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Mainstream, VOL LV No 43 New Delhi October 14, 2017

Why Indians may be looking for a Rahul Gandhi

Saturday 14 October 2017, by Badri Raina

For a momentous three years or more, the Republic has been in a swoon of sophistry, a bubble of bombast. Not without effect, since Indians across classes and castes actually came to be taken in by a new style of leadership that made of words, gestures, slogans, and fake assertions an irresistible mix of mesmeric iteration. A leadership that came to draw the same sort of unthinking allegiance from citizens that in India is reserved for godmen and dispensers of magical potion.

In contrast to the flamboyant theatricality of such leadership, the tiny pinpricks of fact sought to be communicated by a diminutive Rahul Gandhi were quickly made the stuff of comedy by the spinmasters of the ruling dispensation. Rahul’s tactless exertions came to be propagated, if you like, as a pretender David throwing pebbles at a messianic Goliath descended from the heavens to set right a realm hitherto ruined by the Nehru-Gandhi family. This indeed came to be the dominant narrative in much of India’s media, the electronic channels especially, as snigger and smirk came to dislodge any truthful and fair-minded attention to the historical moment confronting the country. Such segments of the political and social class who euphorically felt that they were now all set to make killings without let or hindrance set aside what residual anxieties they may have entertained about the prospects for Democracy in India. The rich deserved what they have and were set to have, and the poor had only themselves to blame for their so annoying destitution. The small tribe of carpers among the middle sections were easily enough labelled as those Leftists who, being enemies the nation, had no right to a voice.

But there are signs that after the hurricane there is devastation look where you will. All spells by definition have a short shelf-life, and the blinkers seem to be coming off, From the daily wager in the vast informal economy to the farmer, to the retailer, to the service sector, employee and all the way to the chief owners of assets and productive mechanisms, there is the growing recognition that the hurricane was a hurricane and not a bonanza, leaving behind distress and mayhem. And most to the point, suddenly, the magic of theatrical pronouncements seems to come up short as scrutiny begins to occupy greater space in the public consciousness.

It is in this sort of climate change that one hears more and more a longing among citizens for a simple word truthfully spoken and meant. After the power of the epic, Indians are beginning to want to hear some plainly spoken prose. What has hitherto seemed Rahul Gandhi’s lack of charm begins to acquire the virtues of truthfulness. One is reminded of Carlyle’s characterisation of Oliver Cromwell as the type of hero who may have lacked mesmerising articulation but whose transparent “sincerity” of purpose made of him a hero. As the blinkers wear off, Rahul Gandhi’s hard work and simpliclty of address find greater reception than hitherto. What seemed the stuff of derision comes to find greater honour among wider sections of the citizenry who find their pockets not only emptied but ill-served by the new generation of godmen who had promised the very heaven. And, if there is one thing that the canny little man and woman is always alert to is the size and content of the pocket, as it should be. Suddenly, Rahul Gandhi’s oft-repeated criticisms of the cultural and economic content of the policies and preferences of the current regime seem worth listening to and considerably better informed and analysed than may have been the case. This topsy-turvey moment in the credibility graphs of the two camps may indeed, sooner than later, come to initiate a shift in the zeitgeist.

A telling remark that one now hears with greater frequency is the following: imagine that the current ruling dispensation had ruled India for as long as the Congress did, would we have the republic we still do, give or take? If you like, the short line looks short next to a long one, but the long one looks short next to a longer line. As in most things, perceptions come to be relativised after the claims of Shangrila vanish with the wind. A hovel in hand then comes to have real value next to the castle in the air.

Whereas Rahul Gandhi’s critique is for the most part well placed, it is in constructive policy-formation that he and the party he leads will need to put in great thought, after the ravages of the last three years; The Indian National Congress, to reiterate the cliché, has always been a conglomerate of the Left, the Right, and the Centre, and non-sensical as this might seem, it is that fact which enabled it to bring the republic to the point it was in 2014, But, when time comes for it to take charge again, these diverse strands within the party will need to come to a mutual grand consensus. It will not be easy for Rahul Gandhi to find a troublefree path to an economic theory that may meet the purpose of redressing in a totalised way the neo-liberal record of practice which Rahul Gandhi often criticises. It is well to say that it is here that his leadership and hold within the party will be most tested and challenged from within the Congress itself, and where his exertions to build a wider coalition of progressive politics will come to be most in need.

There is reason to believe that Rahul Gandhi is aware of these conundrums even if he may not now be quite in the know of how best to manage them. It would be wise to put together a team—and there is hardly any dearth of economists within the party—to begin work on the intimate details of how various segments of the economic life of the nation may be handled to produce the maximum benefit for the impoverished millions and to reduce, as per Article 39 of the Constitution, the unconscionable inequality of income distribution in India which as of now has the dubious distinction of being the second most unequal society in the world.

Also, the task of re-binding the unravelling social and communal fabric of the nation will not be an easy one. In the long term, this will require infusing secularism with equity and justice, and lifting the systems that operate the Republic to a level of impartiality and efficiency that can bear transparent and unthwarted scrutiny by autonomous Institutions with wide public credibility

Momentous and potentially life-changing months await the nation.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

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