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Tears wash aloof stain
Rahul in unsparing embrace

Jaipur, Jan. 20: Rahul Gandhi today broke the shell that tragedy and destiny had built around a family: the face that emerged did not look aloof as perceived and the voice carried the same conviction India heard three decades ago before the country was let down.

The most striking outcome of Rahul’s speech at Jaipur was a declaration of intent to embrace the party as family — which he did by sharing some of the most private moments in his life.

Rahul, described as “aloof”, “reluctant” and “reticent” by some commentators, did not fight shy of disclosing and discussing why his mother cried last night, how his life was changed by the assassination of his grandmother by the same policemen who taught him balance-providing badminton and how he had seen his father “broken” (see excerpts on right).

He took an inextricable plunge into party politics by concluding that “the Congress party is now my life”. But he left unsaid his plans for power politics. Neither did he give fresh insights into where he stood on the economy.

The reference that moved the audience most was one to the poisonous nature of power. “Last night my mother came to my room and she cried. Why did she cry? She cried because she understands that the power so many people seek is actually a poison,” Rahul said.

It is well documented that Sonia fought bitterly to keep Rajiv Gandhi away from prime ministership, which she herself shunned later.

Deeply personal details do not flow easily from the most public yet most cocooned family in India. Add to this what appears to be an inherent reluctance to play to the gallery — all of which had strengthened the perception of Rahul’s aloofness.

But what was uttered from the podium at Jaipur this afternoon suggested Rahul is clued in enough to figure out what is wrong with the party. The plainspeak ensured that, for once, the new vice-president overshadowed party president Sonia Gandhi.

Rahul spoke on the basis of eight years of experience in the party, marked by many setbacks and — as it turned out today — many lessons.

He condemned the prevailing system but took care not to belittle those calling the shots now. Rahul praised many of the seniors for their contribution and political acumen and promised to listen to everyone “before acting as a judge for all, not as a lawyer for the few”.

Rahul described how governance lay in the hands of an insensitive few, and how his own party made rules but acted on whim while handing out poll tickets. He wondered how such an organisation had remained the country’s principal political party for so long.

“At times, I wonder how does this party run?” Rahul said. Many Congress leaders listened in shock and disbelief while thrilled middle-rung officials and ordinary workers wore out their palms clapping.

Rajiv, too, had criticised the prevalent political culture but Rahul delved deeper, striving to lift every lid that hides the stink and to expose every ploy that blocks change.

“Power is grossly centralised in our country. Every single day I meet people who have tremendous understanding, deep insight and no voice. And then I meet people holding high positions with tremendous voice but no understanding,” he said.

Amid ceaseless clapping, he went on: “Why is our youth angry; why are they out on the streets? They are angry because they are alienated. They watch from the sidelines as the powerful drive around in their lal battis (red beacons).”

Rahul contended that India’s political, administrative, judicial and education systems were designed to promote mediocrity.

It may be easy to speak like a revolutionary but what appealed to some party veterans was the way Rahul avoided any reckless flight into romanticism.

Although he said the system had to be transformed instead of being just run better, he said that the building blocks for the transformation were in place in the form of better IT-based connectivity, rights-based pieces of legislation and a pro-poor agenda.