Monday, September 29, 2008

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, September 29, 2008

CONVENTIONAL wisdom proclaims that the instincts of the likes of Arjun Singh, Shivraj Patil, Oscar Fernandes would send the Congress for a fairly long spell out of power. But wait. Don’t give up hope as yet. For most of us used to the predictable servility of Congressmen, there is something about young Rahul Gandhi that is refreshing and at the same time intriguing.

One day last week, I flipped from TV channel to channel and they were all showing the same “ breaking news” of Rahul terming POTA a “ failed law” and stressing on the need for stronger antiterrorism laws to deal with the increasing incidence of subversion across the country.

I pinched myself to make sure I had heard right, since his statement stood his party’s argument — that existing laws were enough to deal with terrorism — on its head. Not surprisingly, none of the embedded journalists on Rahul’s Discovery of India travels thought it fit to quiz him further, which perhaps explains why Rahul repeated the statement not once but several times. In times to come, we will get to know about the impact of his statement on the country’s internal security situation.

That’s the larger question that Rahul, I am sure, will one day get to address. For the moment, I will confine myself to his unconventional style that has baffled Congressmen, mystified media pundits and kindled some hope in his party men, particularly the younger lot who see him as the last white hope. To the well- entrenched seniors — the Patils, the Singhs et al — he is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. The party’s younger lot are clearly loving the suspense but the seniors have been on a razor’s edge in the last couple of years that Rahul has taken on a proactive role in party affairs. His is truly a dilemma: he can’t do much to the parent organisation which his mother controls, who, in turn, is guided by the seniors. So he is doing what his father did — creating a party within the party.

Nearly a quarter century ago, at the Congress Centenary in Mumbai, Rajiv Gandhi served a not- so- subtle warning to the Old Order with his famous “ Power Brokers” speech. He then assembled a team of young, dynamic and efficient partymen and women who were not only good at their jobs but knew how to keep the old fogies guessing.
Rahul is treading his father’s path, travelling a lot, talking a lot. And almost anything he says seems to cause heartburn among his senior colleagues.

“ I am open to the idea of becoming Prime Minister,” he once said, leaving several Congress’s prime ministerial hopefuls searching for new employment opportunities. On whistle- stop tours through the most backward hamlets in Karnataka, Orissa, UP, Bihar and Punjab, he threw his itinerary to the wind, shared dalchawal with the locals and once even accepted an invitation and stayed overnight with a poor family. Now this is vintage Nehru- Gandhi, bringing to mind Indira’s ride atop an elephant through Belchi in Bihar to commiserate with Dalit victims of atrocities; or Rajiv giving the slip to his security and driving through dusty Amethi to meet up with his constituents. In contrast, Sonia’s style has been conventional, which is why Congressmen feel safe with her. It’s Rahul’s unorthodox ways that has the old guard on pins.

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