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Rahul and India
January 23, 2006
It's hard not to be swayed by youth. Youth after all represents the art of the possible. In your 20s, you believe you can climb Everest. In your 30s, you think maybe you can. In your 40s you know it is time to not block the path upwards.
In politics especially, youth is a priceless commodity, maybe because the average age there is 70+. An Aamir Khan would be a youth leader in politics, while in cinema he is being asked to play his age.
Watching Rahul Gandhi on television, deliver his brief address at the Congress plenary session in Hyderabad on Monday, brought back memories of his father 20 years ago. Then, I too was a youth fresh out of college.
The existing lot of politicians didn't excite us one bit, although the original Mr Clean, Ramakrishna Hegde - before we saw the feet of clay - impressed us somewhat. Who will speak for us, who knows us and our issues, were the questions that played on our mind. Then Indira Gandhi was gunned down and her son, Rajiv, was thrust into the post.
As Hegde told the nation in his 1984 pre-election address, it was not the time for on the job training, but India didn't care. The manner in which Rajiv conducted himself at his mother's funeral, seen by millions on television, and his earnestness and sincerity told us he was just what the doctor ordered.
And in 1985, after his landslide victory in the general election, when Rajiv Gandhi addressed the Congress plenary at the Brabourne stadium, Mumbai - like his son did today - and spoke of the need to get rid of 'power-brokers' in the party, we rejoiced. For he spoke what was bothering us about the natural party of governance.
And, when he swept the US of A off its feet during his visit there with his 'I have a dream' speech, we could have wept with pride and joy. Here at last was a leader after our own heart.
Of course, what happened soon after is too well known. All these thoughts raced through my mind as I watched yet another Gandhi scion step up to bat this morning.
You can see he is his father's son, all right. The same handsome features, the sincere manner.
The youth of today must be in a state similar to what we were 20 years ago. After all, ultimately it all comes down to jobs, doesn't it. Although every party has young MPs in its ranks, there is no single national leader to tap this awesome resource. Figures vary, but India is said to have the largest number of under-25s. This is the group that traditionally looks at elections and politics with distaste. But if you can capture their imagination, unleash their potential, like we thought Rajiv Gandhi would do in 1984, there is no stopping the country.
As we asked on Rediff, is Rahul Gandhi India's man of the moment? Does he have it in him to face up to the rigours of political life? What are his views on issues confronting the nation - on Ayodhya, say. Or, Iran. No one knows. And what little he chose to let the nation know in an interview a few months ago, he retracted.
But watching him on television today, and reading the subsequent reports about his address to the Congress plenary, I feel he has made a good debut. Without sounding preachy, he has told Congressmen what ails them: distance from the people. Capture their hearts, why and how did we lose it in the first place?
But will Congressmen do it? Or are they, once again, merely looking for a naοve vote-catcher who will let them do just the things that alienated them from the electorate in the first place?
Mass adulation is a funny thing and does funny things to you. It alters your sense of balance, and presents distorted images. If the Congress can bottle the sycophancy on evidence in Hyderabad, it has a blockbuster on its hands. But, good for him, Rahul was not swayed by all that, and chose to sit below with other party workers and not on the dais.
Well begun is half done, but there's a long way to go for Rahul. He can either let his famous surname work the magic for him - which so far he is obviously disinclined to do - or earn his spurs. The latter is easier said; but for starters he can read up all there is on his great grandfather and grandmother to know what he needs to do to not lose this reservoir of goodwill. And, yes, read up on his father too to know what he should not do.
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