“Like many Indians across the country, I am an idealist.”
The opening line of the acceptance speech of newly anointed president of the Indian National Congress, Rahul Gandhi, today (December 16) at the All Indian Congress Committee headquarters in New Delhi’s 24 Akbar Road, was both an act of courage as well as a welcome sign of possible change in the air. That the 47-year-old chief of the grand old party underlined the importance of compassion and truth as political virtues is exactly the healing touch that the emotionally frayed and confused country needs at the moment.
We fight for everyone and for all those on the periphery, for all those relegated to the fringes. We fight for those who cannot fight alone: #CongressPresidentRahulGandhi Full Speech: https://t.co/hDzJCR0DEu#ThankYouSoniaGandhi— Congress (@INCIndia) December 16, 2017
In the right spirit, acknowledging the predecessors and seniors in the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, in his first public address as the Congress president, emphasised how he and his band of men and women intend to win over the country with love and affection, and not fuel the fire of hatred that’s raging in the country. This is a significant departure from the direction that political discourse has taken in the past few years, and Gandhi’s repeated assertions that it’s with compassion and kindness that India’s jangled nerves can be calmed, must be paid heed to.
While the outgoing party president, Sonia Gandhi, recounted the sacrifices of her predecessors, chiefly the slain duo of former prime ministers, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, she also expressed hope and determination that Rahul Gandhi would carry out the responsibility with patience, kindness and adherence to constitutional values. If Sonia Gandhi emphasised on the attack on India’s soul, its fundamental beliefs and its very Constitutional principles, it was for Rahul Gandhi to hold out the hand of love, kindness and generosity of the spirit.
Rahul Gandhi’s speech, at 13 minutes, wasn’t long. But its bilingual impact - he spoke in fluent Hindi and English (he stressed the latter especially for those in the south of India) - was strong. His assertion that the Congress party worker, the cadre who would take the message of love and common fraternity to each and every village and town of the country, is the antidote of love to BJP’s machinery of “hatred”, “fear” and “silencing”, was applauded loudly.
I want the Congress party to become an instrument for dialogue between Indian people, from all corners of our great country, all religions, all ethnicities, all ages and gender and for our dialogue to be led by love and affection. pic.twitter.com/VhjFDz2qht— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) December 16, 2017
Rahul’s message was of inclusiveness and building bridges. It was about the return of community feeling, of solidarity as a social capital. It was about the politics of peace as opposed to the constant harping on war and erecting of barriers, whether within the country, along religions, castes, genders, languages, ethnicities, or outside it. This is absolutely in the Nehru-Gandhian tradition of non-violence, love, dignity and solidarity for every Indian - the emphasis on the constitutional spirit of nationalism - that Rahul Gandhi reminded everyone of, thereby opening his presidential innings with the sincerity and appeal to human values that’s lost in the din of communal violence and rhetoric of ugly point-scoring.
With Gujarat and Himachal Assembly elections results due on Monday, December 18, his success or failure the electoral battlefields would be measured against his officially acquired responsibility as the Congress president. Whatever may be the outcome, he deserves credit for being the first one to halt the juggernaut of hate as political weapon, offering the real alternative for socio-cultural cohesion - the foundation of India’s multicultural openness, the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and the dignity that every Indian is entitled to in the eyes of the law, of each other, and of a leader.
The defining image of the day is Rahul Gandhi kissing his mother Sonia on the forehead as she passes him the baton, the responsibility of the 132-year-old Congress party. How successful Rahul will be in taking it ahead, lifting it from the current electoral abyss, will be watched closely. But his emphasis on “idealism”, with which he began and closed his speech today, is indeed a fragrant whiff of fresh air and a departure from the thick smog of electoral pragmatism that normalises numerous compromises with our cherished principles enshrined in the Constitution.