The Big Story: The outsider
Delivering a lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, on Tuesday, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi slipped into his favourite role: that of the “reluctant politician”, of the outsider looking in. Asked about dynastic politics, he reportedly said that is how things worked across organisations in India, from political parties to industrial empires. He is then believed to have said, with some drollery, that while some in the Congress did not come from dynasties, others happened to have had a father, grandmother and great-grandfather in politics. “Not much I can do about it,” he said.
Gandhi’s remarks now, good humour notwithstanding, are reminiscent of the sentimental speech delivered to Congress followers in 2013, when he declared that “power is poison”. That was when he was anointed Congress vice president, and not many outside the party were convinced by the image of the noble scion forced to take up the mantle reserved for him. In the four years since then, he has done little to correct the systemic flaws of the party he inherited, let alone the politics he joined.
As Gandhi points out, the Congress stopped having the “conversation” that parties need to have, both within the organisation and with the electorate, sometime in 2012. The Congress Working Committee, once a forum for political brainstorming, is now irrelevant, according to observers, and the party’s decision-making mechanisms remain opaque and centralised. While senior party leaders believe the party should be expanding its base and firming up its internal structures, the Congress’s election strategy in key states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh has been to tie up with regional parties in the hope that it will boost its appeal to a frankly disenchanted electorate.
In the lead up to polls in Assam, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s regional offices bustled with activity while most of the Congress leadership departed for Delhi to take orders from the high command. Even now, many question the wisdom of Gandhi’s two week tour to the United States on the eve of the Gujarat elections. Meanwhile, BJP president Amit Shah, immediately after engineering a spectacular election victory in Uttar Pradesh, started planning a countrywide tour to meet booth-level workers. In state after state, the BJP has reached out, projecting itself as an attractive political prospect, picking off many of the Congress’s own local leaders. The grand old party seemed to have folded into itself, growing increasingly insular, offering few channels for the political ambitions of leaders outside the established dynasties.
Gandhi can no longer pretend to be powerless in the face of a ruthless political machinery. As the anointed leader-in-waiting for years now, he has set the tone of the party and has a considerable say in how it functions. Contrary to his claims at Berkeley, there is much he can do about it.
The Big Scroll
Rohan Venkataramakrishnan on the long wait for Rahul Gandhi to become Congress president.
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- In the Hindu, C Rangarajan on the course correction the Indian economy needs.
- In the Telegraph, Samantak Das on the dangers of silence, in both India and the United States.
Deepanjan Ghosh writes about the misdirected anger against a Jawed Habib advertisement for Durga Puja:
“Bengali children grow up with stories of Durga slaying Mahishasur, the demon who took the form of a buffalo. Durga’s children are treated more like distant cousins than distant gods – each has a distinct character. Ganesh is the plump, obedient, occasionally mischievous, child who is bullied by others. Kartik is always nattily dressed, and perhaps a little vain. Lakshmi is the naughty one and Saraswati the studious, serious one. If one were to think of gods as family, it would logically follow that one could sometimes josh with them, the way Bengalis are known to do.”