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Arun Jaitley's charge that dynastic elevation rendered Rahul Gandhi talentless is vacuous, falls short of reason

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the indefatigable blogger, has, in his latest offering on Sunday, delved deep into the phenomenon of dynastic inheritance — in politics. In doing so, he has drawn on the works of 'social psychologists' David Dunning and Justin Kruger, primarily to explain why Congress president Rahul Gandhi doesn't have what it takes to be a leader, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi does. He needn't have, frankly, because the points he makes are either spurious or vacuous.

The burden of Jaitley's song is that dynastic heirs lack talent and are, therefore, biased against people of competence. In other words, Rahul lacks talent, which is why he crosses 'the line of decency and dignity when he refers to the prime minister'. There is a subsidiary point. Jaitley says there is little place for men of calibre in dynastic parties and asks, in rhetorical fashion, "Is this the reason for the current mood within the party?" What the current mood, in fact, is, is not very unambiguously specified, though.

 Arun Jaitleys charge that dynastic elevation rendered Rahul Gandhi talentless is vacuous, falls short of reason

File image of Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Reuters

Let's take the first charge: It seems to be a rehash of a fairly simple idea, that people with low levels of ability who cannot identify their failings assume postures of 'illusory superiority', which manifest themselves in insecurity and a bias against men of competence and calibre. So far, so good, but hardly so far, so outstanding.

From this premise, Jaitley concludes that Rahul attacks Modi because he himself being devoid of talent and calibre, fails to recognise these qualities in Modi. Talk of scientific temper or logic. Theories, or hypotheses, are usually constructed on the basis of data. With Jaitley, the theory comes first and the facts are just assumed and fitted into it. So, it is not really a demonstrated fact that Rahul is incompetent and Modi some kind of super-competent manifestation, it is just Jaitley's assumption that that’s the way it is. So much for calibre and competence.

So, let's look at the record. There is, of course, no debate about the fact that Rahul would not have been the president of his party had he not belonged to the family he belongs to. There is also very little doubt that it has taken an inordinately long time for him to get into his stride either as a parliamentarian or a party leader. What counts, however, is that since becoming the leader of his party, Rahul has stepped up to the plate. His party has won three important states in north India, which were all being ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). And his orchestration of the assault on the ruling party's citadel has been impressive. One singular fact seems to indicate this.

It will hardly have passed the notice of an observer who is reasonably aware of the political situation that BJP leaders, including Jaitley and Modi, expend a great deal of time, energy and breath singling out Rahul for fusillades of criticism, some of it often vituperative and all of it by definition ad hominem. Why do they bother, if Rahul is incompetent and the Congress is sinking in a morass of gloom?

Let us now approach Jaitley's second proposition: That there are few men of calibre in dynastic parties. There are a number of leaders in the Congress who have made their mark in the political field by dint of hard work, intelligently done. There are also men in the party who have proved themselves in other fields and then carved a place for themselves in the political sphere. At present, we can without much argument place Captain Amarinder Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma and Kumari Selja in the first category. In the second, we can mention Manmohan Singh, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor.

There can be little doubt that similarly there are people of calibre in the BJP as well. But we need to make a point here. There is little good that can be said of the party since its founding in 1980. It has always been a bigoted, sectarian, majoritarian and obscurantist party. But one good thing could be said of the pre-Modi/Amit Shah BJP. It was an internally democratic party, which took decisions through consultations rather than by fiat, even if it has always been the tail that is wagged by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. At no time was all power exercised by a couple of people. Today's BJP has voluntarily ceded all power to two men; it is no more an internally democratic party.

As for talent, just look at the Union Cabinet. Practically everyone in it is a Modi puppet.

But the problem with Jaitley's argument is actually fundamental, because it assumes that anyone who has come into politics because of dynastic connections is necessarily incompetent and devoid of ability. Would he extend this principle to other fields of endeavour? Any number of people in the worlds of sport, entertainment, the professions, the arts and academics follow in the footsteps of their forebears. Are they all incompetents? If the question is about competence, it has to be answered on the basis of observable performance. It cannot be deduced from how or why a person is in a certain field activity or what position he or she occupies.

In any case, let us remind the Union finance minister that there are a host of 'leaders' in his party who have come by their positions and careers through inheritance. It's too long a list with too many names on it to allow enumeration. Should we assume that they are all a bunch of incompetents? There are, too, a host of BJP leaders who actively go about trying to acquire positions of power and privilege for family members. What should we assume about them?

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Updated Date: Mar 25, 2019 12:24:03 IST

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