Although the Congress Party is a pale shadow of its old self — and the wise ones say it would not have come to this were it not for the dynastic inclinations of the current Congress leadership — it is amusing that the BJP has tumbled on Rahul Gandhi like a ton of bricks for his address at the University of California at Berkeley, though the ruling party routinely dismisses him as being soft in the head.
The government fielded I&B minister Smriti Irani to take the Congress vice-president apart, point by point as it were, after the news broke on Tuesday. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also offered acid comments. But what stood out was the rebuke BJP president Amit Shah reserved for Mr Gandhi.
It is noteworthy, though, that none of them alluded to the substantive points made by the Congress leader on the Narendra Modi government’s performance and the state of the nation, on the PM’s personal style, and on the spread of hatred and anger fuelled by Hindutva elements under the present government.
With the aid of obliging sections of the media, what they did try to suggest instead was that Mr Gandhi was seeking to insult India and criticise opponents when abroad, and that he was a votary of dynastic politics. The first doesn’t wash since the present Prime Minister, times without number, has hit out at his political rivals when abroad. So, it was the dynasty thing that came in for repetition and manipulation.
Mr Gandhi did appear to say (in the footage shown on TV), half jokingly, that questioners shouldn’t target him for being a dynast as practically every party in India was full of them, although the Congress was trying to do something about the problem. This can hardly qualify as an endorsement of dynastic politics.
No leader in India comes even close to Mr Gandhi when it comes to candid self-examination. This is a positive trait although this won’t qualify him as a so-called hard-headed politician (like Mr Modi and Mr Shah).
At Berkeley, he offered glimpses of his father’s famous “power brokers” speech in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1985 at the Congress centennial, when the then PM had criticised his own party. The younger Gandhi too candidly said the vision of the Congress set out in 2004 (UPA-1) had petered out by 2010-11, and by around 2012 his party exhibited “arrogance”.
Rahul Gandhi’s big failing is that he doesn’t say what the Congress had done under him to overcome these shortcomings, and take meaningful steps to fix his party. Does Rahul exculpate himself from wrongdoing in this regard? For all his shortcomings, the BJP appears wary of the Congress as, across India, this party alone offers an alternative narrative to Hindutva.