Showing posts with label Sonia Gandhi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sonia Gandhi. Show all posts

Monday 16 October 2017

Racism and Colour Prejudice in India, and the case of Sonia Gandhi

Racism and Colour Prejudice in India, and the case of Sonia Gandhi

Racism and Colour Prejudice in India, and the case of Sonia Gandhi

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 16 October, 2017


Indians are among the most prejudiced people on the planet, and nothing illustrates this more than the treatment meted out to Sonia Gandhi, one of our most prominent and illustrious citizens. Despite having lived in India for 49 years and having married an Indian citizen, having raised her family in India, and having contributed to the growth of this nation by having led the ruling party of this country for ten years, she is constantly maligned - only because of her foreign race and origin.

Yesterday I came across a comment by yet another Indian who referred to Sonia Gandhi as a white Italian, and said that Congress has a tendency to worship white skin - asking whether they would have made her Party President had she been a black-skinned Nigerian by birth. This same comment had been made by a Union Minister in the Modi government, Mr. Giriraj Singh, in April 2015.

Indians, in general, are arguably the most racist and prejudiced people in the world, even though we like to scream "racism" at the drop of a hat when we go and live in much more liberal places like the USA. We discriminate on the basis of colour, caste, religion, language, diet, gender, profession, physical disability, mental disability, and pretty much any difference among humans you can think of.

I will answer the second point first. Yes, I also doubt whether she would have been as respected had she been a black-skinned Nigerian by birth rather than a white-skinned Italian. But this is not just a weakness of Congress party workers.

Indians, in general, are arguably the most racist and prejudiced people in the world, even though we like to scream "racism" at the drop of a hat when we go and live in much more liberal places like the USA. We discriminate on the basis of colour, caste, religion, language, diet, gender, profession, physical disability, mental disability, and pretty much any difference among humans you can think of. Empathy is not our strong point by a long shot - it does not even rank within the top 50 points of our character. When Shah Rukh Khan is detained at an airport because his name is Khan, we scream religious discrimination and racism at the US, but when Hindus deny housing to a Dalit or a Muslim because of their caste or religion, respectively, no one bats an eyelid. Even when we live in progressive societies like the US, our first consideration when thinking of the marriage of our children is the caste of their future life partner. This is not a Hindu problem alone - casteism is rife in Muslim and Christian society as well. Even though these people left Hinduism to convert to other religions, they have not been able to shake off caste, which has its origins in Hinduism. And colour prejudice affects Indians of all religions.

In this respect, our reactions are not very different from the "taqiya" concept in Islam, whereby Muslims are allowed to lie about their backward beliefs when they live in countries where open espousal of their beliefs is not accepted. Similarly, many Indians living in the west pretend to be outwardly liberal, while keeping their deeply-held prejudices on the basis of race, colour, caste, religion, gender, and other differences alive and flourishing in private.

In this respect, our reactions are not very different from the "taqiya" concept in Islam, whereby Muslims are allowed to lie about their backward beliefs when they live in countries where open espousal of their beliefs is not accepted. Similarly, many Indians living in the west pretend to be outwardly liberal, while keeping their deeply-held prejudices on the basis of race, colour, caste, religion, gender, and other differences alive and flourishing in private.

Nigerians, and Africans in general, have been at the receiving end of hate attacks from Indians many times in recent years. So much so that Nigeria felt it necessary to lodge an official protest with the Indian government (and this happened only after Modi came to power.) And many of the people committing the violence are folks aligned with the ruling "nationalist" party.

Colour prejudice and racism is not just a Congress problem. It is not just a Hindu problem. It is an all-India problem. We consider fair-skinned people superior and dark-skinned people inferior. Our matrimonial ads are full of attempts to project oneself as "fair" or "very fair." Often euphemisms such as "wheat-complexioned" are used to describe brown skin. We are so obsessed with fair skin that "Fair and Lovely" recently crossed Rs. 2000 crores in sales in India. And I am sure that it is not just Congress party supporters who are buying that cream.

We are so obsessed with fair skin that "Fair and Lovely" recently crossed Rs. 2000 crores in sales in India. And I am sure that it is not just Congress party supporters who are buying that cream.

And even though Hindu epics refer to Rama and Krishna and Draupadi (her given name was Krishnaa; Draupadi only means daughter of Drupada), and the literal translation of the word "Krishna" in Sanskrit is "dark" or "black" - we find the fairest-skinned people we can to play the roles of these characters who have been explicitly described in Hindu epics as being dark-skinned, in TV serials and movies. Sometimes we paint them blue in movies or in comics so that it doesn't look like black and offend our sensibilities. After all, only inferior people have dark skin, so Rama and Krishna could not have been dark, even though the epics explicitly state that - they must have been blue - even though the only blue creatures I have known of in the animal kingdom are the dogs in Vapi which got coloured blue by the effluents from dye companies there, who throw waste dyes on the street.

We find the fairest-skinned people we can to play the roles of these characters who have been explicitly described in Hindu epics as being dark-skinned - Rama, Krishna, and Draupadi - in TV serials and movies. Sometimes we paint them blue in movies or in comics so that it doesn't look like black and offend our sensibilities.

In Tamil movies, most of the female stars are imports from north India, because they have fairer skin than Tamil heroines. The heroes are local, dark-skinned, and average-looking, however, because the movies cater to male audiences - with the fantasy that an average, dark-skinned Tamil male can win the heart of a pretty and fair-skinned woman. Most of these north Indian heroines cannot even speak Tamil, and so their voices have to be dubbed. They are in the movie only because of their fair skin.

What is interesting about Sonia Gandhi's case is that she is the victim of two independent prejudices that affect her in opposite ways. One is due to her white skin and the other is due to her foreign race. The white skin helps her be seen in a positive light in a country that worships fairness, and the foreign race casts her in a negative light in a racist country like India. So she gets elevated to the post of party President because she is the widow of a Gandhi and because she is white - but she gets reviled constantly because Indians cannot accept that a foreign-born white person can ever be patriotic and truly loyal to India. Both these perceptions are shameful and bring no credit to Indians. Sonia Gandhi deserves our respect not because she is the widow of Rajiv Gandhi or because she is white - she deserves our respect because she has proved her chops in politics and managed to lead the Congress to two terms in power at a time when it appeared that they were finished. Her white skin may have been an advantage in the party's initial perception of her, but she has since earned her respect among politicians by her achievements.

What is interesting about Sonia Gandhi's case is that she is the victim of two independent prejudices that affect her in opposite ways. One is due to her white skin and the other is due to her foreign race. The white skin helps her be seen in a positive light in a country that worships fairness, and the foreign race casts her in a negative light in a racist country like India. So she gets elevated to the post of party President because she is the widow of a Gandhi and because she is white - but she gets reviled constantly because Indians cannot accept that a foreign-born white person can ever be patriotic and truly loyal to India. Both these perceptions are shameful and bring no credit to Indians.

And she does not deserve our distrust and condemnation because she is foreign-born. Try to have a heart and think about her. She married Rajiv Gandhi in 1968 - that is 49 years ago - and immediately left her home country, Italy, and moved to Delhi to live with him. Her husband was assassinated in 1991, but she did not run back to Italy after that. She continued to live and raise her children in India. She has lived in India for 49 years now, and been a naturalized citizen for such a long time (I don't know the date when she became a citizen, but it is not important), and people are talking trash about her and questioning her patriotism.

