“Rahul, just be your grandmother’s grandson”- about 20 months back, I wrote a piece saying how Rahul Gandhi needs to learn the ropes of politics from no one else, but his grandmother Indira Gandhi.
Over a year and a half later, I can positively say that the world has started to see "glimpses of Indira Gandhi" in her grandson. The similitude that they share extends to the fact that the very essence of their presence is marked with perseverance and unwearying patience.
Although it is Priyanka Gandhi who is compared to Indira, India iron Lady, in reality, it is Rahul Gandhi who actually evinces his grandmother’s qualities.
In Priyanka’s words:
“But she [Indira Gandhi] had this bond with him [Rahul]. And she taught him and she spent a lot of time with him, talking to him... even the morning that she passed away. And I think that Rahul has imbibed a lot of that and his thinking is in many ways a lot like my father, because he is a visionary like that. He's an institution builder like my father was, but it's a good mix. Because his understanding of politics is really very good. Much better than he is given credit for. And that I think comes from my grandmother."
Today, we see Rahul Gandhi’s rallies in Gujarat pulling in huge crowds - resembling the undeniable lionisation that his eminent grandmother used to capture. Indira Gandhi was a politician who connected with the masses, cared for them, and single-handedly dealt with adversities through unparalleled courage and dynamism. What she got in return was love multiplied by the poor and the downtrodden, so much so that even after losing her for more than three decades now, thousands of people still stream into her memorial in Delhi. In many parts of the nation, she is affectionately remembered as “Indira Amma”.
While Rahul Gandhi has embarked on the same journey, there are miles to go and several promises to keep.
Unacceptance, patience, and the Gandhis
At the outset of her political reign, Indira Gandhi was largely snubbed by the opposition. The then newly appointed prime minister of India was given a misnomer - "goongi gudiya" by the socialist leader, Ram Manohar Lohia. Later, she rose high enough to be hailed as "goddess Durga".
Her progress was phenomenal. And so is the leap that Rahul Gandhi took. From being disdained as "Pappu" to gaining admiration as "the renaissance man" today - Rahul Gandhi has come up roses, for sure.
For the most part of his political career, Rahul Gandhi got countless ridicules, memes, caricatures and bountiful negativism. But today, as we see him standing up and talking in the Lok Sabha, at Berkeley, in Gujarat, facing off the opposition and raising the nation’s concerns with mettle, we see the Rahul that was just meant to be.
Indira Gandhi too faced unacceptance not only from the opposition, but from her party as well. After the demise of the then PM Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi was elected over Morarji Desai as the party leader, when Congress president Kamaraj orchestrated her selection as the prime minister. Many party leaders, including him, perceived her to be weak enough to be controlled and strong enough to defeat Desai, her being Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter. She won and became prime minister in 1966. However, the resistance that she faced from senior Congress leaders over several issues led to the formation of Congress (R) in 1969.
Today, she might be accused of dismantling the Congress apparatus, but the distrust that the Congress old guard had for her could not be overlooked either.
By the same token, when Rahul Gandhi joined the Congress, there were very few leaders to approve of him and his ideology. For years now, he has been in the middle of a divide that is ideological, yet generational.
He has faced resistance within the party, just like his grandmother and is holding strong, just as she did.
The 1977 General Elections, after the Emergency was lifted, brought a humiliating defeat for Indira Gandhi. Without any source of income, without any support, Indira had to vacate her residence at 1, Safdarjung Road and move to a much smaller house at 12 Willingdon Crescent. Her political obituary was written. She was deserted, with no hopes of making a comeback.
But, she was different. She was no quitter.
In August 1977, her fight for the oppressed section of the society made her ride on an elephant to visit Belchhi, where 11 landless Dalits were set on fire. She knew the people needed her there. And she was present for them, leaving a great impression on the nation’s public. And the same year, when the Janata government's home minister Choudhary Charan Singh ordered her arrest, she once again elicited massive public sympathy - clearing the way for her to become the country’s prime minister again in the 1980 elections.
From ruling a party that was facing an existential crisis, to coming back to the national centre stage - Indira Gandhi turned the tables in just three years.
