-By Sanjay Jha
It was late spring, and the first symptoms of the oncoming summer was apparent; one could instinctively feel the seasonal shift. In the corridors of India’s political quarters, however, no major alterations, not even subtle adjustments were expected. The election dates had been formally announced, and the NDA was preparing their victory speech, as a collective chorus screamed, India is shining.
10, Janpath by contrast wore a deserted look, almost serenely oblivious of the massive iterations happening around it. There was the occasional curious onlooker who gazed momentarily longer at it’s single-tiered protected quarters; cars whizzed past as if in a great hurry, even the summer swallow was being distinctively selective. It was hard to believe that it’s haloed occupants belonged to India’s most high-profile family, with deep historical roots. This was their litmus test; the grand old party’s very survival was now being seriously questioned. But the unexpected happened; in May 2004, the Congress humbled an arrogant BJP. Five years later, they have unquestionably recaptured their old glory, continuing with their triumphant consolidation, even if there is still a long journey ahead. Currently, one man is , judging from interminable media scrutiny, holding center-stage; Rahul Gandhi.
Not surprisingly, everyone is heralding it as the coming of age of Rahul-they are ridiculously wrong. He came of age the day he took that serious plunge in 2004 . He has never looked back since. Rahul has fought skeptical elements and endless cynicism, following his clearly defined goals without letting transitory distractions derail him. Fareed Zakaria , Editor, Newsweek pointed out , correctly so, how the Indian media has failed to fathom his intrinsic simplicity, and yet , an inflexible determination to get things done.
Over the past five years Gandhi has discovered the systemic flaw in India’s political process; the entry point into a political career by well-intentioned talented youth. He is pursuing it’s remodeling with a rapid reformative drive. The bottom-line is that once fully implemented all-India, it could redefine Indian politics altogether. It is a gargantuan responsibility, and he knows that.
The reconstruction philosophy is simple: there is no sense in continuously berating a flawed system if it needs a drastic surgery as a panacea. The democratization of the Youth Congress will ensure that transformational correction, in a bottom-up process of change. The entry of committed , energized fresh blood into the political arena is the imperative need, otherwise the whole demographic dividend story could be short-lived. A mature, educated and enlightened class could then create an honest, transparent, hard-working and knowledgeable political community, providing it with a values-based principled- leadership. Once India achieves the threshold of solid political maturity, the rest of the key institutions will or ought to simultaneously strengthen themselves . India can then be an economic power with a prosperous rural base thriving on rising living standards , and also a strong democratic, political force in global affairs. That appears to be Rahul Gandhi’s vision; and he knows the work must begin now.
Sure, the victory marks a stupendous comeback for the Congress, but rest assured, Rahul is unlikely to let the exhilarating adulation and euphoric success get to his head. For him, this is like a close quarter-final victory in a grand slam tennis tournament. The Congress has a great opportunity, but in the light of mounting expectations, the task gets even more challenging. The margin of error gets lower, the bar for performance, and the benchmark of achievement quietly and quickly rises. In every sphere, there is a clamor for change, and a call for improvement. And the clock has already started ticking.
It takes courage for a young man to tell the Gujarat Chief Minister that he was playing to the gallery in blatantly serenading self-serving industrialists, even when the state had a huge task of reducing unemployment, lopsided growth and a vast below- the- poverty line- population. The genuflecting industrialists wanting freebies were all in the Forbes billionaire list, with abundant market capitalizations.. For a country where over 300 million are earning a measly 75 rupees a day , it looked like an incongruous contradiction for them to seek cheap subsidies. So Rahul spoke his mind. Interestingly, no one else did. For Rahul, the income distribution challenge is India’s paramount issue , not dividend pay-outs to corporate shareholders alone.
I was lucky to have visited Jagdishpur in Rahul’s Amethi constituency a year and a half ago. As we landed at Lucknow’s airport in cold, foggy conditions , there was a massive crowd outside, excitedly awaiting Rahul’s arrival, sunshine gleaming on their faces. I understood then why Chief Minister Mayawati looked profusely troubled when Rahul Gandhi comes visiting her charming capital city.
