Rahul Gandhi so far is a story of staggering transformation: from a privileged rarity to an overwhelming cliché. When desperate political journalism indulges in the seasonal trite of “will he…won’t he…and when?”, it is as much a reflection on the paucity of a salable topic as an indication of the evolution of the man himself. The story began with little doubt about the end, which was all about dynastic entitlement. The widely marketed assumption was that the mother’s “no” of renunciation would inevitably be followed by the son’s “yes” of affirmation. Sonia’s “no”, steeped in political sentimentalism of the worst kind, did not make her less powerful; it made her one of the world’s most powerful politicians without being in power. It also gave India its first prime minister who would not be the political leader of the republic. It was an uneven division of power between the Church (read 10 Janpath) and the downsized State (read 7 Race Course Road). The division also marked a cultural shift in the Dynasty as well as the office of the prime minister. After Indira and Rajiv, there is this Gandhi whose defining political trait is not her intimacy with India but her remoteness. For the original Mrs G, power was a covenant with the people, and she played it out at an emotional higher pitch; Mrs G Part II has inherited the power and paranoia of the original without making herself accessible to the people. And her chosen prime minister, who lacked political authority as well as a passable political vocabulary, remained dutiful—just that. Between them, India continues to be a Great Incomprehension, the India that Rahul may or may not inherit, depending on the morning’s headline.
We are here not talking about any Hamlet. Politics—and for that matter the Congress— would have been far more interesting if we had one. Imagine our front pages redeemed by the soliloquies of the Prince of Tughlak Lane, and op-ed pages deconstructing his existential asides that lead us to the deep recesses of his troubled mind. And more rewarding, imagine Digvijaya Singh struggling to keep pace with the metaphysics of the heir apparent. Sadly, what we have today is a profoundly prosaic politician who, even by the standard of Youth Congress, has shown hardly anything to prove that he is the change India, if not the party, is waiting for. He has one of the biggest stages any democracy can offer to play out his script—but he does not have a script. He could not have asked for a more ideal political context—but he still does not have a text of his own. By virtue of his ancestry, he is the only Congress politician of his generation who can rescue an organisation that lies stagnant between an increasingly invisible Sonia and an already redundant Manmohan Singh. It’s still a theory. The reality is different: Rahul, as a parliamentarian or as a party leader, is not a novelty any longer. He is as familiar as Manmohan and Sonia—and we have not seen the future. We have, certainly, seen the limits of a politician whose sociology matches the wisdom of an NGO volunteer and whose political interventions have the freedom of the entitled. When India badly needs a break from politics as usual, does anybody realise the futility of waiting for the known?
HE HAS ONE OF THE BIGGEST STAGES ANY DEMOCRACY CAN OFFER TO PLAY OUT HIS SCRIPT—BUT HE DOES NOT HAVE A SCRIPT. HE COULD NOT HAVE ASKED FOR A MORE IDEAL POLITICAL CONTEXT—BUT HE STILL DOES NOT HAVE A TEXT OF HIS OWN.