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Dinesh Narayanan
Based in Delhi, I write on policy, politics and economy.

Rahul ‘Neelkanth’ Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi was anointed party vice-president at the the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting in Jaipur on January 20, 2013. As the scion of a dynasty stretching back to India's independence from Britain in 1947, the party wants him to be prime minister if it wins the elections. Image Courtesy: Reuters

As a conversation opener this morning when I met a senior bureaucrat, I said, “power is poison’’ is the Congress party’s new maxim. I was, of course, hinting at Rahul Gandhi’s speech on Sunday after becoming the Congress Party’s vice-president. “So he must now be Rahul `Neelkanth’ Gandhi,’’ the bureaucrat replied wryly, referring to a name of Lord Shiva who drank poison to save the world. Mythology says Shiva’s wife Parvati, grabbed his neck so the poison stuck in his throat turning the neck blue.

As far as the Congress is concerned, Rahul Gandhi is the reluctant messiah who has finally accepted the poisoned chalice for the sake of the party. The Congress believes the young man of 42 would be a magnet for the increasingly restive youth and middle class of the country that has off late begun demanding decisive action, whether it is death for rapists or war against Pakistan.

The Congress Chintan Shivir (brainstorming camp) in Jaipur began with party president Sonia Gandhi’s reality-check speech and ended over the weekend with the party anointing the Gandhi scion as the second in command amid scenes of expected sycophancy and family drama. It is now clear that Rahul Gandhi will lead the party’s quest for a third straight term at the Centre; perhaps even as its prime ministerial candidate.

In one of his better articulated speeches in the eight years he has been active in Congress politics, Gandhi said, “I will not play the role of a lawyer, I will play the role of a judge now.’’
He also pronounced his judgment on what was wrong. “Power is grossly centralized in our country. We only empower people at the top of a system. We don’t believe in empowering people all the way to bottom… Until we start to respect and empower people, we cannot change anything in this country… all are closed systems, designed for mediocrity, mediocrity dominates,’’ he lamented.

Yet, mediocrity and lack of imagination is clearly reflected in the Jaipur Declaration released at the end of the session. Consider this.
“The Indian National Congress unequivocally re-commits itself to representing India’s ‘middle-ground’, speaking for the vast majority of the people of India, and fighting against fringe elements that foster divisive and destructive ideologies. The Congress is the Party that is committed to science, modern technology, inclusive innovation and job creating growth for the youth of India. The Indian National Congress commits to strengthening its support base – identifying its natural supporters, retaining the support of those sections that are with the Congress, and winning over those sections that have drifted away.”

The declaration promises to fulfill past promises and makes some new ones as well.
Congress Party’s biggest problem, apart from the lack of leadership and dis-empowering system identified by Gandhi, is an absolute lack of ideas, social, economic or political. It is unwilling to give credit where it is due and continues to play big brother with its coalition partners. It refuses to accept ideas from the ground, even from states ruled by its own, deferring to advise doled out by who Gandhi calls “…a handful of people behind closed doors who are not fully accountable to them (the people)’’.

Rahul Gandhi’s speech may have moved Congress workers and leaders to tears, but the Jaipur Declaration does not inspire confidence that much would change. It’s just old wine in an old bottle. Arguably, Rahul Gandhi now is the most powerful politician in the country. He must make sure he does not choke on it, as mother advised.

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The original Neelkanth Drank the Poison to save the people , But seems this Neelkanth wud fume out the poison .. Its a wait and watch now,
Hi Dinesh, Nice post as always. I believe India has say another 10 - 15 (maximum) years of the 'fleeting window of opportunity' where the world at large is looking at India to improve substantially on some of her ground problems (education and infrastructure the most). If we loose this, India will be written off by the world at large. Look at how Poland and Czech Republic have performed. Their economic metrics are so powerful for they wanted to be included in the Euro. Look at how Turkey (under Tayyip Erdogan) has bounced back handsomely. In Asia, we have South Korea and Taiwan as great examples. The leaders of these countries have been truly remarkable. Rahul Gandhi had 8 years to do something quite meaningful (and he had all the means to do so), but the results so far are not so encouraging. I believe he has not touch the cord with the 'people' of India, but just an elite few. The current India needs leaders like Sardar Patel, Erdogan (Turkey), Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore) and Deng Xiaoping (China) who can effectively pass on the message till the bottom of the government that "we want inclusive growth, if you mess up, I will be ruthless". We then will see the change over a period of time. Until then, I am not too hopeful. Would be happy to know your thoughts. Warm Regards, Manav Choksi
For the sake of the party? For our sake, Dinesh, for our sake...for the sake of the country.
“Power is grossly centralized in our country. We only empower people at the top of a system. We don’t believe in empowering people all the way to bottom… " Lofty words, but can the Gandhis and the Congress look within and purge the dynastic centralisation of power that ails the party and in turn is one of the causes of the rot in India's polity and democratic systems? I guess not. That is one 'poison' that the Congress and the Gandhis are most comfortable handling.
 
 
Dinesh Narayanan
A senior editor at Forbes India, Dinesh Narayanan sits in Delhi and writes on policy, politics and economy.
 
 
 
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January 23, 2013 11:41 am by Anil Kumar
The original Neelkanth Drank the Poison to save the people , But seems this Neelkanth wud fume out the poison .. Its a wait and watch now,
January 22, 2013 13:17 pm by Manav Choksi
Hi Dinesh, Nice post as always. I believe India has say another 10 - 15 (maximum) years of the 'fleeting window of opportunity' where the world at large is looking at India to improve substantially on some of her ground problems (education and infrastructure the most). If we loose this, India wil...
January 21, 2013 20:02 pm by Anirudha Dutta
For the sake of the party? For our sake, Dinesh, for our sake...for the sake of the country.
January 21, 2013 19:06 pm by Welingkar
“Power is grossly centralized in our country. We only empower people at the top of a system. We don’t believe in empowering people all the way to bottom… " Lofty words, but can the Gandhis and the Congress look within and purge the dynastic centralisation of power that ails the party and in...