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A New Deal For Youth

While we are looking back and working on our retrospective on the Congress party’s 125 years, the party’s future celebrated a quiet birthday away from the media glare. The media took note anyway and many interesting pieces surfaced focused on different facets of the AICC General Secretary and Amethi MP’s political journey. Here’s an article, by Srijana Mitra Das, appreciating Rahul Gandhi’s role in making young Indians see politics in a new, positive light.

Rahul Gandhi’s birthday,which went by last Saturday, will be followed by organisational elections within the Indian Youth Congress (IYC). Both events are significant for young Indians.Youth had all but abjured ‘politics’ completely, following the tumult of the 1980s and the temptations of the 1990s.

These decades brought political assassinations with shameful scandals, corruption scams with messy manipulations of caste and creed, the confusions of global citizenship fuelled by wealth and mobility, alongside ideas of Indian citizenship, tolerant and accommodating, taking heavy blows. A medieval mosque was torn down to make a sacred temple, the names of beloved cities changed and citizens were often hunted by manic but precise mobs, bearing lists of names, addresses and the blessings of politicians.

‘Politics’ came to represent a sphere of terrible murkiness for the average Indian youth. The word ‘politician’ represented a figure of greed and ruthlessness while ‘politics’ symbolised gross manipulations for power with violence, perpetrated via mobs directed by political leaders. Many young Indians stopped following political news, preferring to sink into the comforts of consumption and the thrills of aspiration instead of wrangling with the daily disappointments of what politics produced.

Rahul changed this scenario. Amazingly for someone who holds the country’s most famous political surname, by reaching out through talent hunts, membership drives and student meetings, he managed to make many young Indians believe in politics as a realm that could extend beyond the narrowness of nepotism. He persuaded young Indians to imagine politics as a sphere that could offer decency, development and discourse as opposed to dadagiri, sleaze and manipulation. He even managed to induce young Indians to think of politics as a career option which would use their capacities as individuals, not deploy them as mobs for sycophancy and violence. Considering the backdrop, this is a rather extraordinary achievement.

While accomplishing this

turnabout in public perceptions, Rahul demonstrated his understanding of the importance of symbolism in politics, combined with a sharp awareness of local realities. His visits to Dalit homes and meals, his stays at peasant huts, his travels by train and his distaste for obsequiousness have managed to permeate the consciousness of young Indians, nestling there amidst images and senses of cappucinos, cricket and visas, the internet and malls, work, traffic, power cuts, mobiles, gyms, family, credit rating and dating.

In representing India to the world and vice-versa too, Rahul displayed confidence. When David Miliband, foreign secretary of the previous Labour government in Britain, visited India in 2009, Rahul took him to rural Uttar Pradesh, making the dapper David spend a night in a cold village hut, observing the mists spreading over the vast, flat land as well as the telecommunications linking such villages to the world. When the Indo-US nuclear Bill came up for its stormy passage through Parliament, Rahul argued for it with a conviction that mirrored the belief many young Indians hold, of India’s capacity to withstand foreign domination and negotiate the best for itself on the global stage.

It is now important for Rahul to ensure his message does not become overwhelmed by mediums alone. The substance to his work, based in communities and confidence, should emerge clearly and consistently; an example is his raising the case of Kalawati, a Vidarbha villager who would benefit from the electricity produced by nuclear energy. There were reports thereafter of Kalawati seeking to stand in local elections but being browbeaten by unnamed groups to withdraw. Rahul’s team needs to follow up on such instances and make sure the issues of access and development his work highlights reach ideal ends instead of becoming loose and vaguely-disturbing threads.

Another strategy that needs consistent follow-through is Rahul’s encouragement of activists arising from genuine political engagement. The young leader should continue supporting the political rise of Real Young Turks as opposed to Privileged Young Jerks who even accept lynch mob diktats to protect their own seats.

This June, Rahul turned a youthful 40, and the Indian electorate should also celebrate its own maturity. Although he has been the most refreshing arrival on the political block since decades, the Indian media has not displayed an obsession with Rahul’s private life. This relates to the lack of public demand for details of politicians’ personal lives. Despite everything, the Indian electorate believes politicians are public functionaries appointed to develop the nation and, unless their private lives grossly hamper public interest, there is little need to probe. This wisdom stands in marked contrast to the tabloid investigations and feverish readership of the West.

Rahul appears to appreciate these aspects of the Indian public. Perhaps this appreciation drives his desire to institutionalise an identity card system for Youth Congress members, beginning with the IYC elections. The massive undertaking emphasises system and order, recognising the distinct identity of each member, treating activists as individuals, not a mob.

It is a strange irony that the ‘people’s prince’ is today encouraging the people to challenge established ideas and shake up set notions about politics and politicians. Following the New Deal slowly emerging between Rahul and the young electorate of India, as both mature and progress – and learning what this politician truly stands for – grows increasingly intriguing and essential.

Courtesy- Times of  India




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