Now think about that a little. Many of those who are raging about her being an "Italian" are themselves Indians who have settled in the US (or other foreign countries) and become US citizens after having lived 10 years there. How would they like it if, after having become US citizens and having lived for 50 years in the US, Americans were to refer to them as unpatriotic brown foreign Indians? (already, they are getting a taste of what that would be like, thanks to Donald Trump.)

Yep, you're right. They'd be screaming racism from the rooftops.

There are those who will try to cover up their racial prejudice by claiming that they are not opposed to Sonia Gandhi because of her white skin but because of her party's alleged corruption, whether that be Bofors or the 2G scandal. But this lie is easily exposed because of two pieces of evidence. One, there are many Indian politicians who are known to be corrupt. No one other than Mrs. Gandhi gets this kind of hatred. Second, the language used by her detractors is clear evidence of their racism - they do not start by attacking her as corrupt - the word "Italian" always is among the first adjectives used to describe her.

Sorry, but Indians are hypocritical and racist, and a lot more.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Monday 4 November 2013

Shehzada Rahul bin Rajiv ibn Indira bint Jawahar bin Motilal al-Gandhi al-Nehru

Shehzada Rahul bin Rajiv ibn Indira bint Jawahar bin Motilal al-Gandhi al-Nehru

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 04 November, 2013

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar.  All Rights Reserved.

For other articles by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, please visit

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.


When I was a kid, I used to be fascinated by Arab names – they had these long names, which one could even chant in a rhythmic way – Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed al Nahyan, or King Saud bin Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal bin Turki bin Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Saud, or the historiographer and philosopher Abu-Zayd Abd-ur-Rahman bin Muhammad bin Khaldun al-Hadrami – consisting of so many “bin”s or “ibn”s or “al”s that they sounded very impressive to a young kid.  I thought they were titles that talked of the greatness of the person.  The more “bin”s, “ibn”s or “al”s a person’s name had, the more impressed I was with them at the time.

It took many years for me to learn that “bin” or “ibn” meant son in the Arabic language (with the daughter equivalent being “bint”), and “al” simply meant “the”, as in “The Saud” for “al-Saud.”  Immediately the degree to which I was impressed by those names went down by a few notches.  The next thing a good friend pointed out to me was that if a person had a lot of ibns and bins and als in his name, it wasn’t necessarily a great thing, and that really destroyed the mystique.

Think about it: why would you introduce yourself with your father’s name, your grandfather’s name, your great-grandfather’s name, and then add a few more associations (such as “The Saud” or “The Sabah”) unless they were much more important than you were?

To understand this fully, perhaps a few counter-examples will help.  Who doesn’t know Albert Einstein?  Everyone knows him as the greatest physicist of the 20th century, and most know him simply as Einstein.  Almost no one has any idea who his father or grandfather or great-grandfather was; practically no one knows of any association of his, except that he was German and settled in America; a few more know that he was also a Jew who fled Germany to avoid persecution by Hitler.  But no one would introduce Einstein as “Albert Einstein, the Physicist, the Jew, the German” or something equally ridiculous.  The man achieved so much that a simple “Einstein” is sufficient for everyone to know who you are talking about.  

Among Indians in science and mathematics, CV Raman and Ramanujan, among others, have earned similar fame on the strength of their achievements that hardly anyone knows anything about their families – but they know what these people did.  Amar Bose, who recently died, made such a mark in the world of audio technology that everyone knows what “Bose” stands for, even though very few would even know that the man’s first name was Amar.

The same is the case for a great achiever in any field.  Take sports, and if you just mention the name “Ali” in a sporting context, everyone knows you are referring to Muhammad Ali, for Ali’s achievements in boxing are so great.  You never say “Bruce Lee, son of Lee Hoi-Chuen; famous kung-fu master; lead actor in ‘Enter the Dragon’”; but simply “Bruce Lee.” (There would have been no reason for Bruce Lee to mention his father: Lee Hoi-Chuen was an actor in the Hong Kong film industry, but was soon eclipsed by his world-famous son.)

You do not need to know Bill Gates or Steve Jobs’ family history, their ethnicities, their origins, or anything else about them.  They stand by themselves on the strength of their achievements in business and the software industry.

Musicians have a tendency to quote their lineage; Hindustani musicians tend to trace their musical lineage to Mian Tansen and Carnatic musicians tend to trace their musical lineage to Tyagaraja or Dikshitar.  But the truly great musicians don’t need such associations – one often talks about them in isolation, with little reference to their parents or gurus.  People like Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, MS Subbulakshmi, or Bhimsen Joshi, although having been trained in well-known musical traditions, stand on the strength of their own achievements.  When Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was to perform on stage, it was unnecessary to even mention that he was the disciple of Pandit Sawai Gandharva, who was, in turn, the disciple of the founder of the Kirana Gharana, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan.  These are facts that aficionados of Hindustani music know; but for the lay public, a simple mention that “Pandit Bhimsen Joshi will now perform” would usually be enough to bring a smile of recognition and anticipation to the average Indian’s face.

This is true even in the Arab world – take people like the philosopher Kahlil Gibran; former Egyptian Presidents Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser, both of whom were known simply by their last names; PLO leader and Nobel Peace laureate Yasser Arafat; renowned actor Omar Sharif; footballer Zinedine Zidane; and Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, to name a few – we know little of the background of these people, but we know what they did.

That a famous person is known without reference to anyone else is true whether the person in question is known for good deeds or bad.  Even the villains of history are known by their names alone.  Examples abound, such as Hitler (how many would know that he was the son of Alois Schicklgruber?), Stalin (how many know his original name – Stalin was a self-awarded title meaning “man of steel” – was Josif Vissarinovich Djugashvili?), Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot (not even his real name), Idi Amin, and many more.  Osama bin Laden is an exception in that he mentions his origins (“bin” Laden), but even he was so notorious that a mere “Osama” was enough to convey to the world who was being referred to.

In the same way that it is true that the truly noteworthy people -  those who have their achievements (or ill-deeds) written all over them - do not ever need to quote their antecedents, so it is true that the second- or third-rater always needs to mention his origins, his associations, his friends, and all others whose reflected radiance he can bask in.

And that brings us to Rahul Gandhi.

Mother, Father, Grandmother

The heir-apparent to the Congress party throne, Mr. Rahul Gandhi was, for a long time, an enigma to everyone.  No one knew what his positions on different pressing issues were.  He never gave interviews; never called press conferences; never held an official position in the Congress; but had been an MP from Amethi since 2004 and, as the son of the Congress President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, was assumed to hold tremendous influence in the Congress party and hence the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition, in which the Congress party was a majority partner.

For a long time people wondered why Rahul never spoke.  His aides and supporters in the Congress were adamant that he should be declared the PM-in-waiting, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should eventually make way for him.  They wanted him to speak up more, to tell party workers what his views on various issues were, to give them direction, to inspire them.  But Mr. Gandhi resisted these popular demands within the party and stayed silent.

