Prof Ramachandra Guha’s recent outburst at the Kerala Literature Festival has once again turned the spotlight on Rahul Gandhi.
A “fifth-generation dynast” had no chance in Indian politics against a self-made Narendra Modi, and Kerala did a disastrous thing by electing the eternal prince-in-waiting to Parliament, Guha said, kicking off a storm on social media.
Such was the fury the historian encountered that he had to explain at length and defend himself that he was primarily speaking about the rise of fascism and Hindutva in India, and Rahul Gandhi and the Congress was just one reason he attributed to it. Forget whether the defence is or is not convincing or even whether it is warranted, Guha’s denunciation has made observers re-evaluate Rahul Gandhi’s role in polity.
This writer too had ‘solemnly’ advised the secular sections to leave the poor guy alone and look for other options. As with most solemn sermons it went unheeded, and people in general, not just the Congress alone, seem to be hung up on the dynasty.
However effete today, however much ‘family-bound’, the party remains one possible force that can help stall the communal juggernaut. What with the anti-CAA protests seeming to gain traction at the very moment the economy is tanking, driving the Modi dispensation into a corner, it is more important than ever for the Congress to put its house in some reasonable order to regain its lost credibility.
After the stunning electoral debacle last year, it looked as if Rahul Gandhi had been buffeted around cruelly, and all to no end. So his walking away in a huff seemed understandable. He was also angry at requests to let his elder sister take over the reins. “Don’t involve her,” he was quoted as telling other leaders, but now it is rumoured that Priyanka might indeed oblige. And Sonia remains the interim head.
Rahul himself has not exactly walked away; he still addresses public meetings, interacts with leaders, and tweets. So long as he doesn’t take to vanavas, as it were, and retire completely from public life, he would feel compelled to react to developments around him.
If the corrupt and decaying Congress leadership had begged Sonia Gandhi to rescue the party back in the ‘90s, after Narasimha Rao was voted out, there could be a much larger nationwide groundswell in support of either of the two Gandhi scions as Congress president. Back then it was merely the concern of a cabal of power-mongers, but now the very concept of India as we have known it is at stake.
It should be remembered that Prof Guha himself is not part of the run-down-Jawaharlal-Nehru-for-every-little-thing gang. In a previous column, he lauded Nehru and damned Narendra Modi in no uncertain words.
In a collection of essays brought out during Nehru’s 50th death anniversary, Guha hails him as the architect of Indian democracy and praises him no end for his rational, secular ethos, even while not hesitating to point to his various flaws.
Perhaps Nehru’s own failures, compounded by his daughter and grandsons, also contributed for the rise of bigotry currently afflicting us.
The country has never been more horribly polarised. Most institutions, including the judiciary, seem to be playing it safe and deferring to the ‘collective conscience’ of the people, as represented by hate-mongers. The demolition of a settlement of the poor in Bengaluru following claims that they were illegal Bangladeshis seems to herald the long night settling down on the entire subcontinent.
To fight back it would take all the strength the secular sections can mobilise and, whether you like it or not, only the Congress has the national presence required for the onerous task. Besides, as noted journalist Shekhar Gupta once remarked, the party has secularism embedded in its genes, never mind the distortions that crept in over time.
No less a person than the CPI(M)’s Ranadive himself has noted: “If anyone except Nehru with his deep secular outlook and commitment to the modern concept of democracy had been in charge of the government, the independence of the country could have been jeopardised.” He went on to stress that “Nehru’s singular contribution in rejecting the revivalist tradition and appealing to the people on the basis of secular and modern democratic values should not be underestimated”.
So Gandhis, please don’t allow the legacy of that most illustrious ancestor of yours to be ruined by a bunch of small-minded men. If the nation needs the Congress, warts and all, to retain its sanity, the party itself needs the fifth generation dynasts to lend it cohesion. No other leader can command similar charisma in the current scheme of things.
Rahul Gandhi, particularly, must realise that there is no running away. Even if Priyanka is made the chief, he would still be very much in the limelight, both media and flunkeys chasing him wherever he goes, and perhaps most of the secular intelligentsia as well.
Hence stop playing hard to get. You have had your share of goodies as a fifth-generation dynast. The crown of thorns is also part of the bargain.
TN Gopalan is a senior journalist based in Chennai. Views expressed are the author's own.