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Rahul 40 but guess who takes the cake
Congress workers offer a piece of cake to a picture of Rahul Gandhi in
New Delhi on Saturday. (PTI)

June 19: Just turned 40? Please marry and settle down with a decent job — and oh, by that we mean the Prime Minister’s job.

As Rahul Gandhi spent his 40th birthday away from India today, these were some of the appeals — carefully publicised — that poured in from self-proclaimed fans, mainly Congress activists giving their sycophancy skills a timely outing.

The party’s “well-oiled” official machinery wouldn’t be left behind. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot released a Rahul Chalisa (paean) yesterday while Union minister C.P. Joshi inaugurated a Right to Education Day programme though little is known about the Amethi MP’s possible connections with the landmark legislation.

The chalisa’s writer, Vijay Saini, could perhaps teach everyone else a thing or two about “greasing the machine”, and not only because he is an engineer with the Jaipur municipality. Saini had earlier written a Vasundhara Battisa — a eulogy in 32 lines — when the BJP’s Vasundhara Raje was chief minister.

Saini’s poem says the whole of India is eagerly waiting to see Rahul as a husband, father and Prime Minister. Your mother Sonia wants a daughter-in-law and your sister Priyanka a sister-in-law, so listen to their hearts and take the plunge, it exhorts the birthday boy.

The poem, however, has 36 lines and is strictly a chhattisa rather than a chalisa, which must have 40.

So why did he not write a proper chalisa, especially since Rahul has turned exactly 40? Saini couldn’t be reached for comment but perhaps he couldn’t bring himself to highlight his hero’s correct age. Many of Rahul’s admirers grumbled that too much was being made of his having entered the 40s.

“No one must complain that he is 40 and thus not young enough to lead us. He is classy and looks elegant,” said Sailen Tiwari, an activist of the Youth Congress, Rahul’s fief.

Rahul himself had provided the fuel for talk about his age during his last visit to Jaipur in November 2009.

“If you do a demographic analysis of the population, I am old. I am 39. If you see the population of our country, 60 per cent people are below 40. And I am just a catalyst for the youth wing of the party,” he had said.

Rajiv Verma, a Youth Congress worker from Amethi, Rahul’s constituency, would have none of it. “At 40, he looks as young as 30. I want to see him in a Lucknavi chikan kurta with an embroidered design that will give an impeccable look,” Verma said.

“I would love to see him wear a white sherwani in traditional hand-woven brocades. That will give him a distinctive look,” gushed Rubina Khan, 21, a Youth Congress assistant secretary at Jagdishpur in Amethi.

It’s perhaps to avoid such open flattery that Rahul has made a habit of spending his birthdays abroad, a fact that forced Congress supporters to content themselves with feeding pieces of cake and chocolate to his portraits today.

The Congress, though, has a long history of its leaders displaying fawning adulation for the Nehru-Gandhis. In the 1970s, party president D.K. Barooah had immortalised himself by coining the slogan “India is Indira, Indira is India”.

A.R. Antulay tried to outdo Barooah when, during the Emergency, they together piloted a constitutional amendment that extended the Lok Sabha’s term and tried to check the courts’ powers. When the bill was brought in Parliament, Antulay, a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn, called for a “fresh look” at constitutional provisions such as five-yearly elections.

“It has been left to Nehru’s proud daughter, the daughter of the Indian nation, the daughter of India, ancient, present and future to bring into effect what Nehru had visualised,” Antulay said.

The Haryanvi Bansi Lal was more brazen. He told Indira’s cousin B.K. Nehru: “Get rid of all this election nonsense…. Just make our sister (Indira) President (of India) for life and there is no need to do anything else.”

Rahul’s mother Sonia has had her share too. “Soniaji, you are a fountain of wisdom. You know about past, present and future. How else would you have asked me to head the (Jammu and Kashmir Congress)!” Ghulam Nabi Azad had said at a party working committee meeting after the Congress won the state elections in 2002.

Ratnakar Pandey, a party satrap from Uttar Pradesh, had been earthier: “I am prepared to offer my skin for footwear to be worn by Soniaji.”

Rahul has often publicly discouraged sycophancy, though, and wouldn’t let older people touch his feet.

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