Were it not for the gore and misrepresentation, Rahul Gandhi’s adventure could well have been similar to that of Jawaharlal Nehru 91 years earlier—one that the latter so memorably described as Wanderings Among the Kisans in his autobiography. There is no resemblance between the two episodes. Then it was a fight for farmers battered by a colonial regime; now it is a naked lunge for power with farmers as a mere foil.
News reports quoted Gandhi as saying that he had found evidence of individuals being “murdered” and women being “raped” in Bhatta and Parsaul villages in the Greater Noida area of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Later, in a defensive move, his party’s spokespersons clarified that he had been misquoted and that he never said that there were 74 mounds of ashes with dead bodies inside in the village. Instead, it was claimed, that what he had seen was a 70-foot wide mound. Beyond the quibbling about the number of mounds or their diameter, his insinuation is quite clear. It needs no amplification.
What does require elaboration is the nature of this curious media spectacle. Within a day of his assertions, the unsaid prime ministerial hope of his party had arranged a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and farmers from the affected area. On Wednesday, in Varanasi he said, “Bhatta-Parsaul is just the start. We will fight this battle in every village of the state now and remove the present government.” He could not have been clearer.
Two conclusions emerge from all this. One, Gandhi is a man in a hurry to make his mark. Unfortunately, the manner in which he is going about doing so does him no credit. These are tactics of insecure politicians who wrest any opportunity that comes their way to make political gains. Two, he does not understand the political complexities of states such as UP, which have been home to experiments in caste mobilization since the mid 1980s. High decibel campaigns of the kind that he has been engaging in of late cannot yield political dividends beyond a point. If UP has to be won, then his party has to think of a more credible strategy to beat regional parties that are well entrenched in the caste space there. Fly-by-night politics of this kind is naive and gives the impression that Gandhi understands issues only in black and white terms while problems are all about the colour grey.
One incident should not be used to question the potential of any individual, let alone a budding politician. But Gandhi needs to understand that India’s problems, internal and external, are immense and the world a far more unforgiving place than when his father was prime minister. The country needs a leader who is careful in what he says and more so in what he does.
Rahul and UP: a story of political miscalculations? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org