A behavioural change in someone who was shown catching forty winks in parliament and is nowadays aggressively leading the charge of his party against the government cannot be easily explained. Unlike Indira Gandhi, who gradually left her “gungi gudiya” (dumb doll) days behind as she climbed the ladder of success, her great grandson, Rahul, has made an abrupt transition from his earlier more sober and somnolent days when he was dubbed a reluctant politician to his present belligerence.
There have been other changes, too, in his approach to politics. From the time when he wanted in his youthful zeal to overhaul the Congress’s organisational structure from the grassroots level, he has now evidently accepted the existing arrangement. Remoulding a lumbering, 130-year-old party was evidently beyond his capability.
Not only that. Rahul appears to have decided to put aside his earlier reservations about parties being run by small coteries by deciding to surround himself with a small group of politicians of his generation. Admittedly, he was being somewhat disingenuous when he expressed his earlier wish since his own party is controlled by his mother and himself. It is possible that he has now seen the hypocrisy.
While bowing to the stark reality of Indian politics about families or individuals or close-knit groups running various parties, he has also reinforced the dynastic principle in the Congress since all those accompanying him nowadays on his anti-Modi mission belong to political families. They include Jyotiradiya Scindia, a scion of the Scindia family of Madhya Pradesh, Jitin Prasada, son of Jitendra Prasada (1938-2001), a former vice-president of the Congress, Gaurav Gogoi, son of the Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, and Sushmita Dev, daughter of Santosh Mohan Dev, a prominent Congressman belonging to Assam.
If anything, the line-up shows that feudalism is well and truly entrenched in the Grand Old Party, whose once hallowed reputation has begun to fray at the edges. However, given the changes from being generally restrained to a virtually constant aggressive persona, and from being a believer in remodelling the party to a status-quoist, it can seem that Rahul does not care to follow a straight line. Instead, he tends to swerve away from a given position even if it is a deviation from what previously appeared to be a matter of principle.
It is not known whether he subscribes to John Maynard Keynes’s claim that he changed his mind when the facts changed. But, since the Congress’s heir-apparent is yet to achieve the distinction of being a reputed scholar, his alterations of course can be ascribed to desperate attempts to respond to a critical situation.
Considering that there is little doubt that his party is facing an existential crisis, Rahul’s attempts to find the ways and means of countering it is understandable. Even then, his role as a new avatar can seem like a put-on, a simulated exercise in accordance with the need of the hour.
In view of the belief in the Congress that it lost in 2014 Lok Sabha elections because of a perception problem caused by the leadership’s failure to proclaim the government’s achievements, Rahul may have thought that it was time to dispense with the party’s earlier inadequacies like Manmohan Singh’s meekness and Sonia Gandhi’s poor communication skills because of her halting Hindi. Hence, Rahul’s belligerence.
Rahul may also want to dispel the notion among sections of Congressmen, as well as the general public, that his sister, Priyanka, is more charismatic and has a greater capacity to reach out to the audience. But, the problem with his latest combativeness is that, for a start, he may not be able to sustain it if it is largely an acquired temperament and not a habitual one, as seems likely. It may gel with the innate arrogance of someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth and is surrounded by yes-men, but making aggressiveness a permanent part of his personality will be a difficult and, in the long run, an unreal and even amusing exercise.
The effort can also seem comical if the Congress stumbles at the next electoral hurdle, which will be in Bihar. Rhetorical flourishes, delivered in a rasping voice, can seem odd in a loser. In addition, the people may soon become tired of such fierce tactics, not least because their content is not always replete with substance. In any event, sobriety is something which goes down well with the ordinary person. This is why politicians almost never lose their temper and try to present their case in a restrained manner, whatever the provocation.
Rahul, therefore, may be barking up the wrong tree. Whoever advised him to try and butt his opponents head-on did not do him a service. Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh’s view that Rahul is “by temperament not a ruling person; he is by temperament someone who wants to fight injustice” may be of a time-server who cannot afford to antagonise the party’s first family. But, there is perhaps a grain of truth in the first half of the statement if it implies that he is basically a back-bencher. However, there is probably no one in the Congress who has the gumption to point this out to the crown prince. (IPA Service)