“Power is grossly centralized in this country; we only empower people at the top of the system… Every single day I meet people who have tremendous understanding, deep insight, and no voice… And then I meet people holding high positions with tremendous voice, but no understanding of the issue at hand... (Young people)… are alienated and excluded… watch from the sidelines as the powerful drive around in their lal battis (cars with red beacons)… Why are the poor confined to powerlessness and poverty? Because the decision over their lives and the services they need are decided by people far away, answerable to them only in theory... We have to relook at things in the system and transform them completely.”
Those are excerpts from Rahul Gandhi’s speech at Jaipur in which the party’s newly anointed vice-president showed that he has come of age—as a politician if not a leader. Indeed, it has been said that one of the traits that made his late grandmother, Indira Gandhi, a successful politician was her ability to present herself as part of the solution—thereby clearly excluding herself from the definition of the problem.
That’s exactly what the man long pre-ordained India’s future Prime Minister has done. He has clearly defined the structural problem that ails politics in India and then, masterfully, presented himself as someone who can address this problem. Judging from this morning’s coverage, the English language press (Mint included) seems to have lapped this up—as have political analysts.
By referring to the structural problems, terming power “a poison”, and speaking of alienated young people, Rahul Gandhi has sought to draw a line between himself and his party’s recent stint in power (and its stranglehold over Indian politics till the 1980s); its poor track record in terms of governance (and management of the economy); and a rash of corruption scandals. Given that many people hold his party and his family responsible for many of the ills in this country, it’s a tough line to draw, and one that—while it may be clear to Gandhi and his party—may not really be all that clear to voters.
Everyone is the same, but I am different, is the message between the lines of Rahul Gandhi’s speech at Jaipur where the Congress party, after a three-day brainstorming session decided that the next in line of a family that has led it for almost all of its life since 1947, the year of India’s independence, should lead it into the next elections.
That’s a smart message in a country where personality politics has always been a dominant force, and it will be interesting to see whether the Congress translates that into an election campaign focused more on its future leader than its past performance. After all, that is one way the party can get over its current image problems, many of them arising from the way it has managed the country in the past nine years.
Indeed, Gandhi’s unarticulated promise to voters seems to be that if they vote for him, he will change the party and the system. Will they forgive and forget the past nine years, and believe this promise? That depends how believable Rahul Gandhi is as a victim of a system trying to rise up and strike a blow against it.