Communist Party of India leader and the United Front government’s home minister, Indrajit Gupta, used to categorise members of Parliament into two: those who are active in the law-making processes and debates in Parliament, and those active in their constituencies. Though his Kalavati speech captured headlines, Rahul Gandhi is not considered to be a good debater. Though rural development minister Jairam Ramesh went gaga over the “contributions made by Rahulji” in the Land Reforms Bill, Rahul is yet to prove his law-making abilities. Once in a while Rahul visits Amethi.
So, if Comrade Gupta had included a third category - MPs who are busy building the party, Rahul could have found a place. In simple terms, Rahul is trying to build the Congress Party, particularly in Uttar Pradesh (UP), in his own style. One can call it an effort to evolve a different political culture by following the example set by many Indian social reformers in the past.
In Rebuilding the Left, political scientist Marta Harnecker argues: ”For the Left, politics must... be the art of discovering the potential that exists in the present concrete situation in order to make possible tomorrow that which appears impossible today.” Copies of Harnecker’s book are available in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) headquarters in New Delhi. Like many other Indian states, in UP too the Left has failed to build their political base. Rahul may not have read Harnecker, but he is following her prescription in order to rebuild the political base of the Congress.
Sociologists argue that caste, which would have died a natural death because of society progressing from a traditional to a modern one, is being given a new lease of life by machinations of the polity and is being kept alive for petty and sectarian vote bank interests. The Dalit vote bank is not a recent invention. National and regional parties have tried to benefit from it. In making unannounced visits to villages thickly populated with the lower castes and with night stays at Dalit homes, there can be little doubt that Rahul is compelled by vote bank interests. Rahul’s effort stands apart for its difference in approach. It is nothing but direct marketing!
In a society where untouchability is practiced in varied forms, Rahul is trying to touch the hearts of the Dalits by literally reaching out to them. He sits with them, eats with them and jokes with them. In the chaupal he holds with the villagers, he asks them about the centrally sponsored schemes, explains government programmes to them and urges them to fight for their rights.
It is said about Sonia Gandhi that in the initial days of her entry to the Page 1 party scene, she used to watch videos of her mother-in-law’s programmes. In public appearance Sonia wanted to copy Indira Gandhi. So much has been written about how much Priyanka Vadra resembles Indira in looks, words and deeds, but Indira was Rahul’s grandmother, too. When it comes to political functioning, Rahul seems to have taken his cues from Indira.
Like Rahul, Indira’s performance in Parliament in her initial years was termed dismal. While being the information and broadcasting minister in the Lal Bahadur Shastri cabinet, she was keen to meet people from villages personally, and she tried to develop her own constituency by separating herself from the tall personalities of the Congress. By visiting Tezpur in the midst of the Indo-China war or by visiting Kashmir valley in the mid-1960s when the secessionist movement was at its peak, Indira always looked for first-hand information and, of course, direct marketing! However, unlike Rahul, Indira was a fast learner.
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