Monday, October 28, 2013

Rahul, emotion buys sympathy not votes

By Swapan Dasgupta

There are many Indians who are partial to conspiracy theories. For them, every major happening —from the Partition of India in 1947, a subversion crafted by Lord Mountbatten, to the results of the 2009 g can be attributed to sinister manipulations general election, a consequence of rigged Electronic Voting Machines.

A variation of the great belief in unending conspiracies is the ‘Who advised?’ question. This is premised on the touching belief that men and women in important positions can do wrong on their own. If they miscalculate, it is due to the proverbial ‘wrong advice’. Consequently, after every act of folly there is the inevitable search for the guilty adviser.

The temptation to point an accusing finger at someone else is laughable. Every leader and even ordinary individuals are beneficiaries of advice, some completely gratuitous and others seemingly professional. The head of a business asks for inputs from his company executives, the Finance Minister employs a Chief Economic Adviser and the Prime Minister has his entire Cabinet, apart from functionaries such as the National Security Advisers and the Economic Advisory Council comprising people who have domain knowledge.

The real test of leadership lies in knowing which advice to accept, which to modify and which to reject outright. That decision belongs to the person holding a leadership position and no one else. The consequences of good choice or a misjudgement are borne by the leader and not the person who proffered the advice. To suggest otherwise is to imply that a leader is not really a leader but a puppet that can be easily manipulated and remote controlled.

To be fair to him, I don’t think it can be seriously suggested that Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi is not his own man. From his self-confessed “game changer” speech during the Lokpal debate in the Lok Sabha to his imperious dismissal of his own government’s Cabinet decision as “nonsense”, Rahul has shown that he cares little for advisers—unless, of course, his advisers too have a bizarre sense of appropriateness. No, Rahul, it would seem has a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong and they seem to stem from a blend of impulse, convictions and his own life experiences.

It is indeed possible that his nameless advisers may have suggested that he should personalise his speeches to counter Narendra Modi’s anecdotal references to his own humble beginnings at a tea stall in Gujarat. But how Rahul chose to interpret this suggestion was his own doing.

The most important feature of Rahul’s sleeves-rolled-up, combative interventions at Congress rallies in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh was his fierce sense of family entitlement. For the Congress’ undeclared prime ministerial candidate, the history of India since 1947 is inextricably linked to the Nehru-Gandhi family. Thus, the discourse on communalism and terrorism is centred on the assertion that his own family has been the victim of murderous forces and that—despite the SPG cover—he too may be a casualty of such forces of hatred the Opposition and particularly the BJP are so anxious to promote.

That a person who experienced his grandmother’s tragic assassination at the hands of previously friendly bodyguards who played badminton with him, and who had to cremate his father’s bomb-torn body, deserves a large measure of personal sympathy is undeniable. People may also share his disappointment that his mother who contributed immeasurably to the enactment of the Food Security legislation was unable to press the Aye button in the Lok Sabha on account of illness.

If an election was to be decided through an Index of Family Suffering, there is little doubt that Rahul would be a strong contender. However, the governance of India isn’t or shouldn’t resemble the story line of a 1960s Bollywood movie where the good Nirupa Roy sheds fulsome tears, Pran is the bad Thakur casting leery looks at village belles, until he is thrashed by the orphaned son of a brave man who was killed by a conglomerate of villains.

Since the history of India can be capsuled into the history of the Gandhi family, it would be instructive for Rahul to consider the fact that the murders of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were the handiwork of forces that were nurtured by the two prime ministers themselves. The rise of Bhindranwale and the Khalistani movement were encouraged by Indira Gandhi to outflank the Akalis; and the training and arming of the LTTE was done at the behest of both Indira and Rajiv as part of a neighbourhood Great Game. They were both victims of a blowback.

India has witnessed the political use of hate. But the first family has not lagged behind in manipulating primordial sentiments for electoral advantage, including creating a scare on the strength of unofficial intelligence briefings. The history of India is far more complex and convoluted than the annals of one family as recounted over a family lunch.  

There is nothing improper for a political leader to attack opponents. That is part of democracy. Yet there are limits to popular gullibility. Rahul seems to believe that his family’s sacrifice entitles the family to a divine right to rule uninterruptedly and without regard to performance. India is not a family jagir. Nor is that jagir served by occasional stomach upsets and mosquito bites received from day trips to the boon docks.

Rahul Gandhi must learn to realise that the Indian voter should be accorded a measure of respect. They can’t be patronised. 

Sunay Pioneer, October 27, 2013

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