The Congressman's big idea is half-baked

Last Updated: Sat, Feb 01, 2014 03:36 hrs

It's the process stupid, Rahul Gandhi has told us at great length, in personal interactions as well as in the interview with Times Now. If the process to select candidates is wrong, the candidates will be wrong, the decisions they will take will be wrong, the policies they will put in place will be wrong. Change the process of selection, make it more democratic, and you change everything.

For those who have been trained in the old school of politics, to listen to the cadence of the voice and what that voice is saying is as important as to whom the voice belongs. You had Karan Singh, with blood as blue as it can possibly be, resign from his membership of the India International Centre (IIC) in protest when Lalu Prasad was denied membership: Singh didn't want to belong to a club that did not open its doors to the subaltern.

You had V P Singh, the Raja of Manda, give away a large part of his estate to Vinoba Bhave's Bhoodan movement. These were men with vast privileges who gave them up for a cause they believed in. V P Singh won a Sanjay Gandhi talent-spotting contest: he was initially nominated as chief minister, not democratically elected. Karan Singh got an inheritance. You could argue that they gave up what they would never miss - I mean, how many times would Karan Singh have visited IIC? But they were motivated by a principle - and that's what counts.

And this is what is worrying: that in his anxiety to overcompensate, given his own privileged background, Gandhi is relying too much on systems and processes to recast the Congress and eventually India's polity. It seems less important to tell the average Congressman what he needs to say and what he must believe in. Instead, the emphasis is almost entirely on making the process of becoming a Congressman transparent.

There is no doubt that in the Congress, a lot comes to you if you are born in the right family. Examples are all around us, too numerous to recount. It cannot be denied that the party engenders regency and is innately feudal in its outlook. As an organisation it is tolerant of the view that fathers' fortunes - political or otherwise - should be inherited by their children. Rahul Gandhi finds this politics of entitlement abhorrent.

And yet, the ground is littered with sons and daughters of Congressmen who, promoted by ambitious fathers, failed to make the cut despite nagging, prodding and nudging by their parents. K Karunakaran was a legend in the Congress in Kerala. His children were, not once but several times, rejected by the party and the electorate. No one knew what they stood for: all people knew was that they were foisted on the party by their fathers and refused to support them. P V Narasimha Rao's sons got very little traction in Andhra Pradesh (that said, Rao himself played only a small part in promoting them).

P Shiv Shankar was an influential leader of the Kapu community and rose to become India's law minister. His son, the late Sudhir Kumar, could never make a success of a political career. Despite having a father as stellar as Kamalapati Tripathi, his three sons were turfed out of politics.

So there is a process of natural selection in which only the fittest can survive. The system purges itself. This applies equally to those who have struggled in politics and made a mark - like Mamata Banerjee - and those who've been handed a silver spoon and have not been able to make anything of it. So it is not enough to focus only on processes: it is equally important to work on the kind of young man the new Congressman is, what he thinks, how he dresses, what company he keeps and what he believes in.

There isn't much of this element of the evolution of the new Congress that is visible to the naked eye. Take away the sense of entitlement: but after that you still have a Congressman standing before you who justifies khap justice (Sachin Pilot), only half understands the legal processes in our country (Milind Deora) and typically has done little by way of ideas to change anything.

The last big agitation the National Students' Union of India carried out was against film actor Salman Khan - on why he was fraternising with Narendra Modi. You cannot be a rebel by popularising government ideas: you need to have ideas of your own. And it is hard to spot the young Congressman's big idea.

This is why launching commoners as the new Congress is only a partial achievement. Stereotypes, ideas of half-baked socialism and state capitalism, caste and other distortions in Indian society - do you see any frontal assault on any of this by the new Congressman? The exploration of any new mindspaces? If not, then are they really leaders?

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