The Congress needs a morally strong leader at the helm. Rahul Gandhi has shown that streak in thought and practice, but he has to internalise the moral base of that politics, writes Kancha Ilaiah.
NEWS POLITICS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2022 – 16:47
As Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra enters day 37 of its more than 100-day duration, there is already a view in the media – both mainstream and social – that his image is undergoing a change. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and their supporters have curtailed, if not stopped, their usual attacks on the Congress leader with terms such as ‘Rahul Baba’ or ‘Pappu’.
While Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha march covered a distance of 385 km, Rahul’s padayatra aims to cover 3,500 km from one end of the country to the other. The ultimate result of Rahul’s padayatra depends on its culmination in Kashmir as planned, without relenting for whatever reasons. The RSS/BJP are not taking the threat of him emerging as a serious moral and political leader from his yatra lying down. Rahul should sustain the padayatra both with willpower and health, and also against the opposition’s strategies to obstruct it.
When MK Gandhi started his yatra in 1930 (he was not Mahatma then), he was 61 and his moral credibility was well established by his South African movement days. Rahul Gandhi is 52 now. He is known as a political leader from the Nehru family all over the world, but not as a moral political leader like Gandhi, Ambedkar and Jayaprakash Narayan. The country now needs just such a leader from the Congress to change the aggrandised politics and power games of the RSS/BJP.Featured Videos from TNM
In my view, the RSS/BJP cannot produce a moral leader from their ranks because their ideological framework does not allow that. That stream of politics came into existence with an ideology of building an enemy image and dividing the civil society and political society to gain power and control over every sphere of Indian life. Moral leaders like Ambedkar, Gandhi, JP, or Martin Luther King Jr in the US did not arise from such a divisive ideological base. They emerged from building an ideology of love and social reform.
The Indian National Congress still has a scope to produce a moral leader from its ranks, as it has a history of Mahatma Gandhi emerging from its ranks, and Ambedkar and JP working in tandem with the party in some form or the other. We know that Indira Gandhi changed it totally into a ruling ideology party with ruthless strategies.
There are a number of regional parties in India but they cannot offer a moral and political national alternative leader to the present political establishment. At best they can work out improved welfare schemes, but are not able to direct national policies or influence international relations and protect our Constitution and democratic institutions.
The Congress, not having established long-term workable organisational structures, is right now a personal promotion party. A morally strong leader at the helm alone can change this situation. Rahul has shown that streak in thought and practice, but he has to internalise the moral base of that politics and work hard for a long time to come.
To overcome the RSS/BJP’s massive attack against Rahul as hailing from the Nehru-Indira dynasty, he must shun the goal of aspiring to become the Prime Minister of India. During the course of the padayatra, he should locate young grassroot activists from all castes and tribes to promote as leaders and political administrators.
On holding positions of power, Rahul has so far given a reformist impression. He could have become the Prime Minister in 2009; he could have continued as party president after losing the 2019 election. His firm resignation was the right step.
Before the padayatra, it appeared that political struggle was not a 24/7 job for Rahul. Let us not forget that Ambedkar and Gandhi worked on national issues more than any Prime Minister. They fought every battle, travelled across the country, and also abroad when needed, and lived the values they professed. Ambedkar did so much in his short lifetime of 65 years. So far, Rahul has not written anything of his social, spiritual and ideological position to influence the minds of young Indians. Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj and Ambedkar wrote Annihilation of Caste, and these small texts became pathfinders. Rahul still is a statement giving leader. He has to write a thesis of his own to influence the nation.
We know that Rahul’s childhood must have been fraught with fear and anxiety as his grandmother and father were brutally assassinated. He hardly had exposure to grassroot Indian productive and civil society culture, conflicts, strengths and weaknesses. All these years he was only a flying or driving politician. But now he has turned into a walking yatri among the masses, watching their strength and weakness, their culture and conflicts. He is walking amidst a society that has been pitched one religion against the other, one community against the other. His hugs help heal people’s bloodied wounds. Eating the food they offer builds bridges of empathy and love for life in an atmosphere where each community is made to hate the food culture of other communities.
A major problem for Rahul is with regard to the current party structure. Its top end consists of intellectuals who have no relationship with the life of the masses. They do not want to allow young leaders working among masses to emerge from the grassroots to a national position. What they want is simply for Rahul to bring votes with this padayatra and give them the best ministerial positions possible. Since they cannot win elections, they manage to enter the Rajya Sabha and rule. It was these bureaucratic intellectuals lacking roots in ordinary life who destroyed the party’s organisational structure.
During the course of the padayatra itself Rahul should rework the party structures by picking up young activists working among the masses for future leadership roles. If his moral stature grows during the padayatra, the fear of a non-loyal leader wresting the party away will vanish.
All political parties in democratic countries allow young politicians with talent and mass work to emerge as leaders and make the party structurally sustainable long-term. No party in the world allows a man or woman to wield power in the government without winning the election at the constituency level. Rahul has been doing just that. That is his strength.
Edited by Vidya Sigamany
Watch TNM’s video: Bharat Jodo draws crowds, will it help Congress or Rahul Gandhi’s image?
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author. His most known books are Why I am Not a Hindu – A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy, The Shudras: Vision for a New Path (co-edited with Karthik Raja Karuppusamy), Buffalo Nationalism and Post-Hindu India.