Valson Thampu

A year ago, I wrote on that Rahul was too gentle and genial a soul to be effective in the murky, wily theatre of Indian politics. Authors are egotistic animals; and I am no exception. But there are occasions when, in the tussle between egotism and truth, the latter must prevail.

So, here I am… reluctantly… to re-examine and mend my views.

I have been watching Rahul in the recent months, though not with the same keenness and ardour as I do Modi. I have to admit, as a result, that something new seems to be in the offing in respect of this eminently eligible bachelor in politician.

I tended to agree with Modi that Rahul was a novice in the art of public speaking. We all know that Modi’s standards in this respect are sky high. He is the Usain Bolt of the podium; especially when a formidable battery of TV cameras is trained on him, and a sea of adoring humanity looks up to him, eager to applaud every word to the echo. I don’t think Rahul can match Narendra Modi in demagoguery. He shouldn’t even try. “Imitating Milton,” -the English epic poet- “is death,” said John Keats. With greater justness I’d say, “Imitating Modi is death.” No one should. What one should do, instead, is to be truly and fully be oneself.

I am now see that Rahul is doing just that. Even a couple of years ago, he could express only about 25% of his own potential. That is just the same as saying that he was still in apprenticeship. Then, all of a sudden, some months ago, he hit the 50% mark. He began to speak with conviction. He seemed in control of his thought process.

Just a couple of months back, I thought he hit the 60% mark. Now he makes eye contact with his audiences. There is a new feel of comfort about his deportment at the podium.

This is being recognized and acknowledged by politically neutral people in Delhi. I am given to understand that Rahul is growing in authority with the warp and woof of the party, including senior and mid-level leaders.

All that’s fine. But a concern still remains. Rahul has not yet taken up an issue of some magnitude, pursued it and delivered. It may seem the done thing to flit like a pretty butterfly from one issue to another, being traduced by his detractors of reaping a harvest of optics, as though that is an unthinkable crime! [By the way, it is funny how people intimidate their political adversaries by stigmatizing them with the very same practices they thrive on! When politicians accuse each other of ‘playing politics,’ as they do almost every day, my sides split!]

Both demonetization and GST gave Rahul potentially deadly ammunition. He sidled into the queue of grievances. The media followed him, if only to accuse him of fishing for optics! Disappointingly, he did not engage with either of the issues in a manner that exemplifies the sort of will power it takes to inspire confidence.

Rahul should ponder over the shaping significance of the Pietermaritzburg episode in the life of Gandhiji. Gandhi learned to pit his will against the monster of Apartheid. Rahul may never match Modi’s oratorical skills. Can he match, even excel, his will? It is not words, but deeds, that endure, and win the hearts of people.

The quality of will pertains to understanding. Those of shallow understanding cannot have enduring will power. They will crumble under pressure, or lose, in days, interest in what is espoused.

Understanding is of the essence of vision. Everyone agrees that ‘vision’ is a core ingredient in effective leadership. What is the difference between ‘vision’ and ‘seeing?’ Vision is focused on the goal to be achieved. Seeing is confined to what may be made out of the situation. Will power in pursuing self-less goals distinguishes a visionary from an opportunist.

Modi-Shah duo has mastered the art of the spectacular and the expedient. A visionary goes beyond the expedient to what ought to be achieved. Demagogues are interested in what may be achieved for oneself and one’s group. Visionaries are driven by an idealistic passion for what needs to be achieved for the people as a whole, with the destiny of humankind as the backdrop.

The question that the people of India is asking of Rahul is, “Young man, do you have it in you to be a visionary?”

Why do they ask such a question at all?

Well, the common people in this country are wiser than they are taken for. They know that while a cola can fight a cola, when it comes to the higher issues of life only what is different from the reigning pattern can redeem the situation.

As Aristotle says, it is in the nature of cures that they work by contraries. Rahul should not shape himself after Modi and end up as an inferior carbon copy. He should be an alternative to Modi. And convincingly too. People will be convinced not by genealogy but by genuineness. Genuineness cannot be inherited, but needs to be proved by perseverance and the willingness, if need be, to accept risks and hardships.

In this respect the BJP spokespersons have been trying to tutor Rahul for a while. They ridicule him as a ‘part-time’ politician and a prince of privilege. He has not come through the dust and thirst of politics. He is not battle-hardened. Rather than minding the malice in such remarks, Rahul should take the cue latent in them.

It is up to him to outgrow the image of being a part-timer. It is up to him to reveal such merits as he has in their full measure. Qualities of character and conviction, being cultivated, not inherited, offer him the means to dispel the dynastic hang-over. It is nobody’s case that a person is willy-nilly a nit-wit for being born in privilege. Birth should not be an advantage or a disadvantage in any respect.

Gujarat was, not long ago, a laboratory. History proves a laboratory could lend itself to several experiments, and spawn un-bargained-for results.

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