The question before Rahul Gandhi is not “to be or not to be” but “I can be what I want to be; but should I want to be, must I want to be what they want me to be or should I be what I am, making existential observations such as power is poison?”
As he prepares with designer reluctance to be anointed his Congress Party’s candidate for India’s prime minister, Gandhi is on the horns of a dilemma. Millions of young men in India would do anything to be confronted with such a dilemma, or for that matter horns, whether he should accept his party’s nomination or not. Choice is given to those who have the choice to kick it in its groin.
He has described power as a poison. In a rare newspaper interview Gandhi told the Hindi daily Dainik Bhasker, “Power is poison is an observation that when power comes, one should know how to deal with the associated dangers that come with it. This is it. Power is poison means use power for the welfare of people and do not use it to make oneself bigger or more powerful”. That is a weird definition of poison. The point that poison as much an antidote as poison sounds rather belabored but let’s not quibble on the semantics.
My point is slightly bigger. (Have you noticed how my points are always slightly bigger?) Here is a 43-year-old member of arguably India’s most illustrious political family blessed with a fait accompli of rising to the country’s highest office without breaking much of a sweat. Only someone such as this can afford to hedge his bets when it comes to finally accepting that fait accompli. What is it about the human race that the chosen few are given everything on a diamond encrusted gold platter so that they can decide whether they want it or not?
Those who know him well say that Rahul is a thoughtful man genuinely and deeply committed to political reform, including freeing his party from the spell of his own family. They also say that he wants to create a change that is effected from the grassroots level and is therefore enduring. There is not much compelling evidence in the last ten years to suggest that he is steadfastly walking in that direction. Having reported on India’s politics for close to a quarter century I am well aware of what it might take to turn around a party like the Congress. That said, one still does not see any serious effort by Gandhi.
It is not his fault that he was born in the Gandhi-Nehru family. But it may soon become his problem if he does not leverage perhaps world’s most extraordinary political platform and legacy to transform the nation. Of course, he can choose to muddle along. The smarter thing to do is to go all out by systematically dismantling the monstrous machine of political privilege that he has frequently acknowledged he is a direct product and beneficiary of.
Twenty years separate Gandhi and his direct rival Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party who is 63. It is strange that Modi seems to have captured the demographic that should have been a natural territory for Gandhi. I empathize with Gandhi’s reluctance to be a part of a cult that has quickly built around Modi. Objectively though Modi is perhaps the most compelling example of the very goal that Gandhi has in mind—that of genuine political egalitarianism. Modi’s own internal moral fractures are a separate debate altogether.
The problem with the politics of power is that it takes no time at all to coopt an outsider into the entrenched power structure. In that sense, there are no genuine outsiders in politics. The best way to be an outsider is to be an outsider.