Just switched on the telly and heard Rahul Gandhi speaking at a conference of top police officers in Jaipur, and it made me very afraid. The man is completely out of his depth in any forum. He said something like, "A hero is only necessary when systems fail". What is that supposed to mean? Can terrorists be countered by a 'system' independent of human agency? Can computers and robots do the job? If not, don't some people, at some stage, have to put themselves in harm's way to counter terrorists? It could be the person who infiltrates an organisation to gather intelligence rather than a policeman or commando in sight of cameras, but surely his anonymity doesn't make him any less a hero. Will the provision of top class equipment ensure that firefighters always quell flames with no threat to their person? What about the firemen who perished at the World Trade Centre towers despite their efficient systems and excellent equipment?
Humans are sometimes said to get smarter with each generation, but political dynasties describe a different trend. In the case of the Gandhi family, we go from Jawaharlal Nehru's broad vision and intellectual grasp, to Indira who barely scraped through college, Rajiv who flunked out, and now this chump of uncertain educational attainment.
I remember the euphoria that greeted Rajiv Gandhi's election victory in 1984. Over 400 seats in parliament, the power to move the country in whichever direction he chose. Early progress in Assam, Punjab and Sri Lanka, and then everything going pear shaped. A leader and his coterie taking the country down a disastrous path of international military intervention, profligate spending, and manipulation of sectarian emotions (Shah Bano, Ram Shilanyas) strengthening hardliners on both sides of the religious divide.
There are strong moves to resurrect Rajiv Gandhi as a prophet, a man who brought the computer and telecom revolution to India and began dismantling the license raj. Some of this praise is justified, but the damage he did was far greater than any benefit that's accrued to the nation through policies he set in motion.
I thought of Rajiv Gandhi a lot during the American election season, because Barack Obama represented hope, and Rajiv hope betrayed. Their paths to power were very different, though. Obama is obviously a man of immense intellectual capacity coupled with a calm temperament and a vision worthy of Nehru. I believe he will do better by his country and the world than Rajiv did by India. As for Rajiv's son, he could be our Prime Minister in six months. The only worse fate I can imagine is the other option: another BJP-led government.
Update, January 23: with Manmohan Singh in hospital for a bypass, it seems even more likely that Rahul Gandhi will be the Congress candidate for PM, alas.