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The Great White Hope: The Son Also Rises

April 13, 2004 12:58 IST

I cannot tell you, gentle reader, how delighted I am that Rahul Gandhi, aka Roberto Raoul Maino, has decided to take his long-awaited plunge into Indian politics. I am delighted for several reasons: one, the things that I have in common with him, two, the things I do not have in common with him, and three, the fact that his arrival adds color to the rather jaded political situation in India now.

Here are the things that we have in common. First, the name Rajeev, of course, I share it with his father. As M Karunanidhi says, it does bring tears to my eyes to see Rahul out there on the hustings. It reminds me of poor misunderstood Rajiv Gandhi, who has been exonerated of Bofors hanky-panky (well, not quite, see the Swedish principal investigator Sten Lindstrom's damning comments in The Asian Age of April 8). Besides, according to Sam Pitroda, Rajiv was the mastermind behind India's current rise in the technology landscape.

Then, our education. Rahul and I are both Harvard educated: yes, both of us studied at the dearly beloved Stanford of the East Coast. When I lived in Cambridge, Mass, I took several courses at Harvard Extension, on film appreciation, wine tasting, French impressionists, etc. Rahul seems to have done much the same thing, he took a few courses in economics, but like father, mother and grandmother, got no degree.

And our work experience. I too have been in investment banking. When I was selling computers for a large multinational firm, I used to sell to Goldman Sachs, Salomon Brothers, Morgan Stanley and so forth. So I have spent a lot of time with them. Similarly, Rahul has done something peripheral with investment banks. And oh, we both are into software. And yes, we were both employed by prestigious management consulting firms. Amazing coincidence, isn't it?

Next, the things that we do not have in common. I am open with my views about various things; my long-term readers know exactly where I stand on lots of things, and they know a lot about me. On the other hand, Rahul is enigmatic. Nobody knows what his views are on... anything. Does he in fact have any views on anything? Does he understand the issues on which he is supposed to have views?

Rahul is so mysterious that he has the entire Indian journalistic crowd in a complete tizzy. Thanks to reader Gautam for sending me the following gems about Rahul's educational background, culled from the Indian and western media.

NEWS AGENCY: AFP. 'Rahul Gandhi, a Harvard University graduate who used to work for a computer firm in London, bears a striking resemblance to his father, who was slain by Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels in 1991.'

Source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_world/view/76523/1/.html

Times of India

'Education: Studied at St Columbus, Delhi; History honours at St Stephens. Did not have the requisite marks for the course, but was given admission in the sports quota for shooting, amid accusations of using the Gandhi name. Masters in Economics from Harvard, Development Economics at Trinity College Cambridge, also did an engineering design course in software.'

Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-576319,curpg-2.cms

Hindustan Times

'He is a Masters in Economics from Harvard and has studied Development Economics at Trinity College Cambridge, with an engineering design course in software also in his kitty. He gave up his career abroad to help his mother Sonia Gandhi at home and in India, he has his own consultancy firm in Gurgaon besides being involved with an NGO Pratham which focuses on primary education for children.'

Source: http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/5983_633597,004300140007.htm

Sify News

'The Harvard-educated Rahul currently owns a computer consultancy firm in New Delhi. His candidacy, ironically, runs counter to a ruling by his mother that two members of the same family should not be given tickets to the same election! In any case, the Congress hopes that the 'politics of pedigree' will see them through. However, it must be said that Rahul does not enjoy the advantages that his father and grandmother had when they entered the fray.'

Source: http://sify.com/news/politics/fullstory.php?id=13436933

The Guardian (UK), Monday March 22, 2004

'The 33-year-old, who studied at Harvard and has worked for an investment bank in London will stand for election in the north Indian constituency of Amethi.'

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/india/story/0,12559,1174872,00.html

Rediff, Monday March 22, 2004

'What unique skill will the Harvard-educated Rahul bring to the party is a question that needs to be answered, and answered fast.'

Source: http://www.rediff.com/election/2004/mar/22espec2.htm

India Today, April 5, 2004

'August 1989: He is now a history honours student at St. Stephen's, Delhi University. September 1999: By now he has added Harvard and Cambridge to his CV.'

Indian Express, March 30, 2004. Interview.

'Rahul holds an M Phil in Economics from Trinity College, Cambridge, and has worked with Monitor Group, a consultancy firm set up by Michael Porter of Harvard Business School. Until a few months ago, he was running his own IT company, Strategy Consultancy, in Mumbai.'

Source: http://www.indianexpress.com/archive_full_story.php?content_id=43968

At the end of all this, I give up. The man is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. Will the real Rahul Gandhi stand up, please and display his degrees? What is most interesting is not whether he has a degree, but the dissimulation about it. If his handlers are so willing to lie about his education, what about everything else? What are they trying to hide? Hasn't this man lived a privileged Marie-Antoinette type life at taxpayer cost, never lifting his little finger to do an honest day's work?

