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Issue No.: 560 | February 2014
 

The New Avenger: Rahul Gandhi

Firoze Hirjikaka
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It is becoming apparent that the Queen Mother has decided to allow the soon-to-be-anointed King a free hand. After all, the Grand Old Party is in such tatters that even a desperate gamble is preferable to inevitable defeat

Almost three decades after the demise of Indira Gandhi, the staid and hide-bound Congress party has created a new superhero. His name is Rahul Gandhi. Sometimes clean shaven, sometimes sporting a designer stubble, but always boyishly appealing, he rolls up his sleeves and lets fly, whether in Parliament, at a press conference, or addressing a mass public gathering. Some cynics may argue that the mass public generally stays away from his gatherings, but that would be churlish. If I may be permitted a little aside here, this whole hoopla around mammoth crowds at rallies addressed by the current political phenomenon needs to be put in perspective. Consider the gathering held in Mumbai in December, addressed by Narendra Modi, where an attendance figure in excess of three lakhs was quoted. Among other measures, the BJP chartered 22 trains to ferry people from far flung villages and small towns. They found willing participants - and why not? If offered a day trip to Mumbai with free transportation and meals, not to mention the opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing in a big city, who wouldn't be eager to oblige? The true test of a national leader's popularity would be the attendance of common people without any extraneous inducements being offered, but of course our politicians would never risk that. With them it is always more about show than substance.

But I digress. This is about Rahul Gandhi.  It is becoming apparent that the Queen Mother has decided to allow the soon-to-be-anointed King a free hand. After all, the Grand Old Party is in such tatters that even a desperate gamble is preferable to inevitable defeat. It looks very much like the defeat is inevitable anyway, but the Gandhi scion seems determined to go down fighting. The Gandhis do not fall on their swords. Unfortunately the stars are not with him. Indeed, the stars have not been favourable to the Congress for the past four years. It seems that the most damaging exposes - particularly involving corruption - pop up at times when they can do the maximum harm.

A case in point is the infamous Adarsh Commission report. The report came like a bombshell just when Rahul Gandhi was winding himself up and gaining momentum as an anti-corruption crusader who seemed to appear frank and forthright and damn the torpedoes - even if some of them were aimed at members of his own party. There is nothing at all in the Adarsh report that has not been public knowledge ever since the scam was revealed. The quid pro quo of bestowing luxury flats in one of Mumbai's most exclusive neighbourhoods in exchange for winking at irregularities in granting the necessary licenses and permissions was so glaringly obvious, that it should have been an insult to the intelligence of the honourable judge who chaired the Commission. A five year-old child would have arrived at the same conclusion.

The Maharashtra government made a valiant effort to delay the inevitable for as long as possible by generously extending the term of the Commission again and again. The Commission members were quite happy to oblige, since it prolonged their perks of free transport, telephone, secretarial staff and so on: not to mention very generous emoluments. Then in a shocking instance or poor timing, they allowed the report to come out just a few months before the 2014 election. Since part 1 of the report found that the Adarsh plot belonged to the state and not to defence, they were probably lulled into believing that the second part would be equally sympathetic. It was not. The report damningly confirmed in black and white what had long been speculated. There was no way the indicted ministers and bureaucrats could talk their way out of this one.

Since so many of their top dogs were implicated, the Congress came out with a knee jerk reaction and shot itself in the foot. In an act of imperious arrogance and unbelievable stupidity, the state government simply rejected the report without assigning any reason. Surely they must have known that this denial would not stand. Predictably, it laid them open to a vicious attack from the opposition; and confirmed the public perception of Congress ministers as a thoroughly venal and shameless lot. Furthermore, if the Congress believed that their mindless action would bring them a reprieve, they should have realized that it would be short lived. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the party's days in power are numbered. After the BJP forms the next government, it is certain that they will embrace the conclusions of the Commission report with enormous zeal and use them to humiliate their old rivals to the maximum extent possible.

I am sure there was lot of lobbying and heartburn among the top echelons of the Congress, but in the end Rahul Gandhi probably convinced them that the Maharashtra government's mulish attitude was not only harming the Party, but destroying his own newfound anti-corruption credentials. At a high profile conclave of Congress Chief Ministers, he distanced himself from the decision. He would have served his party and himself much better if he had cracked the whip before the Maharashtra government got egg on its face, but the damage had been done. As it was, his outrage proved to be short lived. The Maharashtra government half-heartedly agreed to "take action" on the indicted bureaucrats, but declined any further prosecution of the ministers. One can understand the dilemma of the ministers involved. For the past half century, they have indulged in blatantly unethical and illegal activities, secure in the knowledge that the people of India were too docile and overawed - compounded with the traditional feudal mindset of their primary vote bank - to question the perceived high and mighty. At the time of writing this, Gandhi has been maintaining a discreet silence. He would serve himself and his Party much better if he displayed some boldness and put his foot down without fearing the consequences. The need of the hour now is to concentrate on redemption and regeneration of the Party.

If I was presumptuous enough to counsel the Gandhi scion, I would advise him to accept the inevitably of a Congress rout in 2014; and utilize the next five years to clean out the Aegean Congress stables. As a first step, he can instruct his Party men in Maharashtra to stop protecting the NCP ministers involved in the massive irrigation scam. The NCP is likely to desert the sinking Congress ship anyway. So this mollycoddling will prove to be self defeating. He needs to tear down the entrenched self aggrandizement, greed and sense of entitlement among senior Congress satraps; and rebuild the Party from the ground up. He will undoubtedly face a lot of resentment from the old guard, but he has nothing to lose. In fact, he can leverage the party reverence towards the Gandhi name to push through his agenda. I realize I may be in a minority here, but I wish him success.

FIROZE HIRJIKAKA is a retired civil engineer, a blogger
and a freelance writer and a member of the Advisory Board
of Freedom First.
 leonardo8_99@yahoo.com
 
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