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THE MANTLE OF LEADERSHIP

It is said that once the conqueror, Taimur the ‘Lame’, talked to the famous historian and sociologist, Ibn Khuldun, about the fate of dynasties. Khuldun said that the glory of a dynasty seldom lasted beyond four generations. The first generation inclined towards conquest, the second towards administration. The third, freed of the necessity to conquer or administer, was left with the pleasurable task of spending the wealth of its ancestors on cultural pursuits. Consequently, by the fourth generation, a dynasty had usually spent its wealth as well as human energy. Hence, the downfall of each royal house is embedded in the very process of its rising. According to Khuldun, it was a natural phenomenon and could not be avoided.

Set in the democratic world of our contemporary history, the rise and fall of the Nehru-Gandhi family suggests the soundness of Khuldon’s pronouncement. Jawaharlal Nehru was the architect, while Indira Gandhi expanded his achievements by emerging as one of the most powerful personalities of the 20th century. Sanjay and later Rajiv Gandhi experimented a lot and paid heavily. Now the fourth generation of Rahul Gandhi perhaps has good intentions, but things are not clicking at all.

It would be too much to expect that Rahul Gandhi would take a leaf out of his grandmother’s book of life. In 1947, when communal troubles were at their peak, Indira Gandhi was spotted amid a bloodthirsty mob, rescuing a family that had given up hope. There was no security ring around her, but armed with extraordinary moral courage, she left the rioters stunned with her sharp tongue and pace.

Rahul Gandhi’s silence over the ghastly rape and murder in Delhi has been most baffling. Like millions of his fellow countrymen, he may have been too numbed by its brutality and felt helpless. Perhaps like the victim’s friend, he felt the futility of lighting candles and spending sleepless nights at India Gate and Jantar Mantar. But the youth icon missed a good opportunity to empathize with young and old alike. Both ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’ were looking at him with expectation. He did not have to offer any instant solution. All that was required of him was an admission of collective failure, of something going horribly wrong and of the need to change — in utter disregard of the line of thinking in North and South Blocks of Raisina Hills and among his own spin doctors.

Rahul Gandhi waited, thinking things would settle down but the momentum was lost. It was far from what Indira Gandhi had done several years ago, in spite of being out of power when the Belchi massacre occurred. She flew to Patna, motored into the countryside and then, because the monsoons had made the roads impassable, reached Belchi on elephant back. It was late at night and she shone a torch on her face so the villagers could recognize her. The next morning, a stark black and white picture of Indira Gandhi entering Belchi, alone but undaunted, frail but fearless, her strong profile silhouetted against the black night, was on all the front pages. It signalled her return to politics. It also proved something more important. There was no one in Indian politics who could compete with her.

It requires common sense to comprehend situations. When reckless statements were made at alarming speed, someone like Rahul Gandhi needed to advocate change — be it in archaic laws, the police, the judiciary, the bureaucracy or in a mindset. He needed to say something close to what he loves saying, “There is a need to change the vyavastha [system].” Next, he could have asked for the removal of sex-offenders from the Congress, pressed for the passage of the women’s reservation bill, for police reforms and so on. More immediately, he could have used his influence within the United Progressive Alliance to remove the Delhi lieutenant governor (who has already completed his term in April, 2012), the police chief and perhaps the chief minister. He should have recalled how the Mumbai chief minister and the then home minister were asked to quit days after 26/11 attack. There was nothing specific against Vilasrao Deshmukh or Shivraj Patil, but their exit at that time had acted as a balm. The subsequent 2009 Lok Sabha polls, too, vindicated that the UPA’s moral high ground had helped the Congress.

Rahul Gandhi’s current task is more daunting than Rajiv Gandhi’s in 1981-83. Today, under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, Rahul has many challenges and the clock is ticking fast towards the May, 2014 general elections. Apart from reviving the Congress, an organization that is being controlled from the centre and has had its grassroots structure diminished considerably, Rahul Gandhi has to act as an interface between party workers across the country, strike up a rapport with present and future UPA allies and justify every action the Manmohan Singh government takes under a grim economic situation and coalition compulsions.

It is an open secret that as in the 2008 nuclear deal between India and the United States of America, Rahul Gandhi is backing the prime minister on pushing economic reforms. But his spin doctors do not want him to take any credit for opening doors to foreign direct investment in retail. Many All India Congress committee office-bearers feel that Rahul Gandhi’s support for the rise in prices of diesel and liquefied petroleum gas and his declared support for controversial measures like FDI in retail could prove costly. So while he convinced his mother that the prime minister needed a free hand in this matter, his stamp is missing. As a result, in the public eye, he is seen as a leader who is shying away from taking a firm stand on key economic issues pertaining to the lives and livelihoods of millions.

Rahul Gandhi’s experiments with the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India have shown little dividends. Even diehard Congressmen see little wisdom in his personally interviewing aspirants for the post of Youth Congress chief. Instead of acting as a factory of young leadership, the Youth Congress of 2004-2012 produced a band of young members of parliament but most of them are young dynasts. Their presence discouraged the grassroots workers who realized that the leaders were parachuted from the top. Rahul himself candidly admitted that the Gandhi ‘tag’ helped him emerge on top.

In the Congress’s ‘chintan shivir’ at Jaipur, the party is trying hard to pick up the threads. It has coined a slogan, “Pehle hoga nari samman, phir hoga bharat nirman.” Rahul Gandhi is asking for the inclusion of gender-sensitive subjects in the school curriculum, a hard line against Pakistan and tougher laws to deal with rape and crimes against women.

Nothing succeeds like success, Rahul’s future depends on the party’s success in winning the coming assembly polls in 10 states, keeping workers’ motivation high and bringing an element of moral value in every UPA-Congress action. He has to be perceived as active and visible, intermingling with both the Congress rank and file and the aam admi. If Rahul Gandhi wishes to prove Ibn Khuldun’s prophecy-theory wrong, he must deliver to the best of his abilities in the 2014 elections.