There are some questions that achieve immortal status because they exist in the limbo of unanswerability. No one in India for example, would ever ask the Congress why Rahul Gandhi should be considered the best candidate for prime minister should the Congress be in a position to offer one after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It is, for the party at least, like a law of nature, untouched by the remarkable lack of impact the young man has had on the country’s politics so far or even by the fact that the country has yet to experience hints of his political acumen. So it does not come as a surprise that the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, should declare that Mr Gandhi would be the ideal choice for the prime minister’s chair after the polls. Mr Singh, however, did not stop there. In an explicatory flourish that is rare with him, he added that he would be willing to work under Mr Gandhi should he become prime minister.
Such a remark puts Mr Singh among the true exemplars of a democracy. India has found it almost impossible to shake off the fetters of its feudal past and its authoritarian value system; these persist in disguised forms beneath a democratic veneer. Political leaders are usually wise old men, the older the more venerated. Few retire unless they are sick or dead; even fewer accept ungrudgingly the direct leadership of younger men. In this Mr Singh has shown himself to be an honourable exception. Clearly, he is not thinking of retirement himself, which is why he talks about working at all. He is also bowing to the wishes of a large section of his partymen — no doubt the sign of a good leader — which wants to see Mr Gandhi in the prime minister’s chair. The issue of being willing to work under a much younger leader has very important ramifications for Indian society and politics. It is, therefore, necessary to believe that it is a general principle the prime minister is talking about, not the fact that the young man in question is Mr Gandhi. In other words, Mr Singh would have cheerfully carried out the orders of any young politician elevated to the position of prime minister. It is this that makes Mr Singh unique. The other interpretation would make him a campaigner for feudalism — wishing to see the anointed on the throne whom he would be happy to serve and would strive to please. India can do without that.