But now, he has decided to speak.  Since accepting the mantle of the party leader at a well-publicized party conclave in Jaipur in January 2013, Rahul has been giving a series of speeches, ostensibly to match his main rival, Gujarat Chief Minister and the declared PM candidate of the main opposition party, Mr. Narendra Modi, who seems to be giving one speech in a new venue every day or every other day.

By doing so, Mr. Gandhi has proven the correctness of George Eliot’s words: “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.”  Such a judgment might sound harsh, but when one looks at the pronouncements of Mr. Gandhi and the reactions they have elicited, starting with his acceptance speech in Jaipur on that fateful January day, this could even be seen as a lenient judgment.

In Jaipur, when accepting the position of the Congress vice-president, Mr. Gandhi chose to ramble on about personal recollections, including of his grandmother Indira Gandhi’s assassination and of his father Rajiv Gandhi’s reaction after the death of Mrs. Indira Gandhi.  Then he chose to talk about how his mother, Sonia Gandhi, wept on the night prior to his address in Jaipur when she realized that Mr. Gandhi was to be appointed to the post of vice-president of the party the next day, and how she said that “power is poison,” because, according to Mr. Gandhi, she is not attached to power.

The audience was supposed to marvel at the self-control of Mr. Gandhi, who chose to so reluctantly assume the mantle of the party leader even when hordes of sycophants, led by Mr. Digvijay Singh and Mr. Manish Tewari, urged him to take up the position.  We were expected to watch, awestruck, the sight of a young man being handed the kingship of a nation of 1.2 billion and not showing an eagerness to accept it.  We were expected to be grateful for the selflessness of Mrs. Gandhi who (according to Rahul Gandhi’s testimony) is not attached to power.

Such a judgment might be appropriate in the case of Einstein who, after the death of the president of Jewish state of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, in 1952, was approached by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, to take up the Presidency of Israel, since he had the unique distinction of being the most famous living Jew.  Einstein, after thanking Ben-Gurion for the offer with sufficient gratitude, politely declined the offer with the words, “All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official function. I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship with the Jewish people became my strongest human tie once I achieved complete clarity about our precarious position among the nations of the world.”

Such a response is truly praiseworthy, for the person making it was both someone who had attained the greatest heights of achievement in his domain as well as someone realistic (some would call such a person “humble”) enough to understand his limitations in other domains.

But on what grounds are we expected to have the same belief in either Mrs. Sonia Gandhi or Mr. Rahul Gandhi that they genuinely feel that “power is poison”?  Mrs. Gandhi has not chosen to decline the reins of power handed to her – she appears, and has always appeared, quite clearly someone who is happy with the assumption of power of the Congress party.  While Congress sycophants might be quick to point out that she did not assume the prime ministership after the UPA’s victory in 2004, critics may point to the possibility of legal hurdles that prevented her from taking over as PM.  In any case, she is the effective leader of the Congress and Dr. Manmohan Singh, who became the PM, is widely seen to be a puppet in Mrs. Gandhi’s hands.

So, coming from such a person, a statement like “power is poison” is not at all credible.  And, if indeed she realized later that power was poison to her, Mrs. Gandhi could have retired from political life long ago.  She has not.

Einstein said he didn’t think he could do justice to the post of president of Israel, and he declined the offer.  Sonia Gandhi said “power is poison” and yet accepted the position of Congress president.  That’s the difference.  One is credible; the other is not.

In any case, the point of this discussion is not to analyze Sonia Gandhi, but the choice of Rahul Gandhi’s pronouncements.  When one looks at the statements Mr. Gandhi made at the end of his Jaipur speech, three things stand out:

1.       Mentioning his grandmother’s assassination, in order to reinforce the fact that she was assassinated while in power, and so died as a kind of martyr (although there are many opinions on her death and not everyone agrees that she was a martyr) – and so trying to bask in the reflected glory of her martyrdom,
2.      Mentioning his father’s reaction to Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination and his speech to the nation, again to bask in reflected glory, this time of his father’s (though people might dispute whether Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s actions after his mother’s death were glorious in the first place), and
3.      Mentioning that his mother thinks “power is poison” to try to paint her as a self-sacrificing servant of the country (although, as pointed out above, this conclusion would be erroneous) and, again, attempting to bask in that glory, as the son of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the self-sacrificing Congress president.

All in all, this is a brazen attempt to achieve fame by climbing on other people’s – specifically his forebears’ - backs, rather than standing on his own achievements.

Hence, Rahul bin Rajiv ibn Indira bint Jawahar bin Motilal al-Gandhi al-Nehru.

Talking Economics and Social Policy

In the days since that speech, Mr. Gandhi has tried, unsuccessfully, to appear more knowledgeable and talk about issues that affect the nation, particularly disenfranchisement of people, minorities, and socialist policies mooted by his government.  Unfortunately, his attempts at doing so have been panned by most media analysts and political experts as being extremely shallow and consisting only of platitudes without the depth required to address such serious issues.  As an example, he gave a speech at the high-profile venue of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which was termed “vague” and “rambling” and considered a speech which really did not address the majority of concerns of the Indian public or industry.  The CII speech was so disjointed that it became a favourite of cartoonists and fodder for parodies.

Defenders of Mr. Gandhi will argue, and correctly so, that Mr. Gandhi does talk about policies, and that the CII speech laid out his vision for India.  While it is true that the CII speech laid out a vision for India, that vision, unfortunately for Mr. Gandhi and his supporters, is not his own.

The Welfare State Vision of the NAC

Mr. Gandhi’s vision for India is, essentially, the vision that has been articulated by the left-leaning National Advisory Council (NAC), an extra-constitutional advisory body that advises the Congress president and the Union government on policy matters, featuring, in the past, well-known socialists like Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze and Harsh Mander.  The NAC also has the blessing of India’s own home-grown, left-leaning Nobel laureate, Amartya SenThe vision of the NAC is to turn India into a complete welfare state, and it is due to prodding from the NAC that the UPA-1 and UPA-2 governments have introduced legislation such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (free income), Food Security Bill (free food), Right to Education (RTE) (free education), and other such socialist laws.

Mr. Gandhi, in his Jaipur acceptance speech as well as in other speeches he has made since, such as the CII speech, has tended to focus on this “rights-based” approach that the UPA is proud of as its legacy to India.  Leaving aside the problematic question as to whether this is a legacy one should be proud of or ashamed of, it is not even Mr. Gandhi’s own legacy to present as an achievement.  The “achievement,” if any, belongs to the NAC, and to Sonia Gandhi for championing it.  So Mr. Gandhi has nothing to crow about when it comes to RTE, FSB, MNREGA, and the like.

The Faux Pas on Poverty

In a discourse in Allahabad on August 6th, 2013, Mr. Rahul Gandhi made another well-publicized blooper when he said that “poverty is a state of mind.”  Critics were quick to pounce on this statement, saying that this showed how out of touch he was with the masses, and how he was making a mockery of the grinding, dirt-eating poverty that millions in India face on a daily basis.  Not many, however, realized the deeper contradiction (which actually makes you question the coherence of his thinking) inherent in his statement. 

