Is Rahul Gandhi a hit and run politician?

Rahul Gandhi over the last few years has made a habit of raking up issues to embarrass the government and his party, by saying something controversial and then disappearing.

Vivek Kaul September 28, 2013 20:43:18 IST
Is Rahul Gandhi a hit and run politician?

Rahul Gandhi is angry again. Yesterday, he barged into a press conference being addressed by Congress general secretary Ajay Maken and announced that the ordinance passed by the Union Cabinet to protect convicted legislators from complete disqualification as “complete nonsense”.

The Supreme Court had ruled on July 10, that an MP or an MLA, if convicted by a court in a criminal offence with a jail sentence of two years or more, would be immediately disqualified. On September 24, the Union Cabinet cleared the the Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2013 to negate the Supreme Court ruling.

This ordinance allows convicted MPs and MLAs to continue in office to the condition that their appeal is admitted by a higher court within a period of 90 days and their conviction is stayed.

Rahul Gandhi felt that this was incorrect and said “I'll tell you what my opinion on the ordinance is. It's complete nonsense. It should be torn up and thrown away. That is my personal opinion.”

"I am interested in what the Congress is doing and what our government is doing. That is why what our government has done as far as this ordinance is concerned is wrong," he went on to add, embarrassing the Prime Minister and his cabinet of ministers, which had cleared the ordinance only a few days back, in the process.

Is Rahul Gandhi a hit and run politician

A lot of analysis has happened since yesterday afternoon, when the Gandhi family scion said what he did. PTI

A lot of analysis has happened since yesterday afternoon, when the Gandhi family scion said what he did. Some people have suggested that “Rahul has his heart in the right place”. Some others have said “what is wrong with calling rubbish, rubbish”. A television anchor known for his loud and aggressive ways called it the “victory of the people”. And still some others have asked the obvious question “how could the government have cleared the ordinance without the consent of Rahul or his mother Sonia Gandhi?”

On the whole, Rahul's decision to call the ordinance “nonsense” and something that should be “torn and thrown away” is being projected as a surprise. While nobody could have predicted what Rahul Gandhi did yesterday, at the same time this can't be termed as a surprise.

Rahul Gandhi over the last few years has made a habit of raking up issues to embarrass the government and his party, by saying something controversial and then disappearing. In July 2008, Rahul visited the house of Kalavati Bandurkar, in the village Jalka in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Her husband had committed suicide in December 2005, hit by crop failure and debt. He left her with a debt of Rs 1 lakh. After visiting her, Rahul highlighted her plight in Parliament and then quickly forgot about her. It was an embarrassment for the Congress Party given that it ruled the state of Maharashtra. Since bringing her into the limelight, Kalavati's daughter and a son-in-law have also committed suicide.

In October 2008, while addressing girl students at a resort near Jim Corbett National Park, Rahul Gandhi referred to “politics” as a closed system in India. “If I had not come from my family, I wouldn’t be here. You can enter the system either through family or friends or money. Without family, friends or money, you cannot enter the system. My father was in politics. My grandmother and great grandfather were in politics. So, it was easy for me to enter politics. This is a problem. I am a symptom of this problem. I want to change it.,” he said. Where is the change? When was the last time the Congress party had an election for the post of its president? If the top post of the party is not democratic, how can the party be expected to be democratic?

On February 5, 2010, Rahul came to Mumbai and travelled in a local train both on the western line (From Andheri to Dadar) and the central line (from Dadar to Ghatkopar). A lot of song and dance was made about him defying the Shiv Sena, but nothing constructive came out of it. The local trains continue to burst at its seams.

On May 11, 2011, Rahul riding pillion on a bike managed to enter the Bhatta-Parsaul villages in Uttar Pradesh, giving the district administration a slip, and challenging the might of Mayawati, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.

The villagers in Bhatta-Parsaul were protesting against the acquisition of land by the state government and the protests had turned violent. A few days later Rahul went to meet the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appraise him of the situation.

After coming out of the meeting he told reporters “The issue here is a more fundamental one with regard to these villages in particular and a large number of villages in UP down the Agra highway, where state repression is being used, where people are being murdered...quite severe atrocities are taking place there....There is a set of 74 (mounds of) ashes there with dead bodies inside. Everybody in the village knows it. We can give you pictures. Women have been raped, people have been thrashed. Houses have been destroyed.” These were serious allegations, but nothing ever came out of them.

