At times, it may take a while to ingest what a politician has said. Especially in India, where truth is rare and interpretations abound.
As it is with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Although he tends to speak his mind, he does so in gatherings of a closed nature.
Like in interaction with party colleagues. When he met a few Congress MPs in parliament a couple of days ago, he shared a few thoughts.
An interesting view was on marriage and the effect it has on a father.
The quote attributed to Rahul says he would be a mere status quoist if he married and had children. This is because he too would focus on securing his children’s life by bequeathing his position.
This view has a few layers. It deserves some examination and not the silly retort that the BJP had on how married people are not inferior to singles.
Rahul is not asking people to stay single. Instead, he appears to be sharing the dilemma of a fifth generation politician in India’s premier political family with not many career interests apart from politics.
He also described himself as a ‘parachute’ in the same interaction. This too suggests he is not comfortable with the notion that he was handed power.
He seems to like it better when he has to work his way to something.
Therefore, he seems to relish it when the Congress is in a difficult position. This offers him scope to work hard in the face of dislike.
At the moment, there are no signs that the youth of India have taken to Rahul, say, like previous generations of youngsters might have backed Rajiv or Indira.
Much of this skepticism seems to be because Rahul is not an underdog. He hasn’t had to fight his way to the top in the Congress.
He is there largely because of family. This is what scores of Indians seem to think.
This makes family a liability for Rahul, almost as much as it has been an asset.
As a politician, Rahul works the advantages his family brings to the Congress without a thought.
His focus is on the negatives.
The point worthy of scrutiny is the status quo aspect of family. Indian families can be vastly conservative.
They prefer to keep doing the same thing over centuries. It can take several generations, or serious crises, to change the way families think in India.
It’s the same with political families.
The Abdullahs, the Badals, the Scindias, the Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Patnaiks of Odisha, the Karunanidhi family, the Pilots, the Mukherjees [Pranab and son], the Deoras, the Hoodas, the Chautalas, the Reddys [YSR and Jagan], and so many others across India.
None of them, however, see it as inappropriate. Rahul is probably the only one saying so.
He is also the only one explaining why he is reluctant to marry: because he might put the interests of his children above other things.
It does make us think of the subjective nature of families. Of the limits of family vision. Of the pettiness that slips in without effort and is almost unchanging.
All around us is the selfishness of Indian family. It takes minor rebellions to break free of self-interest.
Some of this results in inappropriate parenting, which can create maladjusted children. They then have trouble understanding laws and codes of conduct.
We don’t know if Rahul is attempting to free himself and set a nice precedent – of the Nehru-Gandhis not treating the Congress as an extension of family.
But it does look like he is trying.
There are others who have stayed single and focused on politics.
Mayawati, Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee, Mehbooba Mufti, Naveen Patnaik, Uma Bharti, APJ Abdul Kalam, and RSS seniors are also single.
There are a few like Narendra Modi, who are separated.
But none of them, barring the RSS [which refers to purity of life] and Bharti [who spoke of spiritual reasons] have explained why they chose to be so.
To that extent, Rahul is in uncharted territory.
And since it is unfamiliar terrain for the Congress as well, it is likely that the party might find this difficult to accept.
We already have the BJP thinking that Rahul has slighted the institution of marriage and has suggested that married men are selfish.
We are likely to stay the way we are – not allowing children to take risks – if we continue to misread things on such a scale.
It is striking that most well-known single Indian politicians are women.
They don’t often explain themselves fully. For instance, Jayalalithaa barely ever says anything of a personal nature.
But they do say a lot by their actions.
Marriage is not a disqualification in public life. But promoting family over all else is.
Rahul Gandhi is thinking about it. Hopefully, he will be allowed to.
Also by the author:
To hang a man: How to read Afzal Guru's death
10 great reasons to leave India
Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.
He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.