What Mr. Gandhi actually said in his speech was “Poverty is just a state of mind. It does not mean the scarcity of food, money or material things. If one possesses self-confidence, then one can overcome poverty.” As an absolute statement, this is not wrong, though it may not work for the majority.  One can come up with many examples of inspirational people, past and present, who have not let the circumstances of their birth stop them from achieving greatness.  A good Indian example is the late Dhirubhai Ambani, who was born into poverty but became one of the world’s richest men through sheer drive and initiative.  Another is Mr. Gandhi’s and the Congress Party’s bête noire, Mr. Narendra Modi, who grew up selling tea on trains but rose to become chief minister of Gujarat and is now a prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party. 

But where Mr. Gandhi gets into trouble is that if he really believes this statement, then he should not be pushing all the entitlement programs, such as FSB, MNREGA, and RTE, that he, the NAC, and the UPA government, are so proud of.  There is an inherent contradiction between saying that poverty is a state of mind and then also saying that we will end your poverty by giving you cash: if my poverty is a state of mind, I do not need your cash to change it; I need to change my mindset!  This contradiction makes Mr. Gandhi sound very addle-pated.

Probably realizing all this, and also realizing that he is out of his depth when talking about serious issues such as economic policy, Mr. Gandhi has returned to what he does best: bask in the reflected glory of family members, past and present.

Muzaffarnagar, Communal Riots, Alwar and Churu

So Mr. Gandhi, in recent speeches, is back to familiar ground.  In his speeches at Alwar and Churu recently, he was all over the Nehru-Gandhi family, almost to the exclusion of other topics:

1.       My father and grandmother were killed by terrorists.
2.      My mother told me, don’t talk about me in your speeches.
3.      I felt like my chest had been ripped open when my father died.
4.      They killed my grandmother, my father, and will probably kill me too.

Mr. Gandhi should realize that he is a politician addressing a public gathering, not a psychiatric patient in a private room with his therapist.  With all due respect to his feelings - and he is fully entitled to them - we do not care a whit.  The public does not care for a politician’s personal life, only what he has done for them, is currently doing for them, and can do for them in the future.

So why does Mr. Gandhi go on about this in speech after speech?  To highlight the fact that his father and grandmother were killed because of decisions they took when they were in office (Mrs. Indira Gandhi for Operation Bluestar and the desecration of the Golden Temple; and Mr. Rajiv Gandhi for the Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka that ended up killing Tamils) and whom he now seeks to portray as martyrs – and wants the benefits of that positive association to accrue to him.

Milking the Sympathy Wave

The problem for Mr. Rahul Gandhi is that the benefits of association with famous people do not last a lifetime.  Rajiv Gandhi reaped the benefits of a sympathy wave when his mother was assassinated in 1984 and won a landslide victory in 1984; however, that association could not help him forever.  In the next elections, in 1989, Rajiv Gandhi was judged not as the son of the assassinated Indira Gandhi, but as the incumbent prime minister, who was involved in many scandals and misdeeds, including the Bofors arms scandal, and lost the election.

Sympathy waves are effective immediately after an event.  Rajiv Gandhi was fortunate (inasmuch as one can be fortunate because of the death of one’s mother) that the election in 1984 happened so soon after Indira Gandhi’s assassination; it helped the Congress win overwhelmingly.  Had the election been 5 years away, it is doubtful that the Congress Party would have gotten the kind of wave it did.  Mr. Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, is trying to milk an old cow with dried udders.  All the sympathy for Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Mr. Rajiv Gandhi is gone long ago.

An Absent MP

Worse for Mr. Rahul Gandhi, he has 9 years of his own non-performance as MP from Amethi to be judged against.  His father was quite fortunate that he was relatively new to politics when he entered it at the behest of his mother in 1980.  Within 4 years, his mother was assassinated, and so people did not expect that he would have had a huge track record of achievement in those 4 years in which to judge him poorly.

Rahul, on the other hand, has been an MP for 9 years, the son of the most powerful person in the country, and done nothing worthwhile to justify his time in such an influential position. 

Invisible in the Lok Sabha

Mr. Gandhi’s record as a parliamentarian is nothing short of abysmal.  His attendance in parliament is only 42%, as against the national average of 77% and the UP state average of 80%; his expenditure on his constituency, Amethi, ranks 70th among the 80 MLAs in UP – in 2013, the 4th year out of a 5-year term, Mr. Gandhi has spent only 52% of the total amount sanctioned to him by the Lok Sabha for expenditure on his constituency; the percentage of people below the poverty line in Amethi is 54%; in the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2013), he has only participated in one debate, as against the national average among MPs of 36.5 debates, and the state average in his state of UP of 42.3 debates; he has asked zero questions in parliament, as against the state average of 238 per MP and the national average of 281 per MP; he has not initiated a single private member bill in his tenure in parliament. 

The Backwardness of Amethi

A report on the state of his constituency between 2004 and 2008, prepared before the 2009 election, reveals that the people of Amethi did not benefit by having the second most-powerful person in the country as their representative.  

The percentage of the population below the poverty line was 47% in 2004; it dropped marginally to 44% in 2008.  The corresponding numbers for Uttar Pradesh were 34% and 32% respectively, and for India as a whole were 28% and 26% respectively. 

The literacy numbers for Amethi were 59% and 64% in 2004 and 2008 respectively, which were not very different from that of UP as a whole, 60% and 65% respectively, but significantly below the national average, 68% and 72% respectively. 

The percentage of fully immunized children dropped under Rahul Gandhi’s stewardship from 20% to 16% in the years 2004-2008, compared to a marginal rise in UP from 23% to 24%, and much better numbers for the nation as a whole – 44% in 2004 and 46% in 2008.  

The percentage of electrified homes actually dropped from 27% to 14% under Rahul Gandhi’s watch, compared with a rise in UP as a whole, 35% to 38%, and a rise in the much higher national numbers, 62% to 69%.  

The percentage of habitations connected to pucca (“firm,” i.e., not dirt roads) in Amethi rose from 52% to 54% in 2004-2008, whereas the percentages for UP in the corresponding period were 65% and 67%, and the national percentages were 67% and 71%.  

The percentage of total crimes that were violent crimes rose from 18% to 22% under Mr. Gandhi; in UP as a whole, the percentage, again, rose from 19% to 20%, whereas the national percentage of violent crimes dropped from 13% to 11%.  

The average annual income of the people of Amethi rose from Rs. 48,666 to Rs. 51,447 in the years 2004-2008, whereas that of the people of UP rose from Rs. 73,016 to Rs. 77,441 in the corresponding period and the national numbers rose from Rs. 105,408 to Rs. 115,025.  

These facts are summarized in Table 1.

Amethi, 2004
Amethi, 2008
UP, 2004
UP, 2008
India, 2004
India, 2008
Population BPL, %
% Literate
% Fully Immunized Children
% Homes Electrified
% Homes With Pucca Roads
% Violent Crimes
Average Annual Household Income
Table 1. Comparison of Vital Statistics of Amethi, UP State and India as a Whole

This is a staggering revelation of incompetence and indifference.  Uttar Pradesh has long been known to be one of the most backward states in the Union – so much so that it was one of the few states that are termed the BIMARU states (Bimar is a Hindi word for “sick.)  To ensure that your constituency is a “Bimar” constituency even within UP is no mean achievement.  It takes indifference, cynicism, and incompetence of a really high degree to make that happen.  Just think of the electrification rate – the percentage is Amethi is around half the UP percentage, which in turn is roughly half the national average.

