‘The Congress is not pragmatic about politics or about people.’
‘Rahul’s intention is good, but good intention does not win you elections.’
IMAGE: Rahul Gandhi speaks in the Lok Sabha on Manipur during the debate on the no confidence motion against the Narendra D Modi-led government, August 9, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo/Sansad TV
What makes Rahul Gandhi tick?
What makes him stand up to the campaign of calumny and condemnation the ruling party has launched against him for the last 10 years, a campaign so intense that anyone else would have wilted under it?
Sugata Srinivasaraju, author of the just published book, Strange Burdens: The Politics and Predicaments of Rahul Gandhi, attempts an answer. Syed Firadus Ashraf/Rediff.com listens in.
The concluding segment of a two-part interview:
One thing people say about Rahul Gandhi is that he never learns from his mistakes.
As a leader he often comes across as someone who speaks in anger against Prime Minister Modi, especially when it comes to Modi’s relations with industrialist Gautam Adani.
No new narrative is coming from his side, he even repeated the same things in Parliament last fortnight.
I spoke to the Financial Times in London about his speech in Parliament and said that Rahul Gandhi missed an opportunity in Parliament.
He should have come (better) prepared. There is something about preparedness and Parliament rigour which he does not have.
He just feels he can come and charm people in Parliament.
His intention is good, but the problem is that good intention does not win you elections.
And if you do not win elections, then there is nobody around you.
Not everybody likes you because of spiritualism or for that matter they like your great grandfather Pandit Nehru, grandmother Indira Gandhi or your mother Sonia Gandhi.
This is not the way you can hold people around you.
You have to do something more, and this something more is not happening with him.
Now, you will agree why Rahul Gandhi is a fascinating character. Everybody has an opinion on Rahul Gandhi. He is trying to navigate through his problem.
I am trying to understand his trauma and his pain. What could be the reason? It is a conundrum.
I don’t think I have an answer, but this question really bothers me. Why is he like that? Why has he not overcome a few things? Why is he not pragmatic? Why is he stubborn?
These are the questions everyone asks and I have tried to answer it in my own way (in the book).
The Arnab Goswami interview with Rahul Gandhi in 2014, do you think it was the biggest mistake of Rahul Gandhi’s political life?
Arnab Goswami’s interview was one of the mistakes and he has moved on from there to other things. There are probably bigger mistakes that he did.
The Arnab Goswami interview defined Rahul Gandhi in the 2014 moment and that particular election perhaps.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge after that.
It is presumptuous to say that. As journalist, I, you or Arnab Goswami cannot change things.
Even in my acknowledgement I say that we journalists sometimes think that our stories and interviews can change things.
No, they don’t. It is like ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ as W H Auden said. It just rests in the valley of its making.
My book on him is the same. I didn’t write the book to change Rahul Gandhi or the Congress party.
I wrote the book as a reflection. I am meandering and trying to find answers.
IMAGE: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, October 21, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo
So what are the bigger mistakes Rahul Gandhi has done?
I would not say mistake, but kind of lacuna. There is a huge sized hole, the size of a football field, in the Congress party’s strategy and they do not have a cultural argument.
And you are fighting the cultural nationalism of the BJP. The Congress is fighting with bows and arrows whereas the BJP has cannons.
The Congress is not pragmatic about politics or about people.
Pragmatism is a key component of politics, not just in India, but across the world.
The element of pragmatism is missing from Rahul Gandhi.
He is a good-hearted fellow. He is very sincere. I wrote in my book about two meetings with him just the way it was.
He is passionate about a few things, but those few things do not allow your party to become something.
But it is said Rahul Gandhi is not serious about politics.
A lot of this is BJP propaganda. We don’t have to buy these things. Likewise, there may be Congress propaganda about the BJP. We do not need to take that also seriously.
In the age of social media, a lot of these things is propaganda.
We really don’t know Rahul Gandhi as he has not opened the doors of his home to all kinds of people to understand him.
He is a private person too, as he is dealing with pain and trauma very privately and one does not know what it does to his thinking process, which is not fair.
IMAGE: Rahul Gandhi being felicitated by members of the Toda tribal community in Muthunadu village near Ooty, Tamil Nadu, August 12, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo
Like the propaganda and the tag of ‘Pappu’ on Rahul Gandhi?
This name calling, sloganeering is what we call chipkana (stick on).
‘Pappu’ has been stuck on Rahul Gandhi’s forehead. This happened on social media and the Congress took a long time to respond to that.
Probably they should have handled it earlier. Social media is such a place that even if you are a liberal person you become reactionary as you are reacting to everything in 180 or 240 words, if not that by a Facebook post or a meme.
The structure of social media communication itself a very faulty one and it is designed to make you obsessive or angry, otherwise how will Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg make money? And you are doing politics through social media and social media is a tool that is devised to completely unnerve you.
So how can you be balanced in this situation? Because on social media propaganda is free for all.
The moment someone calls Rahul Gandhi ‘Pappu’ you know where they come from and who they are aligned with. This is the sad bipolar situation in our country today.
Either this or that, and I am not interested. I am interested in all that exists in between.
IMAGE: Rahul Gandhi addresses the concluding event of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, amid heavy snowfall, in Srinagar. Photograph: Imran Nissar/ANI Photo
Has the Bharat Jodo Yatra by any chance revived Rahul Gandhi’s career?
The Bharat Jodo Yatra is one of the finest moments of his life, perhaps.
It was a mass contact programme and we still don’t know whether he is going to deploy what he has learnt there and encash it politically.
All through the Bharat Jodo Yatra Congress spokespersons said they are not doing the Bharat Jodo Yatra for politics.
They were saying they are not doing Bharat Jodo Yatra to make Rahul Gandhi prime minister.
I have quoted all that in my book. They said that they were interested only in building India together with love and camaraderie. Heal India and all that with spiritualism.
I wish it was done politically because lots of Congress workers were frustrated as the yatra was not political.
They thought that it can be converted and automatically the yatra would become political.
But when you want to make something political, the most important thing is that you have to design it in such a way that it becomes political.
There was confusion in that ( Bharat Jodo Yatra) also from Rahul Gandhi.
After his disqualification from the Lok Sabha he was reinstated by the Supreme Court and what he should have done after coming to Parliament, he should have spoken with a certain degree of maturity, sanity, gravitas and using the tools of democracy to confront the BJP, but he became angry.
And the moment you become angry you lost out everything.
All your spiritualism, all the reading of Bhagwad Gita and quoting Rumi did not serve you well.
Rahul Gandhi never became a minister in the UPA government and it looks like he wants to be in power, but does not want to take on the responsibility.
He should have accepted a minister’s post and become a serious politician. But he wanting to be in power and not taking responsibility is one way looking at it.
As a writer, what interests me more is why Rahul is hesitant to take up power directly. What is that which is stalling him? Anybody in his place would want to be doing what he is not doing.
There is something else to that person.
IMAGE: Rahul Gandhi with young supporters during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, in Samba. Photograph: ANI Photo
And now there are allegations that Rahul Gandhi has turned the Congress party into an NGO.
Let them say what they want. Those are words some disgruntled Congressmen will say, but as a writer I want to know what is he trying to do by doing all that?
Is he trying to be an academic? Is he making the Congress party into an NGO?
And yes, he is not successful in politics so he has to review his model and there is no doubt about that.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com