By Swapan Dasgupta
Most of us have at some time or other heard variations of the story about the student who prepared for the examination by cramming one essay, perhaps one on the cow, the Qutb Minar or the Taj Mahal. Whatever the demands of the question paper, he would invariably veer his answer to regurgitating the one essay he had committed to memory—with comic consequences.
It is possibly unfair to suggest that Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent of the country's largest political firm, has some traits in common with the 'commit to memory, vomit to paper' school of learning. The MP for Amethi is 40 years old—only nominally younger than David Cameron – with an M.Phil in Development Studies from Cambridge. Last heard, he even took time off from campaigning in Bihar to sit on the selection panel of the Rhodes scholarships to Oxford. His private office boasts many bright young things with American degrees who discreetly provide him weighty intellectual inputs on a range of subjects.
Yet, ever since he wowed the editorial classes with his Kalavati speech in Parliament two years ago, there is a disconcerting impression that Rahul baba (as he is endearingly called in political circles) is delivering the same speech repeatedly—whatever the provocation and regardless of the occasion.
The speech follows a set template: there are two Indias, one which is shining (and which is partial to the BJP) and one which is still in poverty, the one he, his mother and the family firm identifies with. He made this speech in to adivasis in Niyamgiri, at various election rallies in dusty small towns and, last week, at the hurriedly convened AICC session at a refurbished Commonwealth Games venue in Delhi. To be fair, he was not billed to address the AICC but such was the spontaneous clamour from the delegates that he had to bow to the mob. Predictably, he fell back on his default speech about the two Indias.
Those with an awareness of the philosophy of paternalism will know that the two-India spiel didn't originate in the Bharat-India schism that tub-thumping populists love to invoke. The theme resonates in the poetry of Rudyard Kipling: the voluble and comic Bengali 'baboo' versus the sturdy, noble savage on the Frontier. Lord Curzon, another Englishman who, like Kipling, loved India and perceived imperial rule as a divine mission, contrasted the seditious agitators to the vast, colourful multitudes, the "real India."
Conventional wisdom holds that the Sonia-Rahul duo are inspired less by Rajiv Gandhi—the man who first spoke about computers ushering India into the 21st century—and more by Indira Gandhi whose pro-poor rhetoric yielded handsome dividends for the Congress.
The original Mrs G was clear about her priorities: to use the state as an instrument of wealth redistribution. She identified maharajas and business people as enemies and made life as difficult for them as possible. Today's Mrs G isn't so vindictive. To preserve dynastic democracy, she has chosen to create a social constituency that is dependent on state-sponsored welfare handouts. Unlike her mother-in-law, Sonia does not berate those who create wealth for India. She has merely ensured that she can play Lady Bountiful with the Government's ever-growing revenues. The National Advisory Council is a parallel Cabinet that advises her how to spend money that has been earned by taxing wealth-creating citizens.
The Gandhis have successfully created two Indias as well. One is the India that through hard work, ingenuity and desire for self-improvement have made it a global success story. This is an India that spans castes, communities and classes. From the increasingly globalised Indian corporates to the small farmer, everyone has chipped in. This is an India that wants an efficient government that lets them get on with their own lives in a stable and secure environment.
On the other hand, there is a parasitic India that feeds on productive India. It is an India that doesn't know how to earn but is adept at the art of spending money contributed by someone else. This is an India that fires rhetorical volleys on behalf of the poor but is silent on the drain of wealth through corruption and profligacy. This is an India that doesn't care about the fiscal deficit, high inflation and high interest rates. They rarely pay their own bills; they don't have EMIs hanging over their heads; and their transport is provided for. This is an India built on entitlements.
There are two Indias: one is banking on empowerment, the other on the perpetuation of deference. By his own admission, Rahul is no bachcha: he knows exactly which India suits him.