And this achievement is due not to Mr. Rahul Gandhi alone.  Amethi has long been the pocket borough of the Nehru-Gandhi family.  From 1980-81 it was represented by Mr. Sanjay Gandhi, Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s younger son; from 1981-91 it was represented by Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, who for many years was the PM at the same time; from 1999-2004 it was represented by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi; and from 2004-2013 it has been represented by Mr. Rahul Gandhi.  Not only this, even in other times, it has been represented mostly by Congressmen.  From 1991-98, the constituency was represented by Mr. Satish Sharma, a close friend of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi.  Thus, in the period between 1980 and 2013, a period of 33 years, Amethi has been represented by the Nehru-Gandhi family or close associates of it for all but a period of 2 years, when it was represented by Mr. Sanjay Singh of the BJP (at the time) in 1998-99.  

The integrated result of all these years of royal patronage is that the district is one of the most backward in India and perhaps in the world.  This is a scathing indictment of the governance of the Nehru-Gandhi family.  They have managed to keep their own constituency poor, illiterate, sick, undeveloped, violent, and in the dark even when the rest of India was coming into the modern age.

This is a monumental disgrace.

Against such a backdrop, statements coming from Rahul Gandhi saying that he cares about the uplift of the poor seem extremely shallow and fake.

Missing in Action

In addition, not only has he done nothing to benefit his own constituency, he has done precious little in influencing things at a national level.  During the turbulent days of the Lokpal agitation by Anna Hazare, Rahul Gandhi was conspicuous by his absence.  The only contribution he made during the entire movement was to make a statement in the Lok Sabha during the discussion on the Lokpal bill that he thought the Lokpal should become a constitutional body – a fairly worthless statement.  The only thing more pathetic than that intervention by Mr. Gandhi in the Lok Sabha was the sight of his sycophants coming on national TV channels and behaving and talking as though what we had seen was scarcely less illuminating than the divine revelation of the Gita by Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the Mahabharata. 

During the New Delhi gangrape case in 2012 of a young woman in a moving bus, a case that outraged young people all over the country, Mr. Gandhi was nowhere to be seen – something that was not expected of one billed as a “youth icon” by his party. 

In short, for the last 9 years, Mr. Gandhi has been a no-show.  He has not visibly or verifiably contributed directly to any significant policy that has had any positive effect on the country – and so is in the unenviable position of not being able to claim credit for anything while seeking the highest office in the land.

Unproven Mettle

One can pick a leader for a variety of reasons – an ability to manage people and handle conflicts well; an ability to understand and operate in great complexity and ambiguity; an ability to rouse people to action; or a penetrating intellect that can bring clarity to difficult situations.  But one of the most important reasons is that he or she leads his team to victory. 

All the great generals of history, from Hannibal to Caesar to Genghis Khan to Grant to Napoleon to MacArthur to Zhukov were people who earned the right to lead by winning.  This is such a great quality that other failings of a person can often be overlooked merely if the person is a winner.

Which Brand of Whiskey Does He Drink?

There is a well-known story of General Ulysses Simpson Grant, the most celebrated general of the Union Army under Abraham Lincoln in the American Civil War.  Lincoln was extremely frustrated because his generals were unable to win battles against the Confederate forces headed by the legendary general Robert E. Lee, one of the greatest military minds in history.  Lee and his fellow generals like Stonewall Jackson were winning battle after battle against the Union army until, finally, the Union army produced a winning general, US Grant.  

Once Grant started winning, some jealous generals went to Lincoln and complained that Grant was a drunk.  Lincoln responded that in that case he would like to know which brand of whiskey Grant drank, so that he could send a carton of the same to each of his generals, if only it could make them fight like Grant.  Such is the aura of a winner. (from Lincoln the Unknown by Dale Carnegie.)

The Captain Who Couldn’t Play

Another well-known case, this time in sports, is the curious case of the English cricketer Mike Brearley.  Although nominally a batsman, Mr. Brearley had a pathetic career as a batsman – his international batting average was only around 28 runs.  Brearley’s USP, however, was not any individual cricketing skill, but his captaincy.  As captain of the English team, Mr. Brearley had an impressive record of 17 wins and 4 losses in 31 test matches. 

He was also famous for reviving the confidence and winning abilities of England’s greatest all-rounder, Ian Botham, in very short time.  In the second test at Lord’s in 1981, Botham had a pair (scoreless in both innings) and had only taken 3 wickets in the loss.  The loss in form and the loss of the test caused Botham to lose his captaincy and lose confidence in himself.  Yet, under Brearley’s captaincy, Botham stormed back in the very next test to take 6 wickets for 95 runs in Australia’s first innings, score 50 runs in England’s disastrous first innings (his was the highest score), and then score 149 not out in the second innings to force Australia to bat again and lose.  The test series became so famous for Botham’s turnaround that it has since been referred to as “Botham’s Ashes.”

So maybe, in the same vein, can we ignore all of Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s faults and deficiencies, and just look for those winning qualities in him?  Can Rahul be the Mike Brearley for the floundering Congress Party?  Let us examine the record.

Mr. Gandhi joined politics in 2003.  He won election to the family seat of Amethi in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.  This is not a particularly notable achievement, given that the Congress party completely controlled the constituency; his victory was more a victory the party handed to him than a victory he had earned for the party.

The 2007 UP Elections

His first major test was in the 2007 elections, where he took on the task of re-invigorating the party in the state of Uttar Pradesh.  UP, once a Congress stronghold during the reign of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, had been lost by the Congress in 1991, never to return to the party.  In truth, the task Mr. Gandhi had chosen for himself was formidable.  To create a winning grass-roots organization for a party that had not been in power for 26 years in a state is not at all easy.  One might be forgiven for cutting Mr. Gandhi some slack and, in fact, commending him on taking on such a challenge.  Victory might have been too tall a target to achieve; however, what was expected at a minimum was that the Congress would at least do significantly better than in the previous election.  

The results revealed, however, that the Congress party did worse than in the previous state elections.  In the 2003 UP election, the Congress party won 25 seats; and in the 2007 election, under Mr. Gandhi’s leadership, the party won only 22 seats, a loss of 3 seats, with only 8.53% of the vote.  By no measure could Mr. Gandhi be deemed to have had a positive outcome on the party’s fortunes in the state.

The 2010 Bihar Elections

A similar fate awaited Mr. Gandhi in his next test, which was the state elections in Bihar in 2010.  As in UP, the Congress party had been out of power in Bihar for two decades, so an outright victory would be expecting too much of Mr. Gandhi.  A much more realistic expectation, however, and a real test of his skills as a leader and a winner, would be a significantly improved performance in the 2010 election compared to the previous state election in 2005.  Even a modest improvement could be seen as a sign of positive change.  

What happened under Mr. Gandhi, however, was a debacle.  The party that had won 9 seats in 2005 could only win 4 seats in Bihar under Mr. Gandhi’s leadership.

