Someone needs to remind Rahul Gandhi that it is his party’s government under his own mother’s watchful eye that is ruling India. Also, he has to decide soon whether he is an outsider looking in or an insider looking out.
The way he spun his message at a massive tribal rally at Jagannathpur village near the Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi district in Orissa yesterday one could be mistaken into thinking that a single individual was locking horns with an evil empire. That some day, in not too distant a future, he could preside over that very empire was somehow lost in the forests of the Niyamgiri hills.
As political strategies go, it is an intelligent move to project this “I am an insider but really an outsider” spiel. At a different time in a very different atmosphere another Gandhi used that strategy to some devastating effect. To be a proponent and opponent of the same system simultaneously is a risky game if one cannot play it well. Because someone, somewhere among the tribal population would inevitably pause, reflect and ask, “Hey, wait a minute. Aren’t you the same guy who along with his mother controls the government?” (Excuse the fact that a tribal person would not actually construct a sentence like that but you get the point.)
It is time for Rahul to decide whether he is an insider dying to break free from the established political/economic order of New Delhi and become an outsider of consequence or whether he is an insider masquerading to be an outsider. The tribal rally was as perfect a text book political setting as it could ever get. A conscience laden scion of the country’s political royalty descends into the dust and grime of a notoriously backward region where degrading poverty and starvation have been the norm for decades among a vast majority of its tribal population.
Even the optics of the moment were perfect. A young man dressed in spotlessly white standard issue Congress Party kurta-pajama waving to the people with as much affection as it is possible from inside the ring of his heavily armed security detail.
From the tone of my post so far you could be forgiven for thinking that I am mocking Rahul Gandhi. I am really not. I am merely expressing skepticism about his strategy particularly because if it fails it would just end up being a huge charade. It is terrific that someone of his obvious political influence and prime ministerial prospects is standing by those who normally get railroaded. But he has to be mindful that very soon he will become the embodiment of that very order he seems to be railing against.
On a separate note it is remarkable how elemental the battle in the Niyamgiri hills is. At the heart of the entire political theater is bauxite, the most important aluminium ore, which is found close to the surface and is easy to mine.
Finally on a totally superficial and churlish note, India cannot have two successive prime ministers with a voice quality, intonation and projection that is so poor. When Manmohan Singh speaks you get the sense that he is doing so against the advice of his own brain. It is not too different from Gandhi either. Take some voice lessons Mr. Gandhi if you want to be heard for the foreseeable future.