Every way he moves


December 16, 2015

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi at parliament during the winter session, in New Delhi on Tuesday (PTI)

They can make fun of him and even pretend to write him off. But all eyes in the ruling BJP and the Congress over which he rules, are on ‘Pappu’ Gandhi as he calls the shots.

It appears that when one begins to see hope for the country in any political development, it doesn’t last long. It gets dashed sooner than expected. Or so it seems, what with the federal government and the opposition Congress locked in a battle that is bound to impact economic reforms as well as future politics. The positive signals that came in from the initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he chose to engage with the top leaders of the Congress Party have dimmed in just over a fortnight.

Both the houses of parliament have been in a logjam for some reason or the other, dangerously straining the fragile nature of the engagement that the Prime Minister started soon after the defeat of his party in the Bihar state elections. Central to the logjam has been a court case in which the two faces of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, have been summoned to appear on Saturday. The allegation against them is that they sold the party’s property, a newspaper founded by Rahul’s great grandfather and India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to a real estate company for a paltry sum of money to clear off a huge loan.

The complainant, Subramaniam Swamy, a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has individually not suffered any loss. Nor have those, who are alleged to have lost according to Swamy, complained about anything. In any case, the legalities are bound to be dealt with by the courts which will decide whether the two representatives of the Gandhi family, also considered the high command of the Congress, are guilty or not guilty. But, the Congress has, in its wisdom, preferred to look at the development in the 2012 case as ‘politics of vendetta’ driven primarily by the office of the Prime Minister.

It was this approach that has made the mother-son duo strikingly combative, compared to their rather subdued performance before the Bihar elections. Sonia Gandhi went on to state that she was not scared of going to jail because she was Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law. She did not obviously realise that the circumstances under which the mother-in-law went to jail for a weakling of a case was quite different from what she is facing. Nevertheless, the one person who has slowly emerged as a critical factor on the political landscape is her son Rahul Gandhi.

All eyes in the Congress were on him, looking rather anxiously, after the chat over tea that Modi had with Sonia and former prime minister Manmohan Singh over the passage of the critical economic reforms legislation on the Goods and Services Tax or GST. It was his words that the government listened to very carefully and reacted most strongly to when he raised issues of propriety and protocol after the invitation to the Congress Chief Minister of the southern state of Kerala was withdrawn. The Chief Minister was originally invited to the unveiling of a statue of an erstwhile leader by Modi.

It is well understood by all his critics, despite the ridicule that is heaped on him, that Rahul Gandhi calling the BJP-led government the ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ (meaning a government of the rich, for the rich) was the most stinging comment which finally led to the government withdrawing the land acquisition legislation. The withdrawal of this legislation was the first indicator that the BJP could not ignore the man who gained the moniker of ‘pappu’ (or baby) on social media. True, he has been described as a dumbo in politics and ridiculed across the board from social media to mainstream media, in drawing rooms and at public meetings.

But, what is becoming amply clear over the last few weeks is that everyone in the ruling party is keeping a close watch on his every move and utterance. Whether anyone likes it or not, it is Rahul’s writ that seems to be running in the decision-making echelons of the Congress party. It is fairly clear now that the old guard in the party would have still tried to help get the GST legislation passed in parliament because it was, after all, a product of their own Congress-led United Progressive Aliance or UPA. The young guard, led by Rahul Gandhi, however, seems to be getting its way, with the party obstructing the proceedings of the Upper House of parliament where the ruling BJP does not enjoy a majority. (For any legislation to get passed, both the houses of parliament have to put their seal).

The young turks, obviously, believe that a certain delay in passing the GST should not matter because the BJP had successfully blocked, for years, the second set of economic reforms when it was in the opposition. A few more months should not matter. So, if the BJP used obstruction as a tool in parliament, why should the Congress not adopt a similar approach? In any case, the beneficiaries of the new taxation system cannot be expected to fund the Congress party, at least, as long as the BJP remained in power.

So, the ruling party is caught in a peculiar situation. It cannot ignore him, nor can it digest his politics. He has landed up in all kinds of places - sometimes, even where the regional leaders had not treaded (like the flooded lanes and by-lanes of the southern city of Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu), created a lot of noise and shown to the people that if they had a complaint they should contact him. He is presenting himself as the angry young man and worse still is that he is constantly directly attacking Modi.

At the same time, the ruling party needs him because he has now emerged as the sole decision maker in the Congress Party. For the BJP, engaging with the opposition is still work in progress. Maybe difficult times for the ruling party. But the fact is that it has an opponent who can only climb up because he cannot go further downhill.

From the King’s mouth

Many may have thought and may continue to think that a film actor does not really deserve to be addressing alumni of one of India’s premier management institutes, the Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore or IIM-B. But, it should be said to the credit of Shahrukh Khan, the Bollywood star aka King Khan for the number of box office hits he has delivered, that he has forced people to change their pessimistic viewpoint.

He delivered some very interesting messages, as the keynote speaker, to the who’s who alumni of IIM-B the other day. The most interesting point, however, was something that businessmen and professional managers would have naturally given enough and more thought to it over the weekend. Constantly looking at the numerical figures on the balance sheet kills creativity and fixing goals limits creativity. In his words: “Creation cannot be managerial. It has to be imaginational.”

To quote him again: “Growth that you can quantify is an illusion. The reality is hard work, diligence and wanting to strive for familiarity in the field one wants to work in to create the best. Hard work is non-negotiable. I did not know my destiny. I don’t think I still do. Successful achievement of goals is not destiny. Those are just milestones of excellence. I for one never set myself goals. I only strive to work, work better and better.”

Tailpiece

She may have studied only up to the eighth standard. Her hope of becoming a teacher may not have fructified. But aspiration is something that cannot be curbed as is evident from the case of Khushboo Saxena in a village of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Khushboo gave a simple mathematical test to her would-be husband before the formalities began. The bridegroom failed. He could not count up to nine. He was then given another test to recall her mobile number. The man failed

again and with that got rejected a few minutes before the formalities of the marriage were to be completed.

The pressure of the family as well as the local village body failed to convince the adamant bride. The village community and her father as well, finally, came around to appreciating her stand. Her policy was simple. The husband should have some basic capacity to think and be intelligent enough to remember her number. She did not want a dumbo of a husband. That was Khushboo’s wish. Hopefully, she will get it fulfilled some day, sooner than later.