That's another difference between Rahul and me. Rahul is clearly upper crust, while I am, alas, bourgeois. He is much like the effete, idle-rich British upper class, so lovingly portrayed in PG Wodehouse's dramatis personae such as Bertie Wooster, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright, and other denizens of the Drones Club. Rahul would be a shoo-in if nominated to the Drones Club.

I used to think Wodehouse was kidding, until I encountered (thankfully, in print, not in real life) Prince Philip, the husband of the British queen. This worthy came to India, visited Jallianwallah Bagh, and declared that the whole thing was overblown: not too many actually died there. On being asked how he arrived at this insightful observation, he confessed that General Dyer's son had told him. Dyer was the British general who had ordered the massacre at Jallianwallah Bagh! A truly objective man, his son must be.

In another incident, the ever-tactful Philip, on being shown some shoddy electrical work, suggested that it must have been done by (British) Indians. Talk of being sensitive.

And then there is the young woman whom Rahul seems to be dating. For some reason, when I look at pictures of Juanita the Colombian, I am strongly reminded of the Steely Dan classic Gaucho. Steely Dan, of course, is famous for their baffling and wonderfully negative lyrics:

Just when I say
"Boy we can't miss
You are golden"
Then you do this.
You say this guy is so cool
Snapping his fingers like a fool.
One more expensive kiss-off.
Who do you think I am?
Lord, I know you're a special friend
But you don't seem to understand
We got heavy rollers
I think you should know
Try again tomorrow.

Can't you see they're laughing at me?
Get rid of him,
I don't care what you do at home.
Would you care to explain?

Who is the gaucho amigo?
Why is he standing
In your spangled leather poncho
And your elevator shoes?
Bodacious cowboys
Such as your friend
Will never be welcome here
High in the Custerdome.

So who is this gaucha amiga? Would you care to explain? Enquiring minds want to know, sensing that she is prime minister material. Some readers chided me for daring to question 'Our First Prime Minister'Ô (which reminds me of 'Car Talk,' and 'Our Fair City,' pronounced 'awah fayah city,' Cambridge, Mass). Might I be so bold as to want to know more about 'Our Future Prime Minister'? Is she a gold-digger?

I may be wrong, but just look at this intriguing photograph from Outlook magazine dated April 5th. The woman's body language doesn't exactly say: "I am madly in love with this guy." And look at Rahul Gandhi's grin, which reminds me of the film Charlie and the Peter Sellers film Being There, wherein Chance the Gardener becomes a celebrity because people misinterpret his reticence for wisdom.

Finally, Rahul certainly is welcome fresh blood as far as political cartoonists and commentators are concerned. Everyone is tired of predictable entertainers like the Laloo Prasad Yadavs and Ajit Jogis. We can be sure Rahul will provide plenty of new diversions. He reminds me of the lamented Dan Quayle, who's been awfully quiet lately. Quayle of course was most famous for his bedazzled, 'deer caught in the headlights' look, as well as his delectable malapropisms and faux pas.

There are any number of Quayleisms on the Internet, but the one that I remember with particular fondness is from his trip to Latin America, where he said that he wished he'd learned Latin in school so he could speak to the natives in their own language! No wonder Bush the elder considered him 'impeachment insurance.'

Rahul is, in his own way, advertising the TITA factor: 'There is a terrible alternative.' NDA forces are beside themselves with glee at his debut. I ask you, gentle reader, to imagine Rahul Gandhi negotiating, well… just about anything with sharks like Tony Blair or Wen Jiabao or Pervez Musharraf. Yes, it is true that there will be advisers. But let's see: who are likely to be future prime minister Rahul Gandhi's advisers? A motley crew consisting of: Vincent George, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Natwar Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Ajit Jogi, Tom Vadakkan, Kuldip Nayar? The mind boggles.

The history of the Nehru dynasty and its advisers does not give one much hope: the disastrous V K Krishna Menon leaps to mind. I would never have thought the day would come when I compare Pakistanis favorably to any Indians, but consider the facts regarding the dynasty. Mohammed Ali Jinnah ran rings around Jawaharlal Nehru as a lawyer. Even though Indira Gandhi was clever, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto negotiated a winning settlement in 1971, despite 93,000 of his soldiers being prisoners of war in Indian hands.

Benazir Bhutto was a brilliant student and speaker at Oxford and at Harvard/Radcliffe, leading the Oxford Union if I remember right. Compare her to Rajiv Gandhi who did not graduate from Cambridge. And the next generation of the Nehru dynasty will have a hard time dealing with the latest Pakistanis or for that matter with the Zoellicks and Rices and Powells of the US administration. Nolo contendere.

All in all, the formal entry of Rahul Gandhi onto the electoral scene certainly throws open a new dimension. Whether it will be a damp squib or whether the Rahul factor alone will revive the moribund Congress remains to be seen. Personally, I wouldn't bet on it.

Comments welcome at rajeevs@rediff.co.in

Rajeev Srinivasan