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Rahul baba needs a tutor

Author: Tavleen Singh
Publication: Niticentral.com
Date: October 9, 2013
URL: http://www.niticentral.com/2013/10/09/rahul-baba-needs-a-tutor-143643.html

Every time Rahul Gandhi makes a new political statement it takes me a while to work out if he is being ironic or serious. This sense of confusion has tripled after he expressed his views on the state of India’s most deprived and oppressed community: Dalits. Speaking of the need for Dalit empowerment the Congress’s young prince said the community must learn to use an ‘escape velocity’. Then he explained more fully. “Aeronautics mein ek escape velocity ka concept hota hai. Escape velocity matlab agar aap ne dharti sey space mein jana hai…agar aap hamari dharti pe hai to 11.2 km per second aap ki velocity honi padegi…Yahaan Hindustan mein hamara jaat ka concept hai. Is mein bhi escape velocity hoti hai. Dalit community ko is dharti pey Jupiter ki escape velocity chahiye.” These are the exact words I read in the Times of India and reports in other newspapers confirmed that he had said words to this effect. In English what Rahul’s words mean is that Dalit community needs to escape its awful position in the caste system by using the velocity that is needed to escape the gravitational pull of Jupiter.

Now what exactly did the Congress’s heir apparent mean by this? Did he mean that despite more than sixty years of his family’s benign, Dalit-friendly rule, India has remained such a bad place for Dalits that they should now look out for themselves? Did he mean that the caste system needed the addition of ‘escape velocity’ to propel the lower castes out of it? Or was he just being ironic? I do not know. But, this is not the first time I have been puzzled by Rahul Gandhi’s political and economic ideas. I was very puzzled when he declared recently that poverty in India was a ‘state of mind’. As for the ‘nonsense’ Press conference, I would be understating the case if I said it left me flummoxed. He has since gone out of his way to say that he was right to say what he did because there is “no right time to tell the truth”. This is not a good enough explanation because what we really need to know is why his mother’s Government was trying so hard to impose upon the people of India a law that was nonsensical.

At this point I must say that this is not how other political pundits have interpreted Rahul’s ‘nonsense’ intervention. After a very long time, two of our most important political weeklies thought him worthy of being put on the cover. One of them even suggested that his ‘idealism’ was a ‘game changer’. Columnists of a more Leftist bent went further and wove a pinko-hued tale of how Rahul was leading a rebellion against the ‘old guard’ in the Congress much like his grandmother did when she broke the party to create the Congress (I). It is a dream that Delhi’s Leftist intellectuals have nurtured fondly ever since the process of economic liberalisation began. They consider the past two decades an aberration and would like India to go back to what used to be derisively called the ‘Hindu rate of growth’ and they would like the Congress Party to declare that it remains a socialist party that has no taste for the sort of economic reforms that Manmohan Singh instituted to save India from bankruptcy in 1991. This would mean a return to Central planning and the License Raj and there are many Congress men and women close to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi who openly state that they want this to happen.

So it is not a movement that moves forward but backwards. And the question we need to ask of the man who is the undeclared Prime Ministerial hope of the Congress is why he sounds so much like his grandmother once did when he is not declaring poverty a ‘state of mind’. Since making this declaration, he has given many speeches explaining how it is only the Congress that can lift the poor out of poverty because it is the only party that works only for the poor. If this is not the same old ‘gharibi hatao’ stuff that we heard from his grandmother then what is it?

Now the thing is that with Narendra Modi rampaging across the length and breadth of the country making thunderous speeches to vast crowds it is true that Rahul has to take him on. He was not made vice-president of Congress at the beginning of this year for nothing. Incidentally, his statement in Jaipur about power being ‘poison’ is one of the only things he has ever said that made complete sense to me. It made me realise that he had grown up with a sense of entitlement so ingrained that he has forgotten that entering politics should not be about power but about service. It is a very bad idea to talk about serving the people of India as the equivalent of drinking from a poisoned chalice. But, I digress. The point I am trying to make is that surely there are people in the Congress’s think tanks who can explain to Rahul that he needs to be less reckless when he tosses his ideas around.

There is no point in telling the Dalit community that they must work towards their own empowerment by ‘escape velocity’ because Dalit leaders have tried to use an escape clause forever. For hundreds of years now, Dalits have been trying to escape the horrors of the Hindu caste system by converting to Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam. It is India’s great shame that the idea of caste is so deeply entrenched in the psyche of most Indians that even when Dalits convert to other religions, they do not escape discrimination. This is why it is wrong for a political leader who has grown up in the salubrious safety of Lutyens’ Delhi to give them lectures on what they should be doing to improve their miserable lot. There is no point either in spending long, uncomfortable nights in Dalit homes because it leaves even non-Dalit commentators confused about the point you are trying to make. So can some grown-ups please take over Rahul Gandhi’s political training? With elections looming closer every day, he needs as much on-the-job training as he can get before it is too late.
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