Para-trooper Rahul Gandhi's homilies about merit and honesty

The impassioned speech by Rahul Gandhi at Jaipur, when he was made the vice president of the Congress party, was a good piece of oratory as far as the speeches go. Nowadays in our country, we seldom come across such emotional speeches by political leaders. Therefore, credit must be given to Rahul Gandhi for sharing some of his thoughts.

However, there seems to be huge gaps between what he said and what he has done so far. If he said that ‘power was like poison’, it is not clear as to why he and his Gandhi family seem to be persistently after it? The very fact that the Gandhi family dynasty continues in the party and in the politics of this nation is inconsistent with the other aspect of his speech. Speaking about meritocracy in his political party, Rahul mentioned that many a time the candidates for elective offices are imposed from the top. What does he consider his own recent elevation to the number two position to be? It is certainly not a case of a grass-root level worker going up the party ladder based exclusively on his merit.

In his short career in politics, spanning about nine years, he was made the general secretary of the AICC five years ago and now promoted to an elevated post. Are these not distinct cases of parachute-dropping of a ‘leader’ from the top? Isn’t he being made the number two in the Congress now so that in 2014 he could be made the party’s prime ministerial candidate if his party is able to stitch together a majority?

He spoke of grooming 30-40 national level leaders who all could be worthy of being considered for the post of the prime minister of this country. This is an extremely laudable plan for the smooth running of the nation. He mentioned the era immediately after Independence when along with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru many others like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad could be considered for the top post. However, has Rahul Gandhi gone through the kind of baptism by fire which these eminent leaders went through during their arduous fight against the British rule? While that kind of rigour is difficult to expect in the post-independence days, has he gone through at least a significant fraction of that type of on-the-job training?

Unfortunately, his success rate has been unimpressive in the political assignments he has handled in UP and Gujarat recently. While his boldness in taking on political stalwarts like Mayawati and others deserves appreciation, it alone does not speak of his preparation to take on the challenges of the top post of this country.

Eerie silence

Rahul said that today corrupt people are talking of eradicating corruption. He was probably hinting at this
double-speak by the corrupt people and how under the cloak of the talk of eradication of corrupt practices they are deceiving the common folk of this country. While he has not been accused of being a part of any of the corruption scandals that have hit the current UPA government – like coal-gate or 2G spectrum – he has maintained an eerie silence on all these matters. He, as the general secretary of the party, could have been more active in his abhorrence of corruption, particularly when his own party-people were said to be involved?

A man, who says that the system needs a total ‘transformation’ and not just small repairs, has kept himself aloof all these days. He did neither utter a squeak nor attempt any kind of change when the nation was in turmoil over not just the mega corruption scandals but also policy paralysis and major lacunae in law and order. When there were so many cases of rapes of women and murders and other lawlessness in the city where he lives, Rahul has neither taken any action in revulsion nor at least spoken in revolt.

Of course, what the Congress party does is its own business. It can anoint or appoint, raise or para-drop its ‘leaders’. However, when its just-appointed top leader makes a public speech – a speech about values, honesty, integrity, and transformation that is broadcast all over the nation, he needs to be honest about honesty.

An admission of one’s own flaws could have been the place he could have made a beginning from. It was certainly not enough to mention about ‘15 paise in a rupee reaching the target population’ during 1985 i.e. over a quarter of a century ago. He could have been more transparent about what is happening here and now. Unfortunately, Rahul seemed to create a smoke-screen of honest but mild admission of the state of the nation 28 years ago. Is it not an attempt to hide the hideous current reality of horrendous corruption of all kinds by mildly admonishing the mistakes of a distant past?

It was a speech, as if written carefully by an advertising or mass communication consultant, full of needed selling points and emotional catches. It is also possible that some of it was given ex-tempore by the Congress’s vice president. But, whatever it was, it definitely tended to substitute essential action with emotion. Oratory is good to hear, honest oratory is definitely better; but action is the real thing. We need leaders who walk the talk.

(The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore)

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