Behave or I'll turn into my granny: Rahul's message to Congress

Remember those old telegrams meant for runaway sons – mother critical, beta come home?

Rahul Gandhi has just issued his version – party critical, granny come home.

In the latest episode of our national timepass, Rahul-watching, we have learned that Rahul Gandhi is getting serious about kicking butt in his moribund party.

“I am not like the Congress president, who is soft. I am not going to be soft. I will not tolerate indiscipline. I will take tough action. I will punish those who act against the party’s interest,” he told a meeting with Delhi leaders according to media reports.

And to really put the fear of G into them, he pointed to a picture of Indira Gandhi and said “She is my role model.”

Rahul is clearly trying to demonstrate he is no mummy’s boy even though he told a Congress leader recently that he shaved off his beard even though he preferred his bearded look because his mother did not like it. Sadly, in his effort to come out from under his mother’s shadow he ran full tilt into his dadi’s arms.

A combo picture of Rahul Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. AFP/Getty Images

A combo picture of Rahul Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. AFP/Getty Images

Rahul’s father memorably said in a much-mocked burst of machismo towards Pakistan mein unko nani yaad dila doonga. Rajiv was just blustering about other people's grandmothers. Rahul, stumbling along in his father's footsteps, has actually resurrected his own.

If anything screams this is a party flailing for leadership, it is that its vice-president needs to exhume a woman assassinated in 1984 to try and instill fear in its ranks in 2013. Indira Gandhi does not need Rahul’s help to cement her legacy. Her popularity remains undimmed despite her very mixed record. But clearly, the party has bee running on empty since then at least when it comes to tough leaders. Even Rahul’s own father didn’t make the toughness cut. The genuine toughie in the Congress pantheon, Sanjay has anyway been kidnapped by the enemy camp via Varun Gandhi.

The problem with Rahul’s sudden testosterone boost, is it’s hard to take it seriously because he has long become, as noted before on this site, “the master of the meaningless gesture” who operates in fits and starts of enthusiasm that rapidly peter away as the crown prince disappears on yet another Roman Holiday.

As India Today pointed out, in 2012 Rahul missed the President’s Address to Parliament, the Prime Minister’s dinner for UPA allies, and the contentious Railway Budget speech. By the end of the parliamentary session he was in Thailand.

Lakshmi Chaudhry summed him up as “a child itching to finish his homework so he can run free. Or of a reluctant bada beta dutifully putting in the required hours at the family bijness to make Papa (in this case, Mama) happy.”

If this is a last-ditch attempt to pump up his machismo before a head-to-head comparison with Narendra Modi, a man certainly not lacking in aggro, it’s going to achieve little.

Especially because his little homily is blatantly untrue. There are many adjectives that have been used to describe Sonia Gandhi. Subramanian Swamy has a choice few that he regularly blasts out on Twitter. The lady is supposed to be many things – enigmatic, aloof, Sphinx-like, inaccessible, disinterested, imperious, socialist godmother, goddess Durga, even fiery. But “soft” isn’t a quality one has ever heard about her – whether from her acolytes or her critics. The woman is as tough as nails given all she's survived. Perhaps all the gossip about back-stabbing Manmohan Singh or that Tavleen Singh book is getting to the Gandhis. Perhaps the speech wasn’t as much about an image makeover of Rahul as it was about giving Sonia a bit of a gentler maternal glow.

Whatever its intent, it seems its intended audience blissfully missed its point. Sanjay K Jha writes in The Telegraph “Many of the leaders, who attended the six-hour meeting, came out wondering if Rahul wasn’t happy with his mother’s style of functioning although senior leaders have often explained that Rahul understands the circumstances under which his mother became party chief.”

So Rahul thought he was scolding his party into shape. His party instead of being chagrined and pulling up their socks, wondered if he was complaining about mummy because the Congress interprets everything through the Gandhi filter. When Rahul had said last month the party should not wait for a saviour who would come in on a horse, his “leaders” didn’t hear it as him declining to be their knight in shining armour. Instead they promptly wondered if he meant he’d be a more consensual leader like Sonia instead of an authoritarian one like Indira.

So good luck to Rahul as he sets about his goal to “strengthen the Congress” and rid it of “factional conspiracies.” However if he wants to know how it got to be that way, someone could helpfully point him in the right direction. They could remind him of that same grandmother he is now so eager to emulate. This is where a little “daadi yaad dila dunga” would actually be on point.

Independence Day