissenters.

‘Look at the photograph’, he said, pointing at Indira’s picture. ‘She is my role model. I am not like the Congress president, who is soft. I am not going to be soft. I will not tolerate indiscipline’. The flexing of muscles recalled his earlier observation that the ‘high command culture’ had evolved in the Congress because of the ‘severe assault’ on his grandmother by ‘destabilising forces’. Continuing, he had said, ‘I knew her and if I would have been in her place, I would have also done likewise’.

Considering that Rahul was five years old when Indira confronted the ‘destabilising forces’ by imposing the Emergency, he was not in a position to assess her political actions.

But, if he is displaying the same immaturity now, the reason is that he hasn’t studied the events of that period of history with sufficient detachment. What he should factor in while articulating the official party line is that Indira’s response to her political opponents was to launch a ‘severe assault’ on Indian democracy, an act of iniquity for which she and her party had to pay a heavy price in 1977. When Rahul says, therefore, that he would have done the same if he was in her place, he is expressing a dangerous propensity. It can be said, of course, that his comments need not be taken seriously, especially when he says that he will not be soft like his mother on factionalism. An essential prerequisite for a hardliner is to be successful in politics. If Indira could take on the ‘destabilising forces’ with considerable success before making the fatal mistake of imposing the Emergency, it was because she was immensely successful in politics – sweeping away opponents in her own party and outside from her path in the 1971 election and then emerging as Goddess Durga, in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s words, by cutting Pakistan in half.

In contrast, Rahul’s toughness is unlikely to be seen as threatening since his political career can hardly be regarded as a story of success. The only time when he aroused some hope in the Congress was when the party won in 22 Lok Sabha constituencies in UP in 2009. But, that was a year when the Congress was performing well enough to be able to win more than 200 Lok Sabha seats. Since then, it has been all downhill for Rahul. First, there was a setback in Bihar and, more recently, in UP. None of the Congress’s recent victories in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka can be ascribed to Rahul’s intervention.

No withstanding all its indiscipline, which Rahul wants to tame, the Congress has been faring not too badly in recent months. If he now tries to emulate his grandmother, he may hurt the party, just as she did in 1975-1977. IPA
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