The 2012 Gujarat Elections

Not content with these failures, Mr. Gandhi next took on the incumbent chief minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narendra Modi, who had won two terms in a row and was aiming to win a third time in 2012.  Mr. Gandhi promised that under his leadership, the Congress party would defeat Mr. Modi and win back Gujarat for the Congress for the first time since 1995, a hiatus of 17 years.  The result for Mr. Gandhi in Gujarat was slightly better than those in UP and Bihar, but hardly impressive: the Congress won 61 seats out of 182, a marginal improvement over its performance in 2007, when it won 59 seats.  But all the rhetoric of defeating the BJP government under Mr. Modi proved to be empty.

Thus, in all three major tests of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership skills and his ability to win elections for his party since entering politics, he has either proved an unmitigated disaster or has hardly made a difference.

Foot-in-the-Mouth Disease

We have seen that Rahul Gandhi’s record as an administrator of his constituency reveals extraordinary incompetence.  It is not something he can brag about in his speeches.  We have also seen that as a leader who can win elections for his party, Mr. Gandhi has a miserable track record.  So Mr. Gandhi cannot boast about past victories in his speeches.  But if one has to project himself as a prominent leader, one must talk about something in public speeches.

Given his past baggage, Mr. Gandhi has two choices at this point, neither of which is very attractive – talk about issues, or talk about family members who have done better than him.

Talking about issues is difficult for Mr. Gandhi because, as we have seen, Rahul is very deficient in this area.  Not only is he out of depth in most of the things he talks about, as we have seen in the examples presented earlier, but many a time he presents pure fabrications, which create a mess that others from his party have to clean up for him. 

Bones in Bhatta Parsaul – Human or Animal?

A good example is the time he campaigned against Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh and claimed that human beings were burned in the village of Bhatta-Parsaul.  It was later discovered that the claim was entirely bogus and only some animal remains were verifiable in the area.  He had also alleged rape of village women in Bhatta Parsaul and the National Human Rights Commission refuted that charge

Demanding Gratitude from the BJP for Kargil Support

During the attempt to pass the FDI in retail bill, Mr. Gandhi suggested that the BJP should support the FDI bill as a way of showing gratitude to the Congress, which had supported the NDA government in the Kargil war.  The BJP immediately (and correctly) retorted that supporting the country at a time of war was not a political calculation, but the obligation of every Indian.

ISI in Touch with Muzaffarnagar Victims

More recently, talking about the Muzaffarnagar riots, Rahul Gandhi claimed that intelligence officers had told him that Pakistan’s spy agency ISI was getting in touch with Muslim victims of the riots – a statement that was criticized by one and all, including the intelligence agencies, who completely denied that they had ever said anything like this to Mr. Gandhi.  

The statement was made by Mr. Gandhi to target the BJP, whom he accused of fomenting the riots, of creating circumstances that encouraged Muslim citizens of India to turn to terrorism; but it backfired because it was viewed as questioning (without any basis) the patriotism of Indian Muslims.  The very constituency he was trying to curry favour with was furious with him.  

In addition, the Election Commission issued a show-cause notice to Mr. Gandhi asking him why they should not take action against him in light of his remarks which violated the model code of conduct.

Grandstanding at the Expense of the Party

This tendency to make serious mistakes whenever he talks about issues is so grave that it leaves Mr. Gandhi with just one choice.

This is the use of more references to his father, his mother, his grandmother, his great-grandfather, and perhaps even his great-great-grandfather.  Even though, as a strategy, this is revolting and nauseating, it is far preferable to landing the party (and maybe even the country) in a soup whenever he makes a statement. 

The 1971 War Gaffe

However, even when trying to bask in the family glory, Mr. Gandhi still has to guard against his natural gift for landing himself in trouble, as he did back in 2007 when he tried to invoke Mrs. Gandhi’s spectacular success in the 1971 war with Pakistan that led to the formation of Bangladesh

The Indian narrative regarding the 1971 war had always been couched in humanitarian terms – in other words, the Indian army got into the act because of the oppression taking place in east Pakistan (now Bangladesh) by people from west Pakistan – as a last resort to prevent further genocide by the west Pakistanis.  India has always maintained that it intervened for two reasons: as a humanitarian gesture, and to stop the immigration from east Pakistan into West Bengal, which was a calamity of huge proportions (more than 10 million refugees).  In addition, India’s entry into the war was precipitated by Pakistan launching pre-emptive air strikes at  Indian airbases on December 3, 1971.

However, in 2007, when Mr. Gandhi was campaigning for the party in the UP state elections, he claimed credit for his family (his grandmother, Indira Gandhi) for having “decided” on “the division of Pakistan.”  The ostensible reason was to highlight Indira Gandhi’s determination in winning the war and imply that he, as her grandson, possessed the same strength of character.  But this statement led to a huge diplomatic row with Pakistan, which alleged that India’s stance all these years that its intervention in Pakistan was a humanitarian move was a smokescreen – that their real objective was to deliberately break up Pakistan. 

In other words, to make himself look good, Mr. Gandhi put the country’s diplomacy, its negotiating power, and its international reputation, at risk.  Foreign policies towards countries are crafted very carefully by diplomats in order to convey the right image in international fora, and these are maintained for decades, irrespective of which party is in power at the centre.  Diplomats think carefully about each word that they use, for fear of misinterpretation.  In one stroke, however, Mr. Gandhi managed to ruin the work of scores of diplomats working for decades – all in an effort to project himself in a positive light.  Just as an example, such an admission weakens India in international diplomacy when India accuses Pakistan of fomenting terror in Kashmir – for the Pakistanis can now retort – wait, didn’t your own Rahul Gandhi admit that there was a deliberate plan to divide Pakistan?  Why find fault with us for wanting to divide India?

Babri Masjid Would Not Have Happened With a Gandhi at The Helm

Another such attempt at self-aggrandizement at the cost of the party was when Mr. Gandhi said that the demolition of the Babri Masjid would not have happened if someone from the Gandhi family was active in politics at the timeMr. Narasimha Rao was the prime minister when the Babri Masjid demolition happened, and this was an attack on his own party to make his family (and himself, by extension) look good.  In that speech, he even said, “Please remember I am the grandson of Indira Gandhi!”  

Rahul conveniently forgot in that speech that it was his father Rajiv Gandhi who probably played the most instrumental role in the Babri Masjid issue (for narrow political ends) when the locks on the Masjid were removed on February 1, 1986 under Rajiv Gandhi’s watch.  It was Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, again, who on November 9, 1989, gave approval for the “shilanyas” (foundation stone-laying ceremony) to go ahead at an “undisputed site” close to the mosque in order to gain favour among Hindutva supporters.  The shilanyas was conducted under the supervision of Union Home Minister Buta Singh at PM Rajiv Gandhi’s instructions. 

So Mr. Gandhi’s attempt to portray his family as above communal politics is not only factually incorrect, it is also a betrayal of the party and weakens his own party’s image.  It is a measure of the hollowness of the man that he has to stoop so low as to try to grab something, anything, no matter how weak that claim to fame may be.

The Representation of the People Amendment Bill And Ordinance

A more recent example of grandstanding at the expense of the party was the whole fracas over the disqualification of convicted MPs.  On July 10, 2013, acting on a petition by an NGO, the Indian Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Representation of the People Act (RPA) as ultra vires the Constitution of India because it allowed criminals to serve as legislators, which is forbidden by the constitution. 

