For fresh thinking, two cheers for Rahul Gandhi (Comment)November 22nd, 2008 - 10:58 am ICT by IANS
Since honesty is not generally associated with Indian politicians, it is always a matter of surprise and admiration when someone deviates from the usual cynical norms to acknowledge a widely accepted truth.Rahul Gandhi’s description, therefore, of the anti-Sikh violence of 1984 as “wrong” is bound to earn him a round of applause. Yet, so pervasive is the prevailing scepticism about political calculations that the comment has been interpreted by some as an attempt to influence Sikhs before the elections to the Delhi and other assemblies.
However, without probing motives, it may be worthwhile to examine Rahul’s observation on its own merit. For a start, its unusualness is evident from the fact that it contradicts his father and late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s admittedly rather insensitive comment that the earth shakes when a big tree falls.
Rajiv’s reference was to the assassination of his mother, then prime minister Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for Operation Bluestar, the army’s assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to rid it of Sikh militants.
Since Rahul has also described Operation Bluestar as a tragedy, he is evidently taking a position which is quite distinct from his party’s. Considering that people who will be affected by this reassessment are his own father and grandmother, the heir apparent of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is chalking out a line of his own whose full implications are not yet clear.
If some of his other remarks are also taken into account - such as the Maharashtra government had erred in seeking to reserve 80 percent of seats in industries for locals - then the young MP would seem to be repositioning his party on several vital issues.
Although he is only one of the Congress’ present tally of 145 MPs in the Lok Sabha, no one is unaware about his importance. That he may well become prime minister in the not-too-distant future like his father, grandmother and great grandfather is generally conceded.
Besides, as a young man of 38, he clearly represents the future of his party and its policies. If he succeeds in introducing an element of truthfulness in the organisation’s thinking, as his latest comments suggest, then he will be taking it back to its earlier days when stalwarts like his great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, commanded wide respect because of their high moral values.
The Congress’ degeneration since then into a party of time-servers is a matter of record. If a change for the better is to be ushered in, it is only the new generation which can do it. However, in this respect, there have been false starts too.
For instance, Rajiv Gandhi had aroused similar hopes of a fresh beginning by his celebrated speech on the occasion of the Congress’ centenary celebrations in Mumbai in 1985 when he bemoaned the party’s decline by saying it was carrying on its back the “brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy”.
Yet, the fact that only a year earlier the anti-Sikh riots had scarred the face of the national capital and that, two years later, Rajiv himself had become involved in the Bofors scandal showed that the expectations aroused by Mr Clean were unreal.
Compared to Rajiv’s position in the 1980s, Rahul is still a ‘bachha’ (a child), a term used by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Rajnath Singh, to describe him. Rahul’s riposte - “yes, I am a bachha. But then 70 percent of the country’s population is bachha. What kind of a message is Rajnath Singh sending?” - showed that he can think on his feet.
But the fact remains that, first, it is too early to say how long it will take for him to have a decisive influence on the party’s policies and, second, how long will he be able to retain his present freshness and disdain for political skullduggery.
It has to be remembered that Rahul himself has been a beneficiary of feudal patronage. If he hadn’t been born in the Nehru-Gandhi family, he wouldn’t have been where he is now. While this heritage gives him greater weight in being able to carry through major changes in the party and its personnel, he will have to ensure that unless the transformation is distinctly and transparently for the better, he is likely to be accused of high-handedness.
Much of what Rahul may or may not achieve is, of course, still in the future. For the present, one can only hope that he opens a few windows to blow away the fetid atmosphere of Indian politics with all its dishonesty and pettiness.
If he can do this even partially, he will be rendering a great service. In the hope of his success, Rahul deserves at least two cheers.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)