By Pradeep Bhargava
Talking to large rallies of people with scores of everyday problems, pains and sorrows — to a farmer, a laborer, an unemployed youth with so many dreams — is no easy work. It is all the more difficult if you are a descendant of a ruling family whom everyone looks at with awe. Rahul Gandhi is looked at with such awe — when he talks with people in villages and on streets or lifts a load of mud in a tagari with workers on a work site, or spends a night with them.If he wants to be them or, as some political observers say, these are pretensions for political gains is a moot question. To be the ‘other’ for all times, or even some time, used to be a dream for revolutionaries. In neoliberal times, to be an ‘I’ is the dharma. So it adds to the awe as this Gandhi steps down from a pedestal to be the Other. And he keeps talking to people who rally to listen to him. He seldom makes a speech in the classical sense. He simply talks with people and engages them with questions, then pauses, makes them think and suggests answers.
In these times, when designed speeches and rhetoric draw more attention and are considered more important than peoples’ woes, someone who just comes and talks to people about their land, work, food and water is looked at with awe. He speaks a simple language, short sentences, no artificial constructs of speech writers but plain and simple thoughts, which are understood by all people.
See for example a rustic translation of an equally rustic speech: “When a laborer toiling in the field sees an aeroplane go by, he should be able to look up and say that his son will fly the plane one day. We want a Hindustan in which the poorest of the poor can have the biggest dream. If this does not happen I am not interested in politics.” These are simple statements of an emerging politician, ready to distance himself from dirty politics. What the public reads or sees on TV are headlines that seldom capture the tone of what is said and what it means to different people. When such speech touches the right chord people feel a healing touch but do not respond in loud voices or resort to chanting. They remain quiet and silent, listening perhaps to their own nascent voices just invoked. They still may not yet vote for this Gandhi but live the moment with him.
In these times, when what ‘I’ could do is so compelling and persuasive and is being accepted generally, even thinking about the ‘other’ is becoming difficult. In these moments, this Gandhi says, “Stop asking politicians how and what they are going to do; ask yourself how and what you are going to do.” When a youth addressed him as the future prime minister, he did not smile back. Instead, he asked him if he ever thought of becoming the PM himself. If not, why?
Recognized widely as a future PM, if not soon then in the not so distant a future, this Gandhi makes many such ‘incorrect’ political statements. Another example was “power is poison”. Some observers see this posturing and distancing from power merely as a means to gain more power. If that is the case, these are very different from the usual political tears. Instead of ‘I’, he says ‘you’ could do what I can do. A few months back his statement on poverty was misrepresented merely as a “state of mind”.
Instead what he said was that poverty comprises two elements: Poverty of thought (garibi soch main hai) and poverty in material conditions, the latter manifesting in food, money, education and so on. Referring to the experience of women’s self-help groups he said poverty of thought could be overcome by achieving self-confidence to voice, leading to politics of one’s own and a share in democracy and its institutions. In these neoliberal times when political spaces are sought to be occupied by corporates and the Bretton Woods institutions, a PM of the future talking about people’s politics is bad omen for those who look forward to mere growth, mainly economic growth, as the solution for all ills. Rahul Gandhi seems to shun the politics and politicians of the day.
He has said, “They say that 500 to 1,000 persons should run the country. This is wrong. Our politics is the politics of your dreams.” So here is this Gandhi who wishes to take this politics forward. He has expanded the number of persons who make decisions to select a candidate for elections. He wants to hear more voices from people who he wants to have the biggest dreams. This has annoyed many power brokers within the Congress who were looked after by a coterie. It is difficult to agree with all that the Congress party does, or all that Rahul Gandhi endorses.
However, this Gandhi is a different Congressman. His attempts to listen to gram pradhans on their views about selecting the right candidate for the MLA in their constituencies are more than welcome. This makes one believe that he is looking for more power with the people who are farmers, laborers, women and youth and have dreams to see and share, who would then make a strong society. Decentralism of power, where power emanates from the ‘other’, requires a multi-vocal configuration, which he is trying to construct.
Democracy gets strengthened when multiplicities are addressed, howsoever complex and hybrid political imaginaries there be. This is in sharp contrast to straightforward implementation of a unified coherent political philosophy. Rahul Gandhi’s agenda is not that ‘I’ would change the world. It is that the ‘others’ will change the world. He believes in this. He is silently redefining the current political moment. Why do we not want to hear this? – Eurasia Review
By Pradeep Bhargava