The RPA allowed for convicted lawmakers to retain their seats in legislatures and the Parliament provided they had filed an appeal in a higher court within 30 days of the conviction.  The Supreme Court ruled that any lawmaker who was convicted of a sentence of imprisonment more than 2 years would henceforth be immediately disqualified from holding his or her seat, and would not be eligible to serve again as a legislator or parliamentarian.
This meant that several convicted MPs then serving in the Lok Sabha would be at risk of losing their seats and their political future.  

Notable among people at risk was Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav, the former chief minister of Bihar and head of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, an ally of the UPA.  Mr. Yadav had been convicted in the Rs. 950 crore (> $200 million) Fodder Scam, and the case was due to arrive at the sentencing phase soon.  To protect Mr. Yadav and many other MPs who were facing serious charges but were not yet convicted, the UPA, on August 26th, introduced an amendment to the RPA that would cancel the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment, which had been praised for paving the way for clean politics.  

To be perfectly fair, this was not a crime of the UPA alone - no political party opposed this bill at the time of its introduction, because all Indian parties have their share of corrupt and criminal lawmakers – the current Lok Sabha statistics show that 21% of all Congress party members have criminal charges against them, whereas 38% of all BJP party members have criminal charges against them.  It is thus in the interest of both parties to avoid disqualification of their members in case; and, indeed, with crime being such an integral part of politics, all political parties in the Indian parliament supported the bill. 

At the same time, the UPA government filed a review petition in the Supreme Court asking the court to reconsider its earlier decision of July 10th declaring sections of the RPA ultra vires.  On September 4, 2013, the Supreme Court rejected the review petition.  The Supreme Court bluntly said that in its interpretation, the present RPA was unconstitutional, and said, “Parliament is free to amend the law if it does not agree with [the] interpretation of law given by the Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, the bill introduced by the UPA on amending the RPA to allow convicts to serve in the house had not yet been passed, with political pressure from the BJP and JD(U) forcing the bill to be sent to a standing committee rather than to be passed immediately.  Probably sensing that the people were opposed to this bill that would allow criminals to go unpunished, the BJP stalled the passage of the bill.  The JD(U) opposed the bill because it would give a breather to its arch-rival, Mr. Lalu Yadav, who would be most affected by the Supreme Court order.

Keeping in mind the fast-approaching deadline of September 30 for the sentencing of Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav, the UPA decided it could not wait for the passage of the bill.  So, on September 24th, it introduced an ordinance that did not require parliament’s approval – introduced as an emergency measure – that would have to be ratified within 6 months but still would be in time to save Mr. Yadav from disqualification.  The ordinance provoked widespread outrage among the people and opposition parties, principally the BJP and the Left, who questioned the need for undue haste in passing the ordinance.

On September 26th, MPs from the BJP met President Pranab Mukherjee to try and persuade him not to give his assent to the ordinance, terming it unconstitutional.  The BJP action was done in the backdrop of widespread public outrage over the ordinance, and President Mukherjee understood the gravity of the situation.  He immediately summoned senior ministers of the UPA  - Kamal Nath, Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Kapil Sibal, Law Minister, and Sushilkumar Shinde, Home Minister, to a meeting with him and asked them tough questions on why the government had introduced the ordinance, dropping hints that he might not simply sign on the dotted line.

After the outrage had gone on for a few days, with the Congress continuing to defend its ordinance in the face of public opposition from all quarters, Rahul Gandhi suddenly sprung a surprise on the party when he barged into a press conference on September 27th, held by Congress General Secretary Ajay Maken to explain the ordinance to the press and defend it.  In his intervention, Rahul Gandhi peremptorily called the ordinance passed by the UPA cabinet “nonsense” and said that “it should be torn up and thrown away.”  The move caught not only Maken, but the entire Congress party, including his mother, Sonia Gandhi, and the PM, Mr. Manmohan Singh, causing deep embarrassment to the party and the PM. 

What was Mr. Gandhi trying to do?  Was he unaware of what was happening in the country?  Highly unlikely.  Consider the timeline.  The Supreme Court verdict declaring provisions of the RPA ultra vires came on July 10th; the amendment to the RPA was introduced in parliament on August 26th; the rejection of the review petition by the Supreme Court happened on September 4th; and the cabinet of PM Manmohan Singh passed the executive ordinance that had the same import as the bill introduced in parliament on September 24th.  President Mukherjee summoned the UPA ministers to discuss the ordinance on September 26th and left no doubt in their minds that he was not in favour of the ordinance. Mr. Gandhi’s outburst came on September 27th.  If Mr. Gandhi was opposed to the ordinance, then surely he was opposed to the bill (as has been made evident in statements from the party since).  If so, why wait so long to make his objections known even to his own party? 

Mr. Gandhi waited more than a month after his own government introduced the bill on the floor of the Rajya Sabha to speak about his reservations against the bill – and he did it gracelessly, without informing any of his party colleagues, even excluding the PM from his views.  He did this after the rest of his party had spent a whole month arguing for, explaining, and defending the bill and ordinance that the PM, with the blessing of Sonia Gandhi as party president, had introduced, with the support of the entire cabinet.  If he was opposed to the bill, why not say it up front and save everyone the trouble and the embarrassment? 

There never was any doubt about what would happen if Rahul Gandhi disapproved of anything, as was evident in the speed with which the party changed course after Rahul’s intervention...within less than a week after Rahul Gandhi’s public outburst, the party withdrew both the ordinance and the bill.  Given that he knew that the slightest disapproval from him would deep-six the bill, Rahul Gandhi, if he really cared about his party, would have talked privately with the prime minister and prevented the bill’s introduction on August 26th.  

Even assuming that, not being in the cabinet, he was not privy to the discussions that led to the introduction of the bill, he could still have talked privately with Mr. Singh a day or two after the bill was publicly introduced and convinced him to withdraw the bill on the cabinet’s initiative.  

The only explanation is that Mr. Gandhi deliberately let the Congress party push the bill, watched the public reaction, saw that it was extremely adverse, realized that the president was not in support of it, and then decided to rush in as the “rebel” who represented the will of the people to defy his own party.  In other words, Mr. Gandhi was grandstanding at the expense of the party. 

What must be even more galling to the party seniors is the timing of the outburst.  Prime Minister Singh was in the United States on an international diplomatic mission, and Mr. Gandhi’s outburst right in the middle of the trip made it appear that Mr. Singh had no clout even within his own party and definitely would have weakened his hand in any negotiations with the US or Pakistan.  But Mr. Gandhi couldn’t care less for any of these repercussions for the country, so long as this little piece of drama afforded him a possibility to project himself – at the expense of his party, his leaders, and his country.

The Fear Psychosis

All this begs the obvious question – why, 0f all people, would the Congress party want to keep projecting a person who is incompetent, a backstabber, and an underachiever, as the future leader of their party and PM of the country?

There are two main reasons for this, and both are driven by fear – the fear of losing. 

