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Monday, July 16, 2018

A confusing vision

Let me begin by admitting that I wish I did not have to analyse Rahul Gandhi’s first major address to the nation. It feels too much like kicking a helpless puppy

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published: April 7, 2013 12:52:46 am

Let me begin by admitting that I wish I did not have to analyse Rahul Gandhi’s first major address to the nation. It feels too much like kicking a helpless puppy. But,just as it would be impossible for a film critic to ignore Shah Rukh Khan’s latest film,it is impossible for a political columnist to ignore the first speech made by a man who has been the designated heir of the Gandhi dynasty ever since he entered politics nearly a decade ago.

Rahul Gandhi said last week that his ‘DNA’ was his reason for being in politics. I understood this to mean that he may never have been in politics if it had not been his unfortunate lot to take care of the family business. Lately,since he was appointed vice-president of the Congress party,Rahul has seemed to change from being a very reluctant prince to a much less reluctant future prime minister. Even then,from the moment Rahul took centre stage at last week’s CII meeting it seemed to me as if he were playacting at being a political leader,as if someone had written for him a speech that he did not fully understand.

He began by pronouncing that India was “not a country,but an energy”. And,he went on to explain,the energy that constitutes India comes from her sacred rivers “that we worship”. If only he had remembered this later when he was asked that question about water and he went into a long,meandering discourse about everything except water. He could have told us why governments headed for decades by his family allowed these sources of India’s energy to be reduced to sewers. Was it because,like him,they too thought India was ‘not a country’ but an abstraction in which polluted rivers,filthy villages,chaotic cities and desperate poverty were really irrelevant? If this is Rahul’s ‘vision’ for India,then it has already been realised.

There is more to the vision though,because within seconds of describing India as ‘not a country’,he discovered in it the “largest pool of human capital that mankind has ever known”. On a “dark night on the Gorakhpur Lokmanya Tilak” to Mumbai,he met young people filled with hopes and dreams and realised that it was important to nurture the dreams of men like Girish the carpenter.

This is when my doubts about his ‘vision’ really began. He acknowledged,in an abstract sort of way,that the dreams of young Indians die because they are victims of an obsolete education system,horrible poverty and chronic unemployment. He talked of a broken political system and the importance of democracy filtering down to the villages,but he then took credit on behalf of the UPA government for having created “rights-based governance”. In doing this he appeared to absolve the government of its responsibility to provide the tools that enable young Indians to realise their dreams. The two most important tools are a halfway decent education and a halfway decent job. But Rahul seemed to think the government had done its bit and it was now the responsibility of big business to do the rest. In professorial tones,he advised the richest men in India that if they listened to “the voice of a billion Indians”,their businesses would grow.

He seemed tangentially to have noticed that it was not easy to do business in India because he then made that remark about making it “on the moon” if you can make it here. What he appeared not to have noticed is that no government in recent history has done more to poison the atmosphere for business than the one run on his behalf by his Mummy and Dr Manmohan Singh. Judging from the sycophantic,snivelling praise that Rahul’s speech invoked from the captains of industry,they more than deserve a return to the licence raj,but does India?

Does India deserve a prime minister who started the economic downturn when he went personally to Orissa to order the closure of a factory that could have made India the world’s centre for aluminum production? Does India deserve a leader whose political ideas remain so mysterious and abstract that he thinks of this country as a beehive?

Rahul Gandhi himself has acknowledged often that he does not want to be a politician. So this could be the right time to make a career change. Let him marry a good woman,have children,travel and do all the things that being a politician in a country that is “not a country” appear to prevent him from doing. If his first address to the nation is anything to go by,politics is not for him. The very thought of him being India’s interlocutor in the forums of the world is scary. What would other leaders make of his abstractions?

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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