At an unearthly hour of 4 am as India slept, one man was awake in the cold desert state of Rajasthan, in its spectacular capital city imbibed with tales of stunning history called Jaipur. In a few hours dawn would crackle through the dark blanket interspersed with stars, heralding a new day, Sunday, January 20th 2013. But for the young man it was to be an extraordinary day, one of his life’s most embellished. In a few hours he would be addressing a congregation of the brightest minds of a political party that fought for India and its freedom, and barring a brief hiatus, has shaped its political history. And he, 42 years, had made his debut in its dusty undulating terrains of enormous dimensions just nine years ago. But today would be different. In a few hours, he was going to address the Indian National Congress, and through the amplified medium of modern technology, the people of India as well as its Vice-President. He was fully aware that every word he uttered, every sentence he framed, the half-smile or a spontaneous thought, even an instinctive or an inadvertent stutter would be a subject of animated confabulation. But he was ready. Because he knew that beyond the perfunctory inspection of drawing room analysts, kinetic TV anchors, carping opposition and the constant pessimist, lay the real India, buoyant, young, restless, angry, impatient and yet, hopeful. The resilience of India was not just a fictional story born out of its multiple crisis, but ingrained in its character, the DNA of India. That then would be the quintessential theme that he would talk about, hope. A country of a billion and more people, getting younger by the day, battling explosive economic growth with rising economic inequalities and social tensions concomitantly, by no means an easy task. The world’s most populous democracy, complex and indecipherable at most times , needed to hear the stark truths, not the usual homilies, the empty platitudes. Hope, is the beginning of change, he thought. Rahul Gandhi was ready.
Just a few weeks ago in the maddening cacophony of an election campaign in Gujarat, Gandhi had said something that had got lost amidst more colorful provocations like a “ 50 crore girlfriend”. He had said that we needed the “ politics of love”. In a world that measures and evaluates everyone daily on materialism, statistics, valuations and appearances, it sounded grotesque, out of place, and as someone said to me, “ soft”. But practically all missed the point; Gandhi was in Gujarat which had seen a sinister state-sponsored attack on vulnerable minorities just a decade earlier. And for him, it was about reconciliation over revenge, remorse over retribution. Societies need to heal, and for that they need reassurance, strength and caring, not a policy of arithmetical calculation of religious communities populating the state.
At Jaipur, his politics of love took on an emotional scale, interspersed with a rare candidness about what lies ahead for the Congress, and more importantly, for the country. He knows that to resurrect the Congress to its halcyon days of heady single-party dominance of the Indian psyche would mean some sacrifices, adopting newer ways to overcome the lassitude and lackadaisical attitude that can invariably set in over years of governance. Status quo can cause an irreversible decline, Gandhi knew that. The intent is good, the talent is enormous, and as a leader he recognized that the Congress party needs to seize the moment, given its prodigious experience, landmark initiatives and bustling youth power. He called a spade a spade, a shovel a shovel, noticing with a tongue-in-cheek smile that despite their success they sometimes did not know how it happened, lacking as they did on an organized cadre and smart internal party processes. It was refreshing, a in-your-face self-examination fearless of the consequences of sharing some inner fragilities with the people of India. It was cathartic, the absence of cosmetics , the presence of truth. Everyone even in their households and corporate and government offices connected with him, don’t we sometimes wonder how it all works for us daily, as if by some divine intervention? And yet, the need to reduce heavenly benedictions for our success is primordial, isn’t it?
When he shared his deepest personal sorrow on the tragedies he saw when so young, I think he unloaded himself of a mighty emotional weight that he has carried, the pain of loss. We can empathise with someone’s anguish , but the sadness and pain is usually deep, personal, beyond reach. This was not a calibrated outpouring of grief, but a desire to let us know that we are all human. That hidden behind the power, fame and success lies hearts and heads that experience the same feelings we do. Gandhi is no exception, he is one of us.
Predictably, everyone branded it as Rahul’s “Obama moment”, but in fact, it was India’s “Rahul moment”; simple, down-to-earth, honest and straight from the heart. For a man whom many think is media-shy and communication averse, he involuntarily just stated the obvious, that to connect with the people, you sometimes need to go beyond a script, beyond fears, beyond the politically correct. There is no need to be avant garde or alpha, just be yourself.
Gandhi is a marathon man, never too thrilled with wins, and rarely to slump when down. He is aware of the loneliness of a long-distance runner, but what the heck, the journey is one to always look forward to. On your marks, get set and go…
(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)