Rahul Gandhi's St Stephen's College teacher remembers him to be 'just another' student

Valson Thampu
Valson ThampuDec 06, 2017 | 15:27

Rahul Gandhi's St Stephen's College teacher remembers him to be 'just another' student

Wonder how Rahul Gandhi feels about all this now. Of course, he has come a long way from the young lad I used to know in St Stephen’s. Not for long, I must confess, and not at close quarters. The genes and genealogy of students never mattered to me. Rahul was just another student. And, to his credit, he conducted himself as such.


May be, that’s why I could not think of him as leading the principal opposition party in India. May be, that is the reason why he should be leading that party. Was I stereotypical in my thinking that only a certain "type" - we know that "type", don’t we? - could be effective in politics. I wait eagerly to be proved wrong.

But there is at least this one little comfort that I wish to offer to the "grand-old-young man". Don’t be intimidated, not even embarrassed, by the "dynasty" blackmail. Nobody minds dynasty in this country. If anything, it is a point of eligibility.

No one should be stigmatised for being born into a certain family. Birth, like death, is not a matter of anyone’s choice. But this anaemic alibi is not the comfort I wish to offer him. 

Image: Reuters photo

That comfort pertains to a proper, historically sound, understanding of the dynastic principle. Why is the dynastic principle a political stigma? I don’t think Rahul knows this. I don’t think anyone in the Congress ranks does, either. So, it is worthwhile to state it upfront.

The correlation between dynasty and genealogy, contrary to what people are being made to believe now, is an accident. In political thought, the anti-value of dynasty was that it choked people’s right to choose and so compromised the protection of their freedom and welfare.


There are only two means for protecting individual liberty and welfare. The first is the notion of "rights". The wielders of executive power are not - or should not be - free to violate what are deemed the fundamental rights of citizens. If they do, they forfeit the right to govern.

The second means of protection is election. The dynastic principle rules out election. Political authority is inherited. It makes a world of difference when the supreme authority is made accountable, via periodic elections, to the will of the people.

Whether or not Rahul is an embodiment of the dynastic principle can be decided, in a democratic context, only when he begins to exercise his authority. And the clock has begun now to tick.

Rahul’s detractors can be trusted to continue to belabor the pre-democratic idea of dynasty, which was only genetic and genealogical. Such an idea is anathema to the democratic mindset. Using the pre-modern idea of dynasty as a weapon of attack on anyone amounts to discrimination based on birth, which is expressly prohibited under article 14 of the Constitution. 

Let’s be clear on this important issue. Whether someone is "dynastic" or not can be decided, in a democratic framework, only by his attitude to the will of the people. Does he lead, or does he rule and ride rough-shod over, the people? Is he a servant of people’s welfare, or is he bursting with presumptions of birth-based entitlements?


In a democracy there is no difference, in effect, between the pre-modern idea of dynasty - as a line of succession indifferent to the will of the people - and a style of governance, powered by brute majority, that treats the welfare of the people as political fodder. In a democracy, the dynast and the dictator merge into one.

Even if this excludes the mechanism of dynasty in a genealogical sense, it replicates the aberrations of the dynastic in a governance sense. As for the common man, it is not somebody’s gene pool that matters to him. It is the outlook and vision of the one who presides over his welfare. If he is treated as a guinea pig for political experiments by any leader, it matters little if he is, or isn’t, infected with the dynastic virus.

Rahul is being elected (as president of Congress) unopposed. Is that a good or a bad thing? I’m afraid it is a bad thing. Why? Because it shows the bankruptcy of a party. To think that a national party does not have even one member good enough to aspire to the top job is an un-inspiring reflection on how a party is run.

The Congress has reached this stage by suppressing the growth and aspirations of its own members. All parties do it, you say? May be. But how does that help the Congress legitimise this small-minded and over-protective mindset? Rahul would have commanded my respect if he had, even as a show, encouraged someone to put up a fight; at least a mock fight. Alas, there was none.

Rahul, I know, has worked very hard. And the alchemy of hard work is no mean thing. If he now thinks that he is ready for the hard grind, why grudge him?

But sadness still remains. The best bet for the Congress was Priyanka. She has a natural grace and genial charisma, the lack of which her brother can make up only through hard work. The good thing is that he is trying hard to prove that he is capable of it.

Hence, the other line of attack: Rahul is a part-time politician. He merely toys with politics. He appears and disappears. If this is indeed so, the BJP should rejoice. This should be bad news, if at all, only for the Congress. The more the BJP ridicules Rahul on his journeyman’s approach to politics, the more it will betray its anxiety. It would look far more authentic, if the animators of the party were to chuckle not-so-secretly over it.

Last updated: December 06, 2017 | 15:27
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