(This column was published in DNA edition dated December 4, 2010.)
It is hard for anyone but the most fawning supporters of Congress dynastic politics to fathom precisely what distinctive skills Rahul Gandhi has that qualifies him for anointment as the Prime Minister-in-waiting. But after last week, when the Yuvaraj likened Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to China’s revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, that comprehension gap may have been bridged somewhat.
It is manifestly clear that Rahul has a highly refined sense of humour, which is markedly deficient among Indian politicians. Combine that unique gift with an inadequate understanding of history that borders on wholesale ignorance, and an infinite capacity to periodically plant his princely foot in his extraordinarily commodious mouth, and you have all the elements that could make for one of the laughable prime ministerial tenures ever.
Evidently, Rahul invoked Mao’s moniker in the context of a question about Modi’s record of having contributed to development in Gujarat: he went on to suggest that a more well-rounded assessment of Modi’s record – beyond just his contribution to Gujarat’s development – would acknowledge that, like the “evil leader” Mao who too had done great development work, he had “caused destruction”.
Now, Mao waged a communist revolution and founded modern China, but for Rahul to invoke his name in the context of China’s development – which happened only later, under Deng Xiaoping – amounts to an anachronistic mangling of a Maoist metaphor. Predictably, Rahul’s ill-chosen invocation has only forced the Congress on the defensive and given the BJP some political ammunition.
Likewise, in the recent Bihar Assembly elections, Rahul’s exertions as a political strategist only resulted in a thunderous victory for the Janata Dal(U)-BJP alliance and a drubbing for the Congress. Which leads to a bigger point: it’s almost as if with his every indiscreet word and impulsive deed, Rahul is working to decimate the Congress and ensure that the BJP and its allies win. It’s as if – to invoke another Chinese metaphor – he is the BJP’s ‘Manchurian Candidate’ implanted in the Congress.
Rahul’s political playbook, in fact, resembles that of Sarah Palin, the glamourpuss of the Tea Party movement in the US: both have star appeal, but they both contribute valiantly to the dumbing down of the political quotient with their motor-mouth indiscretions. So much so that the Republican Party today is genuinely worried that its best chance to unseat Obama in 2012 may be scuppered if Palin runs for President.
There’s perhaps a lesson in that for the Congress. Its political strategy should be aimed at limiting the damage that ‘Rahul Mao’, the BJP’s Manchurian Candidate in the Congress, can cause it. The Congress’ best chance would lie in despatching him to head a Ministry of Mirth, where his consummate skill as a comic genius – and his foot-in-mouth clown acts – can be leveraged for popular appeal.
Dear Rahul Gandhi…: A column, from May 2009, in which I argue that it would be ruinous for Rahul Gandhi to be made Prime Minister.