Rahul Gandhi has received much attention in the on-going Gujarat campaign. As the leader of the principal opposition party, most of it is well-deserved. Given that he is soon to be anointed the head of the Congress Party in place of his mother, Sonia Gandhi, it is natural for the people to be curious about him. But if you coolly consider what he says on the stump or through intermediaries on his twitter account, it leaves much to be desired.
Instead of a mature leader acting with due forethought and responsibility, the designate-Congress president has resorted to cheap shots and untenable utterances. His remarks, virtually rebuking the Prime Minister for the release by a Pakistan court of the 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed, were silly and unbecoming of someone who aspires to be a national leader. The fact that 26/11 happened under the Congress-led UPA watch, the fact that successive Indian governments have pressured Pakistan, the US and various multilateral forums to force Pakistan to prosecute Saeed for the brutal atrocity which left nearly 170 innocent people dead and many more injured is undeniable. If the Pakistan Army which controls Saeed and much else that goes on in that god forsaken country is determined to frustrate India on doing justice to the victims of the 26/11 attack, there is little that Modi or for that matter anyone in his place can do.
Instead of standing with the Government on fighting Saeed and his ilk, Rahul’s childish jibe only exposes his immaturity. Why, the viciousness of the attack on the GST might be aimed at exploiting the anger of the mercantile classes in Surat and other places in the poll-bound Gujarat, but in reality, it undermines the joint decision by the entire political class to switch to the transformative Goods and Services Tax. By calling it Gabbar Singh Tax, he may have gained a few extra column- inch-space in the media but the association of the progressive tax measure with evil can be potentially damaging.
Also, his one-liners against the Make-In-India programme serve no purpose except to reveal his own failure to offer a constructive alternative. Of a piece is his criticism of the Gujarat Government when Modi was the chief minister on account of the failure of the Nano car. He has accused the State government of wasting money on inducing the Tatas to leave West Bengal and to set up the Nano project in Sanand in Gujarat. The truth is that a number of chief ministers were wooing the Tatas with all manner of land and tax subsidies in order to make them set up the Nano plant in their States.
When Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee failed to hold back the Tatas after all the violence and other trouble, the Tatas were subjected to under her aegis as the Opposition leader, Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister was fast on his feet, landing the Nano project for his State. Besides, the Tatas may have stopped manufacturing Nano, but their Sanand plant produces their other car brands at a fast clip, having rolled out one lakh Tata Tiagos in the last eighteen months. So, all the effort and concessional land and tax holiday, which Gujarat offered to woo Tatas, had not gone down the drain, after all. Rahul Gandhi needs to have better fact-checkers.
Such misstatements and untruths cannot help erase the popular impression of his still being a Pappu at the ripe age of 47. His father had become prime minister at 40, though, admittedly, helped enormously by sheer happenstance. Even otherwise, all through the campaign the Gandhi scion has offered no hint about his party’s economic, political and social policies. An effort to run down the on-going economic reforms, a clear attempt at reverting back to the economic populism of the wasteful Garibi Hatao era, and a regression to the identity politics, which while embracing the Khastriyas, Dalits and OBCs, pointedly leaves the Muslims to their own devices, is bound to come a cropper. An Ahmed Patel, the tallest leader the Congress has from the State, must be obliged to stay in purdah lest it alienates the conservative Gujarati Hindu voter. Now, the Congress must abandon any external connect with the Muslims for fear that the Hindu voters it is wooing might flinch away in protest. This is not how the Congress had behaved earlier. By consciously pandering to the baser instincts of the voters, Rahul Gandhi can only inflict more damage on the party he is set to head formally in the next couple of weeks.