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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Being Rahul Gandhi and Abhishek Bachchan

Being Rahul Gandhi and Abhishek Bachchan

What is it like to be expected by birth to be great at something but actually being rubbish in it?

Rahul Gandhi. Photo: Arvind Yadav/Hindustan TimesPremium
Rahul Gandhi. Photo: Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times

To be expected by blood, not really by choice, to be great at something and to be rubbish at it. What must it be like? I am thinking about the failed scions Rahul Gandhi and Abhishek Bachchan. It must be terrible on them.

To not be confident or strong enough, and perhaps not talented enough, to do what they might have otherwise wanted to do and might be good at doing (such as writing newspaper columns). And to be embarrassingly bad at doing what was thrust upon them. It must be awful. Also, this is important, to keep at it while failing because there is nowhere to go and nothing else to do.

It must require being made of stern stuff. In their place, meaning born to a family loaded enough for its sons not to work, I would have run away long ago to do something I enjoyed and, if possible, was good at.

I could be wrong about this but neither of them looks like they’re enjoying their work. To the extent that they actually have work, as in Bachchan’s case, and to the extent that they actually do it, as in the case of Gandhi.

The other thing here is that Gandhi reminds me of his father, Rajiv. As listless and as unable. Remove that electoral sweep after his mother’s death: That was not his doing. What then are the achievements we can list? Not a single election victory nationally, and no real good legislation or policy thrust that has survived him. He did not have, fortunately for us, the demented energy that his barely literate (he just did his class X) brother Sanjay had. In that sense, this listlessness we observe in Gandhi has a precedent.

Another thing I have been thinking of is that in politics, the losers become irrelevant (there are exceptions, like Barry Goldwater, who bring change even in losing, but they are few). Who remembers or cares about Mitt Romney or Gordon Brown? They are gone and forgotten.

But here there is no escape for Gandhi, for two reasons. The obvious one is that he has chosen to stick around and so must face the fire. So long as the Congress is a contender, however weak, it must be assessed. There is another reason. When I am on television, I have observed, I feel obliged, before getting on with the business at hand (whether it is terrorism, name-changing or something else) to begin by acknowledging what a crappy party the Congress is.

Partly, this is to establish my credentials, but it is also because if I do not do it there might be a disproportionate focus on the Congress. I don’t know if you have noticed this—I don’t know if you watch news debates on TV, and if you don’t, then good for you. The Congress has 45 seats. “Rump" describes the Congress well today and I mean it in both senses of the word.

Anyway, why do we waste so much time on a party with less than 10% of the Lok Sabha seats? Why is our continued failure on, for example, the economy, blamed on them? Or foreign policy, terrorism or road renaming or whatever else? I thought about this and I have concluded that this will not end or change. Another Indian minority (Muslims) has long attracted much time and energy from the majority. They have for so long been blamed for so much that we should not be surprised by this flogging of the dead, or a least dying, Congress horse.

The converse to this is also true: It is that when a leader is popular, this culture will continue to believe in his messianic abilities. I was with P. Chidambaram at an event a few weeks ago and he was talking about how ordinary the government’s economic achievements were. I asked him if it was unfair to judge a government that had been at it only two years. No, he said, it’s 40% of their term.

Has our belief in the magical abilities of Narendra Modi to bring in achche din waned in this time? Not at all.

There is a new term for faith passing off as evidence: green shoots. Have a look.

7 June 2014: “Indian domestic demand showing green shoots" (Nikkei)

25 July 2014: “Green shoots of economic recovery, Nifty seen at 8000: UBS" (NDTV)

10 August 2014: “India Inc sees green shoots in manufacturing" (PTI)

22 August 2014: “Economic green shoots visible, says Mayaram" (The New Indian Express)

29 August 2014: “Green shoots of hope: Modi’s first few months witness stunning ‘pickup’ in India’s growth rate" (Daily Mail)

2 June 2015: “May auto sales show green shoots of recovery" (Moneylife)

6 July 2015: “Indian economy sprouts green shoots" (Mint)

24 November 2015: “India Inc sees green shoots in economy" (The Times Of India)

4 December 2015: “HDFC Bank sees green shoots as Indian companies borrow again" (Reuters)

30 December 2015: “Job market sees green shoots of achche din" (The Tribune)

8 January 2016: “Green shoots of recovery visible, says new Ficci president" (The New Indian Express)

15 February 2016: “Green shoots showing after a lacklustre first half" (The Hindu BusinessLine)

13 April 2016: “Green shoots of economy to be good for corporate India and earnings" (The Economic Times)

14 April 2016: “Green shoots? Maybe, but they need watering" (The Hindu)

1 May 2016: “Below trend growth persists, green shoots visible: Deutsche Bank" (PTI)

11 May 2016: “Green shoots: is the worst over for Indian companies?" (Mint)

24 May 2016: “Amid big red flags, small green shoots point to uptick in economic growth" (The Indian Express)

What sort of shoots are these, I should like to know, that are still at sprouting stage after two years? It tells me, as it should you, that much of economics writing is soberly articulated bunkum.

But it is only just and fair that this leeway be given to a man who, whatever else his faults, is where he is because of merit and achievement. Not because it was the family business that he inherited.

Aakar Patel is the executive director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are personal. He tweets at aakar_amnesty.

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Published: 26 May 2016, 07:12 PM IST
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