The Congress has brought Rahul Gandhi to the centre stage because of the 2014 parliamentary election. If the party or the UPA wins the polls, he will be elected prime minister. However, there is one question that is yet to be answered: what does Rahul Gandhi stand for? Does he believe in the
ideals of Jawaharlal Nehru or is he a different entity altogether? In India, leaders who come from political families are not sketched in terms of their own ideological stance and Gandhi is not an exception to this rule. So the task of building a Rahul Gandhi brand has remained undone till now.
In contrast, Brand Nehru was built over the years. Initially, his brand was built on the fact that he was the son of Motilal Nehru and studied abroad. Later, his role in the freedom movement and his commitment to build a socialist State strengthened the brand. In fact, the brand was so powerful that no less than the Mahatma wanted him as the country's PM. The Nehru brand could be easily understood by others through his literary works, The Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History.
The Nehru brand was further reinforced by the fact that he was a Kashmiri Brahmin. Throughout India's history, Kashmiri Brahmins have been considered a symbol of India's composite culture. In a number of principalities in British India, irrespective of whether they were ruled by a Hindu or a Muslim king, Kashmiri Brahmins were appointed PMs. Even in the Mughal court, they had a pre-eminent position. This arrangement ensured communal peace but promoted India's composite culture.
Nehru believed that pluralism and a composite culture could be built through inclusion; Fabian socialism and Keynesian ideas played a dominant role in his policies. His advisers - VK Krishna Menon, KD Malaviya and PC Mahalanobis - also realised that the grand idea of India could be actualised only through composite culture and social and economic inclusion. Indira Gandhi could effortlessly take over the mantle because she followed the same ideology till the Emergency. Her close advisers - PN Haksar, DP Dhar and Mohan Kumaramanglam - also believed in the Nehruvian ideals.
Between 1947 and 1974, though India recorded modest economic growth, its industrial base expanded. It also achieved self-sufficiency in food grains, won two wars against Pakistan and built indigenous weapons in its ordnance factories. Then the Emergency killed the grand idea of India and the core group of advisers who believed in the Nehruvian ideology was shown the door by Sanjay Gandhi and people devoid of any ideological moorings replace them.
By the 1980s, pluralism and composite culture gave way to Operation Blue Star and the Babri Masjid issue and there were also dramatic reversals in the economic policies. A process of mild reforms was started by Rajiv Gandhi and he paid the price for it in 1989. Narasimha Rao vigorously pursued reforms and liberalisation, and finally buried Nehru's idiom of India. But the Congress had to again pay a price for it in the 1996 elections.
If Rahul Gandhi wants to recapture the Nehruvian magic, he has to reinvent the ideological foundation of Nehru in a globalised economy. During the Nehru era, in the backdrop of cold war, he managed to get support for the non-alignment movement. In today's world, being a member of G8+5, the international agenda for India is to integrate the developing economies with the international grid. Back home, Gandhi will have to open it with proper safeguards and riders whereas Nehru had protected the domestic economy. He will also have to keep crony capitalism at bay and dismantle some parts of the Nehruvian State structure. This means a redistribution of the economic space between the State and the market so that economic growth and human development can take place together.
Since 1989, no Nehru family member has been in power formally. To build the India Nehru dreamt of, his ideals have to be brought back. His reluctance to take over formally has built the Rahul brand a bit. But to make it long lasting, he will have to internalise the Nehruvian ideals.
Shaibal Gupta is Member-Secretary, Asian Development Research Institute, Patna
The views expressed by the author are personal
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