Know Your Enemy
How Rahul Gandhi's 'suit-boot' remark is actually anti-poor
Could the Congress come up with nothing more than remind the poor that they ought to hate the rich?
- Total Shares
We're all idiots. Because, let's face it, the message hasn't hit home yet. Rahul Gandhi hates suit-boot. He's felt the need to invoke suit-boot all of seven times over a span of two months, with worryingly little sign that he's tiring of it. In public and loudly. From inside Parliament, to the blood-laden dust tracks of Telangana. And most recently from amidst a throng of sanitation workers in Delhi. Twice. Suit-boot hatao!
Make no mistake. Even his most scornful hecklers will agree Rahul's "comeback" has been a surprise. He's managed to nimbly wade through what should have been a rip-tide of ridicule for his preposterous 56-day vacation. Instead, Rahul was permitted by a fumbling and distracted government to hit the ground running and keep a well-advised foot firmly on the public relations gas. On India Today TV, we called him "Rahul Reloaded". It had as much to do with pervasive newsroom frisson over Rahul's sudden battering-ram approach as with the sudden sureness of his step.
Then someone came up with suit boot. And Rahul fell in love. Main suit-boot ke khilaf hoon, bhaiyon! It was perfect. What's better for a political comeback than the two little words that register with all the delicateness of a demolition ball? Suit-boot is masterly because it effortlessly captures everything Rahul wants you to think he's saying. It doesn't even need any explaining. In terms of a political idiom, it's gold. Right up there, perhaps, with his grandmother's "Garibi hatao". Perhaps even stronger.
But that isn't all. It's also the most terrifying, cynical and gloriously hypocritical idiom in years. Terrifying for four reasons: One, because it means the country's oldest party has allowed its newly minted leader to yoke its proposed revival to an idea that actually all but destroyed it in last year's General Election. Two, that the principal Opposition thinks its excalibur against the government is battered, Indira-era socio-selfishness. Three, because it means a leader positioning himself as a sensitive young Jekyll against Modi's self-absorbed corporate-enslaved Hyde, has nothing new to enthuse the young he professes to represent. And finally, because it means the Congress, undisturbed by the existential landslide that hit it last year, could come up with nothing more than remind the poor that they ought to hate the rich. And they can only do that by, well, staying poor.
And that's precisely what Rahul Gandhi does by shoving suit-boot down the throats of poor farmers, or their bereaved families, or furious municipal sweepers at every given opportunity: remind them that it is not their place to aspire. The not-so-subliminal incitement is clear. Stay poor, because it's simpler that way. Suit-boot tera dushman hai. Aspiring for suit-boot, for big salaries, high-paying jobs and influence would make you like us. And we can't have that, can we? If you had suit-boot, what's the point of everything?
In a political history laden with the debris of cynical political slogans, suit-boot is platinum stuff. Its brilliance lies in how it manages to couch phoney contempt with a rebellious call-to-arms' Rahul-style righteousness. One that effortlessly dwarfs any obvious "What about Vadra?" counter. All arguments against the suit-boot idiom have wilted against its unusual vitality.
You'd think the Modi sarkar would have latched on to this false virtue of Rahul's attack and seen a brilliant opportunity to push, perhaps, a "sab ke liye suit-boot" line. But sadly the idea that suit-boot represents somehow the worst of humanity runs deep. It's in our blood. And certainly runs across party lines.
Because the BJP, suddenly aware of the crackle of Rahul's new invocation, threw some of its own ghee into the flames. Don't forget how Arun Jaitley rose in Parliament to say his was a "soojh-boojh sarkar", managing at once to sound defensive and join Rahul Gandhi in his flamboyant hypocrisy. What? Actually say that suit-boot, stripped of its convenient manipulations, could represent something aspirational? A good thing? No, no, suit-boot bura hai. Whither politics without poverty?
And that explains why Rahul can't get enough of it. Everyone's buying! Even the government is. Its yin-yang sanctimoniousness blows full holes in all arguments. The suit-boot invocation now has an Energiser bunny-like quality to it. If Rahul's talking, he's going to say it. And if he's talking about something else, he'll find a way to weave it in. The comfort of predictability in a Gandhi's hyper-energised crusade-like comeback campaign. The success of the metaphor has given Rahul an easy, smiling contemptuousness. You half expect to see a glint in his eye before the suit-boot reference so you know it's coming.
And all of this is a pity because, frankly, Rahul Gandhi does have a visibly better plan just a year after a cruel defeat. For all the derisive jokes and jeering, Rahul is embracing issues that are immediately evocative and pan-Indian. He never really planned before. Now he does. It scarcely matters who's advising him now. Whether it's his mother or sister or a team of writers and organisers that journalists flock about for access. The undeniable sense is he's actually onto something here. He's got something going. But is Rahul really sure he wants to bet the farm on a flogged notion that does nothing but perpetuate the most enduring post-Independence pretence?
If only someone would inform Rahul that everyone wants suit-boot. Especially since he doesn't want them to.