Watching my nine-year-old son Vineel talk reminds me of you. He is prone to telling his friends about the greatness of his mom—that she is a great cook, painter and carromboard player; and about his grandfather being a great chess player. He also believes that his mom is capable of doing whatever she sets her heart on. While he firmly believes in what he is saying, I suspect that his friends don’t take his claims seriously.
Hearing you campaign in Uttar Pradesh made me think about delusions of grandeur in politics today.
You said how the Babri Masjid would have been saved, had a member of the Gandhi family been in power at the time. And, when your efforts to appease Muslim voters resulted in protests from the community that has more or less long forgotten the incident, you dropped another bombshell—that the Nehru-Gandhi family must get full credit for dismembering Pakistan.
With these statements, you have proved to be an effective campaigner, not for your party but for your arch-rival, the Samajwadi Party, as the Muslims seem to have consolidated in that party’s favour.
Meanwhile, even in the heat of the election battle, it seems odd that nobody suggested, before your remarks, that such statements could run afoul of our diplomatic efforts and give Pakistan, which has been looking, a good excuse to meddle in our affairs.
But, now that you are back in the Capital, with not much for the party to show for in UP and hopefully mulling over what could have been done differently, here are a few thoughts on what you could perhaps do, say between now and 2009 when national elections are due, to shore up your own prospects.
The strength of the Congress party is in being an umbrella political brand that appeals to the entire spectrum of the electorate. Don’t follow narrow and sectarian politics to appease voters of different castes and communities. You can never do better than the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party in pursuing communal politics and can never surpass parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in caste and quota politics. Focus on good governance and you will appeal to all sections of voters.
The youth of this country are looking for leadership that is in tune with their aspirations. Your father rode to success on the strength of his ideas and by arousing great expectations. Show that you have some imaginative ideas and that you can help the country realize them. If you succeed in articulating them and arousing India’s expectations, you will have a great future and your remarks and performance in UP will be easily forgotten and forgiven. Your track record as a parliamentarian in the last three years has been uninspiring. So, why not use the remaining time there well?
Focus on competence and not family lineage. In today’s India, full of aspiring young people, tell and show the voters why you are qualified to run the country. Invoking the names of your illustrious grandmother and father will no longer get you very far, as you are probably discovering these days.
Make a break from the Gandhi dynasty’s ways of encouraging sycophancy. I remember how your father aroused great hopes by lashing out against power brokers at the Congress’ centenary celebrations in Mumbai in 1985. Let alone reforming the party, you seem to be showing early signs of having internalized the party’s political culture. As things stand today, your party is not expected to win the 2009 Lok Sabha elections by itself, if that. While the Congress could use a fresh leader in you, it could also end up finding the perfect scapegoat. So you might want to stall efforts to automatically project you as the party’s next prime ministerial candidate.
Finally, where are you, Rahul? Now is the time to gather courage and step into the limelight and accept the UP defeat gracefully. Otherwise, you would resemble my son in yet another way. Whenever he wins a game, he is all over the place. But, when he loses, he blames others for cheating.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development & Research Services, a research and consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org