In the season of electoral hardsell, Rahul Gandhi has chosen to portray his party, government and himself as they are, warts and all. Not surprisingly, the pundits are tearing their hair: What could be the strategy behind a potential Prime Minister telling his voters not to entertain any hopes from him? Indeed, there were puzzling aspects to Rahulspeak, the platform for which was provided by India Inc. The Congress vice-president made no business pitch to the captains of industry as might have been expected of a political leader newly appointed to a strategic position in the ruling party. No invitation to invest, no assurances to ease the red tape, and no pleas for support. If this was odd, odder still was the Congress second-in-command’s refusal to woo the electorate with the kind of largesse and promises mandatorily handed out ahead of a critically important general election. Rahul’s speech was like a soliloquy: it was as if he was throwing questions at himself, exploring his own dilemmas, doubts and weaknesses and concluding that perhaps there were no answers.
Rahul might have been a philosopher contemplating the mysteries of the world rather than a hard-nosed politician fighting to save his battered party and government from the prospect of defeat. To put it another way, he might have been a Congress malcontent wishing doom on the UPA government. How else could one explain his assertion that if Manmohan Singh was expected to “solve our problems, it is not going to happen?” The VIP politician critiqued the existing system for closing its doors on the ordinary people with their phenomenal capabilities but offered no roadmap for their future inclusion in decision-making. If there is a method in this seeming madness, it can only be that Rahul is consciously playing the outsider to escape the misdeeds of a regime of which he is a part. Admittedly he holds no post in government. But the Congress has ruled India the longest, and the Nehru-Gandhi clan has given us three Prime Ministers. And though Sonia Gandhi passed up the opportunity to be the fourth on the list, she is widely viewed as the power behind Prime Minister Singh’s shaky throne. So it stretches credulity that Rahul should speak as if he were a disenchanted voter angered and fatigued by the government’s remoteness from his everyday problems. On the other hand, sacrifice and aloofness are qualities that have proved in the past to be attractive to the Indian polity. The more the clan members run away from power and position, the more apparently their mystique. But can detachment by itself deliver votes when the competition is in the form of a very determined Narendra Modi?