Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Trees, apples, and elections

Have you heard? Shri Akhilesh Das, member of Rajya Sabha, has resigned from both the Congress Party and the Rajya Sabha. The reason? Rahul Gandhi. More specifically, Rahul Gandhi and his ‘coterie’. He’s not the only one with this grouse. Did anyone see the NDTV puppet lampoon that has Manmohan Singh ask Rahul if he wants Sachin Pilot as a minister, and Rahul says, no he’s not a Dosco! A bit of a leap, but point taken.

I’ve been mulling over why I’m not impressed with Rahul. He seems nice enough, he seems quite eager to travel the country and meet people, even his media tricks of visiting Naxal villages and that march in UP are kind of endearing (at least he’s not sipping champagne and snorting coke in his bath tub with another man). So I thought and thought. And by jove, I think I got it!

It lies in symbolism. What does Rahul Gandhi stand for?

Although not his fault, Rahul Gandhi is not representative of his age-group, in as much as he too is of the old guard, the ancien regime, as it were. He might be young, but the clamouring around the politician, and the repeated requests by his mother to her party men not to indulge in sycophancy, only serves to remind us that, in the end, Rahul is the son of a famous father, a child of historical political legacy. Therefore, despite his own capabilities, he will always represent an old India at every turn -- dynastic politics at its best -- and thus, will remain divorced from Young India.

Most of India is young. Young people are growing up fast, aspirations running high and opportunities their parents could not have dreamt of. The 20 year olds are the children of liberalisation – the change India was looking for. They are going to take this country forward. And just the way babudom is relegated to the background as private enterprises grow, people need a symbol that a meritocracy is here to stay.

Unfortunately, Rahul Gandhi doesn't fit in as the right symbol; he didn't have to climb his way to the top, a seat was reserved for him. And even if he proves to be worth the hype, he will always be the ultimate insider, despite trying to prove he is actually on the outside. As far as a youth symbol goes, his critics are correct, he is not the "exclusive" answer. Far from it.

Now before you rant at me that he should be judged on his merits, I agree, but what he stands for counts. For example, in tonight’s debate on NDTV, on Mayawati, Sonia Varma told us that when discussing who should be ‘Indian of the Year’, when it came to Mayawati, the question of corruption was discussed. Can she even be nominated considering how many cases have come up against her. No, said many, because she is a Dalit woman and a force in national politics. So that is more important than her corruption cases and in fact, the “potential” of Mayawati as a national figure is far more fascinating to people than the fact that her party has actually not performed in HP, Maharashtra etc.

But see the difference is, she is the only Dalit woman on our national platform. She has probably opened the doors for others to follow, when they will. But when they do, as with the men, there will be choices and choices. (I can’t say what the quality will be!) And so, drawing a parallel of sorts, when you talk about young India, Rahul is not the only young man on the national platform. Therein lies the problem. To be force-fed that he is our ‘yuvraj’ is just disingenuous. In fact, the term ‘yuvraj’ is at once insulting because it implies that we are not really a democracy, but a disguised monarchy. And that just does not sit well with me!

Another point, my original point on RG had actually been inspired by an analysis of Clinton vs Obama, and what they stood for. What Clinton stands for as a woman is historic -- but other than that, she is an old player, also tainted with the whiff of corruption scandals. Obama, instead, is a Black man (so his election would definately be a culmination of the civil rights movement), but also as a Black man who grew up well, he is able to analyse the country is a unique way. His observations about the frustrated small towns (Penn controversy) and also his reading of why his Pastor grudged America and why White America grudged Black America was refeshing and insightful. If you haven't heard it, this is a very brief recap. His Black pastor cried out that America had not helped his community. People reacted. Obama said that despite civil rights, many Blacks are still unhappy with their lot, thus the rant. And many Whites of the same vintage remember they gave these rights in the 60s and cannot understand why the Blacks are ungrateful. My generation, said Obama, does not suffer from this anger. Then about smaller towns, he said that they work hard, and are told they are honest Americans, but still don't see jobs coming their way. Thats why they are angry, thats why they turn to God and guns. An honest reading of the problem as he sees it, but Hillary, no, she could not believe he had insulted middle and small America. Thats what bugged me, TALK, don't brush ideas under the carpet.

Enough deviating! Anyway, back to India. And the choices we have to make in terms of the leaders we want to represent us.

Ultimately, it's a question of national identity. And what the leader of a democracy signifies -- a land of freedoms or a land of half freedoms?

BTW I don't know much about Akhilesh Das, but he's set to join the BSP I hear.