Quite notably, after the 2014 election drubbing, Rahul Gandhi’s political obituary was written. And then again after the party’s defeat in 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Time and again he had been the subject of mockery for the opponents. But, he did not quit. He proved that he is not the callow politician that the opposition tries to portray him to be. Slowly but surely, he has been showing signs of a potential vote-catcher.
Just like Indira Gandhi had an unmatched capacity to endure and persevere against tribulations, so does Rahul Gandhi. His fortitude, patience, and determination hint at an Indira Gandhi in the making. Of course, there is, still, a long way to go.
Glimmer of hope
My understanding of politics says that Indira Gandhi has left such a big impression on world politics that somewhere people still idolise her - whether they support the BJP, the Congress or any other party.
The Hindutva gang may hate Nehruvian ideology, probably because he was an atheist, but never do they criticise Indira Gandhi. Barring the "extremist" Sikhs in Punjab, the countrymen rarely say anything against her - such has been her aura. They envy her.
Today, many compare Narendra Modi to Indira Gandhi and some even say that he secretly admires her and tries to follow her style of politics. However, what lies behind Modi’s style of governance is superficial similarities to the Iron Lady.
Image: Reuters photo
Unlike Modi, Indira’s actions spoke louder than her words. His promise to teach Pakistan a lesson still awaits fulfilment, while it was Indira Gandhi who actually taught the neighbour a lesson to be remembered evermore.
Also, let us not forget that the India which Narendra Modi "inherited" is much more prosperous than the India that Indira Gandhi had to govern. That was an India riddled with poverty, aftermaths of war, and a crumbling space in the world politics. Modi, in contrast, received a much progressive, much developed India.
While she was the daughter of India’s first prime minister, she was way ahead of him in terms of cross-regional electoral appeal.
In fact, after Mahatma Gandhi, she has been the only Indian leader to be recognised across the world. Even though Mahatma Gandhi was not a politician, he was a social reformer, a philosopher and a mentor to the Congress who led India to independence from the British. And if there is any other Indian leader that could come next to the Mahatma, then it has to be none other than Indira Gandhi.
33 years on, the nation couldn’t find another Indira
The void left by Indira Gandhi in Indian politics needs to be filled. While the nation may have begun to notice similarities between Indira and Rahul, there is a lot that the grandson needs to adopt from her.
Rahul needs to match the political acumen and the vision that Indira Gandhi had. She carried an authoritarian streak. She was a tough taskmaster. She had the guts to enter the Golden Temple and attack the Sikh militants, irrespective of the realisation that she may not live after that.
She was soft at heart, but tough from outside. She believed in crushing her opponents. She feared none and held tight control over the Congress party’s internal politics. She believed in micro-managing and completely scrutinised the state leaders.
Rahul, on the other hand, believes in maintaining the status quo, which could often lead to delayed decisions. He also needs to develop a strong emotional connect with the masses, just like Indira Gandhi did. If Narendra Modi can sell the country his "chai-wala" story, then why can’t Rahul build an emotional connect with the public over his "dynasty "? He needs to convert this "dynasty" from being his weakness into his strength.
The faith that Mahatma Gandhi had in India, in the power of peace was unparalleled. What he did for the country, the different sections of the society - every bit of his contribution towards the nation was unparalleled.
Rahul needs to restore the same faith in the country and the countrymen. But, at the same time, he needs to work on enhancing his political prowess by looking at his grandmother’s political journey. He needs to have an unwavering belief in himself, just like Indira Gandhi believed in herself.
Here, I would like to quote Verse 26 from the Bhagavad Gita:
These powerful words of Sri Krishna, before the Mahabharata War, conclude the examination of Karma Yoga stating that those who are free from desire and anger, who have subdued their minds, are self-realised - they are assured of liberation from material existence here and hereafter.
As per my understanding of Karma Yoga, a karma yogi is someone who follows the path of righteousness, who follows his dharma, without any malicious intent, without harming anybody.
India, as a nation deeply engrossed in religion, karma and politics, needs such a karma yogi in today’s time - somebody who is free from desire, anger and who has a deep self-realisation. I see such a karma yogi in Rahul Gandhi. For, he is someone who has never failed to follow the path of righteousness while fulfilling his dharma of serving people.
He must continue to follow this path and fight for the truth.