Four summers ago, between April 23 and 25, Rahul Gandhi organised a two-day Youth Congress meet at a most unlikely venue – a Jain Ashram in Mohan Kheda, 87 kms from Indore, where he addressed 50-odd youth leaders on the first day and then drove off to Bhopal to attend a series of party functions. The Ashram has a strict regimen of discipline. No food grown in soil like onion, potato or any other root variety is cooked or served. The inmates are supposed to eat their last meal before sunset and they are to rise before sun rise and attend the prayer service.
Six months prior to that, a similar camp was held in Pune, at an ashram dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, where the YC men had to tend cows, remove cow dung from the shed and stand in queue, utensil in hand, for food. Those who did not clean the cow dung were denied food as per Ashram rules.
For the young Congress brats, most of them nocturnal animals and used to non-veg food and luxury hotels, the Ashram trial was a cultural shock. No conventional politician would have chosen such eerie coaching for future leaders. But the youngsters did not grudge, for they knew it was part of Rahul’s “Discovery of India” voyage and an earthy way to expose them to the social, cultural and religious diversities and above all, tame their egos. Whether such oddball methods can help groom future leaders is debatable. Yet, these experiments and some of his comments in the last three years unveil a rarefied facet of the Gandhi scion unknown to the millions of trolls, who mock and lampoon him.
He was appointed Congress general secretary in 2007 and as he rose in the party hierarchy to become vice president in 2013, he simultaneously traversed a parallel spiritual track, an inward mind-space journey that may have apparently made him a better human person but blunted his political instincts. A passionate practitioner of ancient Buddhist meditation, he has on and off disappeared into the mountains of undisclosed South East Asian countries for contemplation. As a result, he seems to have imbibed a disproportionate SQ (spiritual quotient).
Unlike his peers, Rahul has displayed no “burning desire” to grab power. Even after repeated electoral debacles and many disgruntled leaders deserting the party, he is unfazed.
Some in the Congress wonder if Vipaasana meditation has oxidized his political instincts. His forays into the subliminal have not paid any electoral dividends. Some domain experts warn of side-effects of excessive meditation, such as that the practitioner let her or his guard down and stop using common sense, listening more to instincts and “going too far with non-attachment”.
According to ‘Law of Attraction’ aficionados some of Rahul’s actions are self-sabotaging. He began his innings as Congress vice president on a negative note. In his speech at the AICC conclave in Jaipur on January 20, 2013, he declared that power is poison. “While every one of you congratulated and hugged me (after his elevation as VP), my mother came to my room and she cried. She cried because she understands that the power that so many people seek is actually a poison, she can see it, what it does to a people around and to the people they love………” the Gandhi scion said.
From the same venue, he summed up everything that is wrong with the party. A tactless, but brutally candid assessment, he said: “Congress is a strange party. It is the world’s biggest political outfit but it does not respect any rules, any norms. Nobody here knows what is the rule in the party. It is a funny organisation. At times I wonder how it runs, how does it win elections, how does it defeats its opponents.”
A dynast himself, he has been trying to dismantle dynasty in the Congress. He opted to remain a bachelor and has for a long time been pressing for internal party elections – from block to high-powered Congress Working Committee – a proposal the old guards stonewalled as they fear that weakening the family grip on the party will be a recipe for disaster. In March 2013, during a huddle with a clutch of party MPs in the Central Hall of Parliament, Rahul said he wants to end the ‘high command culture’ and that he is not hankering after PM post. He regretted that he owed his position in the party due to family lineage.
”I am a parachute”, he rued. Indicating that he has no immediate marriage plans, he told them: “If I get married and have children, I will be status quoist and will like my children to take my place.”
In February 2013, he snubbed then Uttrakhand chief minister Vijaya Bahuguna for suggesting that he become the PM. During a closed door party meet, Rahul told Bahuguna: “Do your work, don’t give unsolicited advice. What is the problem with the Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh)? He is doing a good job. I don’t want to hear this again…. You may want to become the PM……”
Few months later, in another meet with Delhi Congress leaders including Sheila Dikshit and J P Agarwal, both fighting turf wars, an exasperated Rahul said: “I don’t care who forms the government, governments come and go but there will be no compromise on organisation.”
Congress insiders say he was never enamoured of power and they claim two reasons for it: – First that he grew up in country’s most powerful family and has seen power from close quarters. His great grandfather, grandmother and father were prime ministers and that power did not appear to him something great to him and second that as a lad he saw two assassinations in the family, dealing a devastating mental blow that may have triggered an unconscious loathing for power. Yet, Congress mandarins believe that he can be repackaged if he reformats his software.
The author is an independent journalist.