On August 26, 2011, Rahul gave a speech in favour of Lokpal in the Lok Sabha, where he said “why not elevate the debate and fortify the Lokpal by making it a Constitutional body accountable to Parliament like the Election Commission of India?” That was the last we heard of Lokpal. Meanwhile, Anna Hazare, continues to threaten to go on another hunger strike if the bill is not passed by the Lok Sabha soon.

More recently, on April 4, 2013, Rahul addressed the Confederation of Indian Industries. It was a 75 minute speech, and one of the things he recounted about was about a journey he made a few years back on the Lokmanya Tilak express from Gorakhpur to Mumbai (Lokmanya Tilak is a station in Mumbai at which many long distance trains coming from the Eastern part of the country terminate). “I spent a large part of the 36-hour journey moving across the train and talking to travellers – youngsters, weary families, and migrants moving from the dust of Gorakhpur to the glitter of Mumbai. Took us 36 hours. It is called an Express!”

Some time later in the speech he said: “I am a pilot. I learnt to fly in the United States, I came back. I wanted to convert my license. So I went to the DGCA and I asked what do I have to do. They gave me the curriculum, I opened the book. A large section in the book talks about how to drop mail from aeroplanes. How many of you are getting your mail dropped from airplanes in the sky?…And it’s not only in pilot training, it’s everywhere. Look at our text books, open them out. Most of the stuff is not really relevant to what they are going to do.”

The things that Rahul said were not only an embarrassment for the current government. The fact that Indian Railways takes so much time or our education system is not up to the mark, has not happened overnight. The degeneration has happened over a period of time, meaning Rahul's great-grandfather(Jawahar Lal Nehru), his grandmother (Indira Gandhi), his uncle (Sanjay Gandhi), his father (Rajiv Gandhi) and his mother (Sonia Gandhi), who have been de-facto heads of government at various points of time since India's independence, are responsible for it.

But then we all know that? How does just pointing out the obvious help anybody? Where are the solutions? As The Economist wrote after Rahul's CII speech “Gandhi could have spelled out two or three specific measures, ideally in some detail, that he would support—for example, getting an Indian-wide goods-and-services tax accepted; promoting investment in retail or other industries; or devising a means by which infrastructure could be built much quicker. If he were really brave, he might have set out thoughts on ending bureaucratic uncertainty over corruption, or on land reform.”

But all Rahul seems to do is hit and run. He says something on an issue, embarrasses his party, his government or his ancestors and moves on. Rahul Gandhi is not a serious politician. He is in politics because he cannot do anything else or is expected to continue the family tradition and keep the flag flying.

One can only speculate on the reasons for his lack of interest, given his reclusive nature. From his father and grandmother being assassinated to the fact that the future generations are no longer interested in what their forefathers built, be it business or politics.

I am more tempted to go with the latter reason. Rasheed Kidwai, makes this point in the new edition of his book 24 Akbar Road. As he writes "It is said that the conqueror Taimur the ‘Lame’ once spoke to the famous historian and sociologist Ibn Khuldun about the fate of dynasties. Khuldun said that the glory of a dynasty seldom lasted beyond four generations. The first generation inclined towards conquest; the second towards administration; the third, freed of the necessity to conquer or administer, was left with the pleasurable task of spending the wealth of its ancestors on cultural pursuits. Consequently, by the fourth generation, a dynasty had usually spent its wealth as well as human energy. Hence, the downfall of each dynasty is embedded in the very process of its rise. According to Khuldun, it was a natural phenomenon and could not be avoided."

Hence, evolution is at work. As historian and author Ramachandra Guha told me in an interview I did for Firstpost in December 2012 “I think this dynasty is now on its last legs. Its charisma is fading with every generation. And Rahul Gandhi is completely mediocre.”

That to a large extent explains Rahul's hit and run mentality and his reluctance to take a more active role in government. After his yesterday's statement, the least that Rahul Gandhi can do is take on more responsibility either by advancing the Lok Sabha elections or becoming a part of the government in some form.

But neither of these things is going to happen because Rahul Gandhi has said what he wanted to and disappeared again. His attitude is best reflected in an interview he gave to the Tehalka magazine in September 2005, in which he is supposed to have remarked “I could have been prime minister at the age of twenty-five if I wanted to.”

The statement created an uproar. The Congress party immediately jumped to the defence of its princeling. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, specifically mentioned that Rahul had not said ‘I could have been prime minister at the age of twenty-five if I wanted to’.

(Tehakla initially stood by its story but backed down later. “This seems to be a clear case of misunderstanding. Mr Gandhi thought he was having a casual chat whereas our reporter took it to be a proper interview,” the weekly said in a statement (The ‘edited’ casual chat can still be read on Tehelka’s website)).

(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

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