MOHAN GURUSWAMY | 16 SEPTEMBER, 2021
Kharge a good choice
One thing can be said in Modi’s favor. He has made political dynasts objects of social media sneers and symbols of unmerited inheritances. It may be another matter that Rahul Gandhi might be far better educated and genuinely qualified, but it is Narendra Modi who is seen as the one with merit, because he came up the hard way.
In a country where over a million sit for the JEE to qualify for a few hundred places in the IITs, and where the winnowing process of selection for just about every admission or opening is very severe, be it a government medical college or the civil services or even to become a jawan in the military or police, the importance of being perceived as merited cannot be ignored.
The chaiwalla story is more compelling than the Doon School dynast. It is no wonder then that Narendra Modi’s rise is seen as merited and Rahul Gandhi's ascension as unmerited.
The growing rejection of dynastic fate is in evidence all over the new India. The new economic and social realities are compelling change. Recently I saw a news item reporting the deaths of two sewer cleaners. This is a commonplace occurrence, but what struck me was they had upper caste surnames. In the new India, a chamar’s son becomes a Zomato food delivery boy and the Aiyar family eats the food without ascertaining his caste.
If you want to know, the choice is clear - lose your money and go hungry. In a country where almost seventy percent of the population is below the age of thirty, the imagery of being merited is very powerful. Former King Farook of Egypt once said that in the end there would be only five kings – four in the pack of cards and the King of England. The same can be said of political dynasties. They are fast growing out of fashion.
But make no mistake. Some inheritances are legitimate. A corporate scion is not perceived as unmerited. For instance, movie actors who inherit looks and talent, and doctors and lawyers who inherit practices are seen as legitimate inheritors till their lack of merit shows up. But when the doting parent or the fawning courtiers thrust a son or daughter, in the democratic age it is no longer seen as merited.
Political parties are not royal courts where a hapless Mohammed Shah Rangila or an indolent Bahadur Shah Zafar can be forced down upon a nation. People have a way of showing how they feel about this. In the recent Lok Sabha elections KCR’s daughter, Kavita was rejected in Nizamabad while the TRS went on the win most of the seats. In UP, Mulayam Singh won while his daughter-in-law was defeated.
Rahul Gandhi rightly abdicated the Congress presidency after the party was soundly beaten in the last elections. The defeat was even more stupendous considering the party (with IUML) won nineteen seats in Kerala, defeating a putative ally, and won another seven through the kind courtesy of the DMK. This was a moment for the Congress to reinvent itself or go back to the past when it had a real inner party democratic process and debate. Instead the Congress party had a conference with the dowager empress presiding. The absence of democracy was evident. How did Sonia Gandhi become the president once again?
And then look at the quality of discussion. The handpicked working committee had a sullen unanimity in its predictable diatribe against the badly floundering Modi government. The Congress party leadership resolved that it would create a new Congress Seva Dal to replicate the RSS’s booth level election fighting machine. Clearly the analysis was that it was the RSS’s booth level organization that won the BJP the elections.
Nothing can be further from the truth. What won the elections was the demagogic charisma of Modi who cast a spell with a mishmash of religious rhetoric, outright lies and distortion of, let alone the past, but even recent history.
The challenge for the Congress is to create a competitive imagery that will rekindle the magic it had once cast to combat the RSS ideology. If it can do that the election fighting booth level machine will automatically happen. In the modern age the currency that will keep troops motivated and fighting are ideas and dreams. The problem is that the Congress still thinks currency is the only king.
In his most famous play “Julius Caesar'' William Shakespeare has Brutus urging his comrades to seize a fleeting opportunity in an armed conflict saying: “There is a tide in the affairs of men / which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” The Congress Party had such a moment in history when it was to find a leader to succeed Rahul Gandhi.
Four names seem to have been discussed. Mallikarjun Kharge, Mukul Wasnik, Jyothiraditya Scindia(since defected in true Gwalior style)and Sachin Pilot. In the current circumstances, the later two, both foreign educated “born with a silver spoon” dynasts, would have been lacerated by the pracharak army.
Even Mukul Wasnik, a bit of a lesser dynast, and reputedly backed by the late Ahmed Patel, might not have been able to stand up to the political bullies and liars ranged on the opposite side. Mallikarjun Kharge might have well been the Congress President who could have braved the saffron flood and taken the Congress to a new political and ideological haven.
But it is not to be so. The courtiers had their way and once again Sonia Gandhi was asked to helm the leaky boat.
Most of us do not fulfill our potential because we are not at the right place when an opportunity to do so arrives. Whether it is a hero in war or a political leader who achieves greatness, it is all a matter of being where the action is. It is pure kismet. Take for instance the case of Mallikarjun Kharge, the former leader of the Congress Party in the Lok Sabha (2014-19). He would have never been near the center stage if the Congress Party didn’t get decimated in 2014.
The elections saw Rahul Gandhi clearly projected as the national alternative to Narendra Modi and he got thumped. Never a confident leader and at best a diffident speaker, with little of what makes a person charismatic, Rahul Gandhi would have hardly been a foil to Narendra Modi, a communicator par excellence and a rabble rouser without a peer. So the Congress Party reached down to pluck Mallikarjun Kharge from obscurity mostly because he was the only one other leader with some standing in the party.
On June 12, 2014 replying to the agenda outlined by the NDA government in the Presidential address. He said that the NDA is repackaging work done by UPA and asked the Narendra Modi government to implement the promises made without trumpeting and "arrogance". Mallikarjun Kharge invoked Mahabharata and said though Pandavas were few in number as compared to Kauravas; still they could not be defeated.
At another time he dismissed then Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s attempt to paint the Congress as anti-dalit by claiming that Dr. Ambedkar, unhappy about how the Constitution turned out, wanted to leave the country with a scathing riposte: “Dr. Ambedkar never wanted to leave the country. He was part of the country. You Aryans came from outside. We have been putting up with your ways for five thousand years.”