Monday, January 28, 2013

A comparative look at India's future and the Gandhi dynasty's future

What a harmonious coincidence that both the Congress and the BJP had their "presidential" sessions the same week and with the same problem facing them: How to resolve a rather shameful situation with the least shame. Indian politicians being men and women of considerable genius, both parties succeeded, though in different ways.

The problem the Congress had to resolve was how to make dynastic feudalism look like democracy. It resorted to the usual technique of asking, Problem? What problem? It also sugarcoated its stance with speeches extolling the noblest philosophical truths about people, justice, equality and duty. The BJP's problem was how to show that their president, nominated for a second term, was as pure as the snow in the Himalayas. Finding the task impossible, it finally summoned the courage to drop him.

Evidently, the two parties have different operational styles. The Congress show was an orchestrated one, leaders speaking in the same accents and airing the same views. All speeches, all views and all body languages focussed on one unchanging theme -- obeisance to the presiding deity. The BJP was very disciplined outside, but daggers drawn inside. Differences of opinion were so strong that some ranking leaders threatened to file nomination papers in opposition to the incumbent president. What stood out was that there was no presiding deity to propitiate.

In the department of speechmaking, the Congress distinguished itself with its ability to state the obvious as though it was announcing a new discovery. Listen to Sonia Gandhi: Women have the right to feel safe and secure; corruption is deeprooted, we must fight it. Listen to Rahul Gandhi: From now on India is my life, the people of India are my life; last night my mother came to my room, she cried; this morning I got up at night, 4 o'clock in the morning; the youth is disenchanted with the system; the poor are confined to poverty. Perhaps some inanities are inevitable in political speeches. Rahul Gandhi did reflect the angst of a disillusioned public and underlined issues that could no longer be ignored.

Back in 1985, Rajiv Gandhi spoke up for similar ideals in a speech that truly electrified the Congress party and the country. He stressed the importance of getting rid of power brokers and middlemen who plundered the country. The inspirational impact of that call lasted only weeks. Power brokers and middlemen took over the very departments Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister handled. The issues that Rahul Gandhi addressed in Jaipur were fundamentally the same as his father addressed in Bombay 27 years earlier. If nothing could change during that period, how will anything change now?

It would be easy to debunk Rahul Gandhi as a Yuvaraj ascending the throne. However, there has been a degree of goodwill in the way his ascendance has been seen by many, including mainstream media. An angry country is looking for a ray of hope. Yuvaraj or dynasty, if Rahul can at least begin to tackle the rise of evil, from corruption to rape, he won't lack public support.

Paradoxically, his very weakness can be his strength. If dynastic power is a negation of democracy, in the Indian-Congress culture it gives unmatched authority. Rahul Gandhi can wield more effective power than Atal Behari Vajpayee or Narasimha Rao could. For no one in his massive party will dare raise a dissenting voice. How will he use that power? Will he use it, first of all, to stop fawning flattery from his party leaders? Will he use it to punish the big guns found guilty of corruption? Will he end the practice of kitchen cabinets and ensure a climate where merit, and merit alone, will decide positions? These may strike him as obvious things to do. But his mother did not do them, and his father could not do them although they had the power. Obviously they did not have the guts. Does Rahul Gandhi have the courage his father did not have? If he has, India's future will be bright. If he does not, the dynasty's future will be dim.