How political dynasts like Rahul Gandhi can stay relevant
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How political dynasts like Rahul Gandhi can stay relevant

Creating legacies of their own and adding value to their inherited family name is the biggest challenge facing dynasts in the subcontinent such as Rahul Gandhi and Bilawal Bhutto

analysis Updated: Sep 14, 2017 15:43 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times
Rahul Gandhi,Berkeley,University of California
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi at the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley, California. (PTI)

It isn’t fashionable or politically correct these days to see political virtue in Rahul Gandhi. Much of it is of the making of his work style widely seen as lacking in constituency, the pluck and the fire people want in their leader.

He needs to develop the tenacity to stay the course, not let go of issues such as the farmers’ cause he recently took up but did not vigorously pursue. He has to earn acceptability beyond Congress cadres; organise and lead movements on the ground. Those are the traits people search for in a leader-in-waiting.

But my defence of Rahul is restricted to his University of California, Berkeley speech and the question-answer session. In my reading, he didn’t come across as transcending what the BJP would call the Lakshman Rekha.

Yes, he was critical of the Prime Minister — but within the marquee of democratic debate that permits contrarian views and policy perspectives. Or else where’s the need for the Opposition as an institution of import. And value.

The faintly ‘personal’ criticism of the PM happened when Rahul charged him with conducting an army of troll-minders to deconstruct and ridicule him 24X7. His observations on Kashmir, demonetisation, GST and the oft-happening assaults on free speech and civil liberties were par for the course. Not acrimonious.

In fact, Rahul’s claim that the BJP’s post-poll alliance with the PDP stultified the latter’s ability to attract the Valley’s youth to political mainstream needs serious study. There’s proof aplenty of the power-sharing arrangement lacking socio-political sanction in Kashmir and in some measure the Jammu region.

That brings one to the Congress vice president’s out-of-character spin on dynastic politics. His attempt to show it as commonplace trend across persuasions was in conflict with the puritanical approach he has had in the past.

There is no use hiding the truth that Rahul let realpolitik win — but why not? Wasn’t his earlier stance a tad utopian on the question that has dogged his family since the days of his grandmother, Indira Gandhi?

But he certainly could have cited better examples than Akhilesh Yadav, MK Stalin, Anurag Thakur and Abhishek Bachchan to drive the point home. Dynasts from same families are there in Congress and BJP. Certain entities are afflicted as much by malefic parochial and religious oligarchies.

Elected or electable dynasts have been a norm in most parts of the world, especially South Asia. If India has the Gandhis, Pakistan has the Bhuttos, Sri Lanka the Bandaranaikes and Bangladesh the heirs of Mujib-ur-Rahman and Gen. Ziaur Rahman. They are democratic, relatively acceptable dynasties, unlike plutocracies of the North Korean hue.

What joins these families is the leitmotif of assassinations and the role they played, with the exception of the Bhuttos, in their country’s freedom movements.

Nepal’s Koirala clan isn’t an exact parallel, but is anatomically dynastic. Even Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi’s father Aung San, who fought the British, is hailed as the father of “modern Burma.” He too fell to an assassin — like paterfamilias and materfamilias of other dynasties in the region.

It isn’t difficult therefore to detect reasons for the relevance of dynasties in our polity. They’re galvanised by charisma, the ideas the leaders embodied and the tragic fate they met: a heady mix of hero-worship, hope and emotion. Example: thousands of visitors from across India, who visit Indira’s memorial in Delhi every day, testify her lasting legacy.

But dynasties irrigated by blood have to be nurtured by sweat — and daring. Like Indira did with Nehru’s, Benazir with ZAB’s, Sheikh Hasina with Mujib’s and Suu Kyi with Aung San’s.

Each one of them added value to the inherited family name, creating legacies of their own. That’s also the challenge of present generation dynasts — be it Rahul or Bilawal Bhutto.

The comparison isn’t out of place. They both have their tasks cut out — of rebuilding parties against odds and strong detractors in the polity and the deep State.

The Congress is as moribund as the PPP; its cadres dispirited, support-base dissipating. Add to that slanderous cases of alleged corruption.

A counter-narrative the Congress should’ve had in place three years into the NDA rule isn’t there. The party isn’t viewed as the solution. It remains the problem that caused its ouster in 2014.

A big part of the blame lies at Rahul’s doorsteps. That’s the crisis of his inheritance.

First Published: Sep 14, 2017 13:37 IST