Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rahul Gandhi and the Politics of Hope

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.


shivani said...

I agree, Rahul Gandhi as P.M is truly a frightening thought, his response time (2 months, in this case) to the attacks is even worse that of the existing govt. And what was all that sleeping in a hut with cow and British Foreign Sec??

Girish Shahane said...

Yes, I didn't really get the point of that at all. Does anybody out there know what he was trying to achieve?

Unknown said...

"The only worse fate I can imagine is the other option: another BJP-led government. " ....with MODI for Prime Minister!!!!

Girish Shahane said...

That, I can't even imagine, or don't want to.

Anonymous said...

ok am going to turn into frog on this one-i actually didnt think there was much wrong with what RG said. I guess what he was trying to say was similar to what Ratan Tata said -that the Tatas didnt want heroes but a security setup that would deter any potential attack. And that is quite the way it should be.
Our pols are no different from banana republic counterparts - they love to show off gun toting guards whereas you'd have been hardpressed to find a single SS guy in the tv frame when Obama was taking oath.
as for rahul gandhi's credentials - well i think MSM is to be faulted with that. Why do they cover him like lapping dogs? Look what Caroline Kennedy just went thru in the US ! And its not just RG- neither MSM nor any blogs are questioning Amar Singh on his donation to the Clinton foundation. Instead, they allowed him to brazenly introduce Sanjay Dutt, MP-to-be without a murmur.
We get the quality of pols that we do because our media doesnt do its job of questioning them on the things that really matter.
s anand

Girish Shahane said...

I'm 90% in agreement with you, SA. But I do think there's an important distinction between what Ratan Tata and Rahul Gandhi said. Tata, as I recall, was speaking in the context of the heroic actions of Taj staff during the November assault. His point was that one shouldn't need to fall back on the heroism of hotel workers, that's not what they are there for.
Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, was speaking in front of the nation's top police officers. They definitely are in the heroism business. It may be less than 1% of what they do, but if anybody actually joins the police, army or fire brigade because they are inspired to do so, it is because they dream of being heroes: confronting criminals, saving lives or defending the nation at personal risk.
That's not the case with chefs and interior designers.

Anonymous said...

Tangentially on the subject of heroes, I must quote my favourite conundrum from Scene 13 of Bertolt Brecht's play "Galileo". Andrea, Galileo's student is saying farewell to him, bitterly disillusioned by his cowardly recantation before the Church. As a parting shot Andrea says, "Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero"; to which Galileo replies "No Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero"