Rahul Gandhi: Theoretical Prime Minister Aspirant

Despite the presence of such experienced and capable stalwarts as P. Chidambaram in the Congress Party, it was a given that Rahul Gandhi would succeed his mother as leader of the party, as a continuation of the dynastic line

By Dilip Laxman

First of all my apologies to Sanjaya Baru, author of the book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, for taking the liberty to paraphrase from his title. He was media adviser and trusted aide to former Indian Prime Minister Shri Manmohan Singh during the latter’s first term of the UPA government, an alliance led by the Congress Party, starting in 2004, which defeated the NDA led by BJP with Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister.

In his introduction the author writes that ‘this book is an honest account of my time with the PM, offering my view of what I saw and believed had happened’. The blurb on the back cover of the book describes it as ‘one of the great insider accounts of Indian political life’.

What happens to and in India, its politics in particular, is of great importance to the worldwide Indian Diaspora. India is not only the land of our forefathers but also our spiritual motherland, and because in Mauritius almost 70% of the population is of Indian origin (the oldest Diaspora of modern times that comprises that of South Africa, Caribbean and South America as well) and there have existed between our two countries what is officially described as privileged relations – although we did manage to mess up the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA). For those of us whose connection with India spans student days and family links, and therefore have a certain intimate knowledge about Indian social life and the polity in general, the interest in matters Indian is even greater.

It will be recalled that Shri Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister when Smt. Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, disqualified herself – despite a forcing – according to the provisions of the Indian Citizenship Act (1956) as has been clearly explained by lawyer Dr Subramanian Swamy of the BJP. The power situation in the UPA government was best captured pithily in two juxtaposed cartoons that appeared in the Indian magazine India Today after the annointment of Shri Manmohan Singh. One showed the latter seated and was captioned: ‘The throne’. The one next to it showed Smt. Sonia Gandhi standing behind the chair, and was captioned: ‘The power behind the throne’.

One last point about the ‘accidental’ part. Anupam Kher, well-known actor has played the role of Manmohan Singh in the film of the same name based on the book that was released last January. He explained in an interview to Arnab Goswami of Republic TV that when he met Shri Manmohan Singh about the film, the latter joked about the title, commenting that he had an antecedent as an ‘Accidental Finance Minister’ in Shri Narasimha Rao’s government. This is in contrast to the offence displayed loudly by the Congress when the film was advertised to be released.

This elegance of Shri Manmohan Singh was to be expected on the part of such a refined gentleman, who had served as economist at the World Bank before he was inducted into Rao’s government. His track record is only too well-known, and it includes the game-changing reforms that bore his imprint in that government.

Unfortunately, the new aspirant to the prime ministership of the largest democracy in the world and its second most populous one (after China), cannot boast of any similar equivalent. To start with, his ‘qualifications’ are controverted – and again it is Dr Subramaniam Swamy who has commented on the topic. Despite the presence of such experienced and capable stalwarts as P. Chidambaram in the Congress Party, it was a given that Rahul Gandhi would succeed his mother as leader of the party (we have a precedent here too, isn’t it), as a continuation of the dynastic line that has been recently lengthened further with the induction of his equally politically green sister Priyanka into the party.

As some observers have pointed out whenever he has made some gaffes in his moves on the political scene, Rahul Gandhi is still undergoing his political education. It is true that he has been able to lead the party to victory in some recent State elections in India, but that does not yet add up to make him the mature and rounded leader that his country needs. Anyone with a bit of common sense will see as clearly as the light of day that he is no match for the current incumbent whom he wants to replace, the veteran Shri Narendra Modi.

Shri Modi’s track record as three times Chief Minister of Gujarat and since 2014 as Prime Minister is an open book, as much as his organizational skills to mobilize support for the BJP as pracharak when he was requested by Atalji to come to New Delhi (from Gujarat) in the mid-1990s. Quibbles about his personal life before he joined politics – such as his being an ascetic in the Himalayas, a marriage renunciate, and his being advised by Ramakrishna Mission that he had a more urgent role to play ahead of him than to join the Mission (to serve his country at national level ) – only reinforce his credibility as a dedicated man with a single-pointed purpose, a mumuksha in the true Indian tradition.

As Prime Minister he has beefed up his country’s security situation through a combination of regional and international diplomacy as well as robust armed response (surgical strikes), pursued a foreign policy with maturity and avoiding as far as possible any escalation (e.g. on the Dokhlam issue with China), and recently has strengthened the rail links with Nepal). Besides, he has taken a series of innovative measures to reinforce the financial and fiscal situation in India, along with a host of other measures that impact health, sanitation, education, manufacturing and other sectors too. He has also initiated actions to bring back fugitives like Vijay Mallya, and Nirav Modi who has been refused bail in a London court and sent to jail till March – such moves take long to materialise because they involve complex legal processes in the host country and negotiations with bodies such as Interpol etc. Congress-wallahs seem to think that a flick of the finger by Rahul Gandhi will make Theresa May (or her replace) snap to attention and action!

As against all this, all that Rahul Gandhi does is to criticize him openly on issues such as the Rafale deal with France, his foreign policy and the latest was that Modi is afraid of Chinese President Xi when China did not back up the UN Security Council move to designate the mastermind behind the Pulwama attack in Srinagar as a global terrorist.

All the stands taken by Rahul Gandhi betray his immaturity as regards running the affairs of State, where knee-jerk reactions cannot be the norm and shrewd diplomacy is preferred. He expects Modi to turn around the country in five years after nearly 70 years of Congress rule. We don’t use the word ‘misrule’ because unlike Rahul Gandhi who sees nothing good in what the BJP government has done, we accept that Congress governments did contribute to advance the country on several fronts. But on many others – primary education, primary health care, its policy of minority appeasement – they have miserably failed their country. Otherwise how does one explain that so many decades after Independence India has still the highest levels of child mal- and under-nutrition in the world, woeful sanitation and water facilities which have begun to be addressed seriously by the BJP government at last – and so on and so forth.

In a public display of his great understanding of his prime ministerial functions and responsibilities, and respect for his country’s institutions, in 2013 he tore up in front of Parliament an Ordinance that had been signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – that too in the latter’ absence on official mission abroad!

Rahul Gandhi expects a miracle in five years. Well, good luck to him who has not so far had any direct experience of governing at even local level, let alone of the central machinery with the intelligentsia of Indian bureaucracy – and bureaucratese as well for that matter!

He will be a formidable theoretical Prime Minister. Genuinely patriotic Indians will surely know the difference between the wheat and the chaff as they go to the polls soon.

* Published in print edition on 22 March 2019

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