1.       The Congress is not a strong party internally.  Mr. Rahul Gandhi being the son of the Congress president, any criticism of him amounts in the extremely hierarchical Congress party to a direct criticism of the party president, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.  Any such criticism can lead to only two possibilities within the Congress party: expulsion of the offending member or, if the offending member is senior enough, a split in the Congress party.  With the difficult straits the party finds itself in – an unending chain of corruption scams; a precarious economic situation; an apparent weakness in defense policy towards Pakistan and China, with both countries routinely committing violations of the peace; a continuous dip in manufacturing; annual GDP growth reaching a decade-low figure of 5%; weak investor confidence in India; Indian businesses hesitating to open new ventures in India; foreign companies exiting their ventures in India; a huge shortfall in much-needed infrastructure like electricity and roads; rising inflation leading to the price of even onions going above Rs. 100 a kilogram; the rupee depreciating to almost Rs. 70 a dollar; and a weak position in parliament requiring the ruling UPA to try to pass controversial legislation to protect criminal partners, such as the failed attempt at a bill to protect convicted MPs from losing their membership in the Lok Sabha – the party can simply not afford a split.

2.      Related to the first point, there is a lack of adequate and credible leadership in the Congress party.  To illustrate this point, one only needs to look at the recent leadership struggle in the BJP to see an example both of strong leadership and a strong party.  Mr. Narendra Modi, himself a strong leader, having won the state elections of Gujarat handsomely three times in a row, was bidding for the leadership of the party.  He was strongly opposed by senior stalwarts in the party, including the founder of the BJP, the highly venerated LK Advani, and other senior leaders, such as Murli Manohar Joshi, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha.  He was also backed by several senior leaders including the president of the party, Rajnath Singh, and senior Rajya Sabha member Arun Jaitley.

In the months that followed, what transpired was no less than a full-blown civil war inside the BJP, with strong statements from several leaders speaking in favour of or against Mr. Modi.  Mr. Advani even went so far as to submit his resignation from all party posts if the party decided to go ahead with Mr. Modi.

When the dust settled, it was Mr. Modi who had won, as he had the support of the party cadre.  But more importantly, the BJP as a party was still united, despite a fierce fight.  Mr. Advani did not split the party, as was widely feared and speculated; despite all his reservations, he stayed inside the party.  And so did other senior leaders, like his protégé Sushma Swaraj.

Now that’s the sign of a strong party.  A strong party admits of differences in opinion, even outright defiance, but once the party as a whole decides, everyone goes along with the decision.  It is not as properly democratic as the American primary system, but for an Indian party, this is more than one would normally expect.

A pitched battle, where people freely voice their dissensions, and the most popular person wins, is a healthy, democratic system.  The great achievement of the BJP, and of Mr. Rajnath Singh, its president, as I have discussed in an earlier post, is that he has managed to address all the concerns at this early stage, well before the elections, and settle the issue of leadership and the candidate for the PM post should the party win.  This means that since all the issues were debated and a consensus was reached, no one can question the decision again and demand a revisiting of the issue.

In contrast, the situation within the current Congress party is very unhealthy and unstable.  There is no better example of the complete emasculation of the so-called party leaders than the fact that Mr. Rahul Gandhi makes blooper after blooper; proves beyond doubt his incompetence and his lack of understanding of history, economics, or politics; shows his inability to lead the party to victory anywhere; and embarrasses the party time and again; and yet senior party leaders, such as P. Chidambaram, AK Antony, Kapil Sibal, and Jaipal Reddy, to name a few – men who are tremendously more experienced and wiser than Mr. Rahul Gandhi in politics and almost any other knowledge domain – feel compelled to praise his every failing and continue to say that Mr. Gandhi can do no wrong.

Such behaviour is seen only in a monarchy, where the prince or the heir-apparent can never do any wrong, and so it is not acceptable to criticize him (at least openly), whatever his faults.  More significantly, it is extremely unhealthy, for people feel one way in private and say something else in public, leading to pent-up resentment.  It makes for fair-weather friends and a ground ripe for defection.  The people in this party are bound not by a shared vision, but by opportunism.  The only trait that is valued in such a party is loyalty to the maximum leader.  In the place of debate, discussion, criticism, openness, and a meritocracy, what is usually seen in such a system is fear, sycophancy, nepotism, mediocrity, and corruption.

One of the rare instances when someone in the Congress or its allies in the UPA has openly criticized Mr. Gandhi was when, in a recent interview, Mr. Sharad Pawar, a veteran politician, leader of the Nationalist Congress Party and the Union Agriculture minister, did some plain speaking, saying that he would not be willing to be part of a cabinet where Mr. Gandhi was the PM, saying simply that “One has to prove his mettle in administration. Rahul Gandhi should have joined the Manmohan Singh government. He did not join.”  Mr. Pawar’s objection is what anyone endowed with commonsense would offer – after all, if someone has never managed any administrative position in a company, you do not make him the CEO.  As renowned Indian historian, Ramchandra Guha, recently said, “It is clear Rahul Gandhi suffers from never having done a job. Not just a political job, but any job.”  But the Congress party reacted to Mr. Pawar’s statement with denial, and there was no further discussion of such a valid objection.  This is because the party culture forbids any discussion or criticism of the first family comprising Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, Ms. Priyanka Vadra or Mr. Robert Vadra.

There is no room for a leader like Narendra Modi in the Congress, one who can challenge the supremacy of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi or her family like Modi challenged LK Advani in the BJP.  And it is this lack of strong leadership within the Congress that allows incompetence and mediocrity as exemplified by Mr. Gandhi to flourish.


Political parties are of various kinds.  Some are based on an ideology; others are based on caste, community, or other such groupings; and some are based purely on a personality cult.  The Congress party is a party of the third kind. 

It is based solely on allegiance to the Nehru-Gandhi family.  Because of this unique aspect, there are no requirements of competence, achievement, or loyalty when it comes to judging someone from the family of Mrs. Indira Gandhi or her descendants.  This is the reason why Mr. Rahul Gandhi, despite all his obvious limitations, his lack of achievement, and his readiness to backstab his party colleagues, is still being projected as the future leader of the Congress and the future prime minister of India.

Congress supporters were very upset when Mr. Narendra Modi recently referred to Mr. Gandhi as a “Shehzada” (an urdu word for Prince).  But that taunt only refers to dynastic rule and is really not an insult per se.  After all, all the great Moghuls were first Shehzade before they became emperors of eminence.  Akbar was a prince, a Shehzada, before he became one of the greatest emperors in the world.  So were Jehangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb.  The term “Shehzada,” therefore, does not connote incompetence – only a transition stage for a ruler.  It does imply, however, that the Congress party is run like a monarchy, where the monarch and his or her family are above reproach – which is an accurate reflection of reality.

However, Mr. Gandhi does not deserve a comparison with an Akbar or a Shah Jahan.  More accurately, he resembles those members of a royal family who have no achievements to their own credit – the hangers-on, if you will – people like the first or second cousins of the monarch, who will never wield real power or influence, who will never be respected either for their bravery or their intelligence or their wisdom - and so are forced to constantly prate on about the accomplishments of their forebears and associates – and who, therefore, add the names of their ancestors to their own in a bid to make it more glorious than it really is.

Keeping that in mind, Mr. Gandhi deserves a name that is more than just Shehzada:

Shehzada Rahul bin Rajiv ibn Indira bint Jawahar bin Motilal al-Gandhi al-Nehru.