Resenting Rahul Gandhi

As far back as the ascension of Sanjay Gandhi, much before the coming of the (more likeable) Rajiv Gandhi, I felt that the Nehru-Gandhi family ought to graciously retire from politics and let the Congress proceed on its own. I was very young then, probably not even in my teens, and I belonged to a family of staunch Congress supporters, but I recall feeling distinctly uncomfortable with the notion of Sanjay taking over from his mother.

I have not changed my basic position on this matter, and yet I have to say that much of the current ‘opposition’ to Rahul Gandhi has a disturbing and dark side to it. While opposition to ‘dynasty raj’ is offered as an explanation, what really exists, more often than not, is a mix of envy, resentment, neo-casteist sentiment and a disturbing kind of racism, most of it indirectly supported by major BJP politicians.

This is barely camouflaged in many online cartoons and ‘jokes’ about Rahul Gandhi, which often refer derisively to the Italian side of his family. Frequently, he is dismissed — unfairly — because he has a parent who came to India from elsewhere. This dismissal is in tandem with the dismissal of Muslims and Christians by the same elements.

Not only does this present a destructive kind of nationalism, it often verges on racist prejudice. The perpetrators of such jokes — and I use the word ‘perpetrator’ on purpose — seem to relish degrading Rahul Gandhi. Very often this is done literally, for instance in cartoons of doubtful humour that place Rahul Gandhi in an abject ‘Baba-like’ position against a ‘towering’ BJP politician. Hence also, the ‘language’ jokes about him by people who speak fewer languages than him.

The case with Nehru

This drain of resentment runs a long way. Jawaharlal Nehru encountered it too, but in more restrained ways. And for similar reasons: in his writing and lifestyle, Nehru repudiated the entire structure of upper-caste prejudices. He also repudiated the strong structure of endogamy that still sustains the caste system, and not just within Hinduism. Elements of these prejudices are visited upon Rahul Gandhi too.

But there are other elements too, of which one was probably less of an issue with Nehru: Nehru appears to have faced far less envy for his personal, educational and class advantages. This might seem surprising; after all, Nehru was a more cultivated and talented person than Rahul Gandhi or, for that matter, any other major national leader today. And yet, Nehru’s difference was largely respected by the voters then.

Some of it had to do with the person: Nehru had spent years in jail and organising for independence among ordinary people. Some of it had to do with the age: Nehru lived in a less envious age, perhaps because the discourse of easy riches and the magnifying glasses of TV and such media — which take us into houses we cannot enter in reality — was not prevalent in the period.

And yet, some of it probably has to do with character — or lack of character. No, I am not talking of Rahul Gandhi. I have no reason to suppose that he has less character than any other national leader. Actually, he seems to have more than most. I am talking of people who obviously envy him, his exposure to the world, his space of living, even (subconsciously) his lifestyle.

This is the taluk middle and lower middle class to which I belong. These are people with education and at times professional careers whose formative years were spent in small towns of India, or who are still based there. It is among these people that you find the greatest resentment of Rahul Gandhi, not among farmers or workers or born metropolitans. I have spoken to such people. I am convinced that what they unconsciously resent in Rahul Gandhi is the structural lack that keeps them where they are.

Mores in taluk towns

A taluk town has never been cut off from the rest of India, but it is now wired not just to India but to the entire world. On the other hand, the mores and social skills that prevail in taluk towns are not those that enable its denizens much space in the world. To take just one example: English. Every time I visit my home (taluk) town, I am asked not about my books, but about how to become fluent in English. This is the genuine concern of people who have English, but not sufficient fluency in it to capitalise on their other talents and skills in the world. For people like this, the easy access that Rahul Gandhi has to the world — perhaps without even the kind of hard work they have put into their own education — is deeply galling. The best among them overcome it, but the worst simmer with envy against all the Rahul Gandhis of India.

Given the sharp educational and social stratification of India, and the vast chasm between not just the rich and the poor but between metropolitan/international education and taluk education, I suspect that Rahul Gandhi has a far steeper mountain of resentment to overcome than Nehru ever had. I can understand the resentment, but I cannot accept it, for it brings out the worst in us. Politicians who capitalise on this are doing us — and India — a disfavour.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 1:34:03 PM |

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