Over the next three days, we met all sorts of interesting people ; grass-root workers, in particular, belonging to a delectable social mix; Rajput, Brahmin, Dalit, Muslim, Yadav, young and old, it was a colourful congregation. The goodness was palpable. The energy, unbridled. Their commitment, unshakeable.
Everyone wanted resurgence, a self-respect they felt the Congress really deserved. “We need to bring Congress back, we will not give up”. Their stories of hard work were touching, their inflexible resolution to persist with their mission, laudable. And they all believed in the big dream of their young leader. The hurt was deep, though. This was the state of Jawaharlal Nehru, no less. Allahabad , the party’s ancestral home. Mayawati’s caste -card, BJPs religious divide, and Mulayam Singh’s adroit political manoeuvering had check-mated the Congress. Of course, the Congress had itself allowed it’s downhill slide to continue unabated for long, unchecked and unhindered. But now they were united in the belief that they would emerge stronger, their time would come.
As we left the guest house at the end of an incredible trip, I went up to give the cook a small nominal tip. He steadfastly refused; there was no way he would accept even a token of appreciation because he thought that the constituency challenges were the main issues, and he had his own personal contribution to make. It was his duty to do what he did; period. He did not budge. There was gratitude in his eyes, and warmth in his hand as we said good-bye. The goodwill for the Gandhi family in their constituency is got to be seen to be believed. I was humbled beyond description.
As the UP Lok Sabha results rolled in on last Saturday, I recollected Khan saab’s magical poetry recitation, the young man’s tactical ploy at tug of war, Pandey ji’s charming hospitality, the enigmatic indefatigable Sharma ji working tirelessly into the night, the simplicity of the inspirational speech given by the rising local panchayat leader et al . And finally, the loud boisterous chorus, that reached a crescendo with , ” Hum honge kaamyaab, hum honge kaamyaab, ek din”.
I saw Rahul last night, his innate modesty incandescent through the camera lights. When he said he would have been on the same development agenda and bring- the- youth- into- the- forefront course, irrespective of election results, he meant it. When Narendra Modi won a huge landslide victory in the Gujarat assembly elections, many in the Congress camp were downbeat, dejected and disheartened. Not Rahul. “You win some, you lose some. But what has to be done, must be done”.
Is it not strange that the Ayodhya dispute which triggered that famous LK Advani rath yatra is now on it’s final hurrah even as Advani walks away into his private sunset ? As Advani retires and Varun Gandhi rages on , the UP verdict is a damning indictment of the program of religious polarization That Mayawati’s flagrant Prime Ministerial ambitions lie in an humiliating heap is a truism. That Mulayam Singh Yadav is no longer the undisputed treasurer of the minority vote is a reality. Life has come a semi-circle , nonetheless, there are still tall mountains to climb.
Five years ago when the Congress-UPA stunned the world, stock markets collapsed in a downward spiral. As I write, there is a circuit-breaker on the BSE to prevent an upward leap in stocks from sky-rocketing. The corporate world is recalculating financial plans; the bulls are snorting after a long snooze. But India’s young leader has insisted all along, India is yet to shine.
Over the next few weeks there will be several paged devoted to the grand resuscitation of the Congress in India’s cow-belt. Of the faux pas of the BJP. Of the return of good times. Of Rahul Gandhi’s high-risk gambles in Uttar Pradesh that paid-off. Of the massive resurgence of the youth. The impregnable strength of Mrs Sonia Gandhi. Priyanka Vadra’s inimitable aura. PM Manmohan Singh’s unimpeachable integrity.
Today however, a small family will be huddled together remembering the man who is not in their midst , but still is. Eighteen years ago, a brutal assassination made it into a haunting summer. It has never been easy ever since, but they have fought it hard, with decency, dignity and character. And now, the Congress is back with a ground-level resurgence in several parts of India. UP is home once again. There is a wave of positive sanguine expectations all around. Even the war in Sri Lanka seems to be coming to an end. An age is over. It is time to make a new beginning.
There are many who yet keep talking endlessly about the Gandhi family dynasty. They are wrong. It is not about dynasty; it’s destiny.