By Praveen Priyadarshi
There is no debating that Rahul Gandhi's politics is different from Narendra Modi's. In fact, Gandhi wears it as a badge of honour. In a recent statement , he announced that Narendra Modi is his Guru, on 'what not to do'. It is not surprising for many reasons but most importantly because Gandhi represents Congress Party which has historically built its politics on inclusivity and liberalism, unlike Modi's BJP that has had an exclusivist and conservative agenda.
So Rahul Gandhi countering Modi is a no-brainer, but what is not bargained for is that Gandhi may be distancing himself from the brand of politics that Manmohan Singh espoused. Rahul Gandhi has been sparking off fundamental questions about the rationale that shapes the economic policy in the country. In his press conference post recent assembly elections, Gandhi said something really significant that got lost in the din of the run-of-the-mill election questionary. Gandhi was at his courteous best, especially towards the outgoing chief ministers and that is the contrast he wants to pose. This reflection of his amiable personality could be politically motivated as we have witnessed in his much-famed hug of Narendra Modi at the no-confidence motion against the NDA government.
Can one erase the 'Pappu' stamp?
This deliberate effort of Rahul Gandhi invoking his personal courtesy to present himself in severe contradiction to Modi was not lost in making a mark albeit much debated. Modi himself never misses an opportunity to be caustic towards his political opponents, especially the Gandhi family. He thrives at coining sarcastic phrases for his opponents, their political relevance unexamined but are definitely demeaning at a personal level. It often brings down the level of political discourse in India and the ethical fibre of the machinery. Modi's reference of Gandhi as Shahzada is relatively civil.
Gandhi on the contrary, has repeatedly appealed to the public sentiments and general tact by disapproving of such political interaction, even with his adversaries; emphasizing that political opposition does not have to come at the cost of personal decency, that politics should not be reduced to a proverbial cockfight.
Is Gandhi also averse to his political legacy?
In the realm of personal courtesy and political decency, ex Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been the gold standard. His soft demeanor may have earned him the tag of a silent PM, but his absolutely courteous behavior to his opponents is uncontested, even in the situations of extreme and unrelenting personal attacks, especially towards the end of his tenure as the PM. Incidentally, the silent PM has a lot to say as is evident from his six-volume book launch, "Changing India". Gandhi has much to emulate from Singh at this level but can we say the same thing about Singh's substantive political legacy which is built around the process of economic policy liberalization that he introduced first as the finance minister in the 1990s and then carried forward for ten years during his tenure as the prime minister? Is Rahul Gandhi ready to own up this legacy and emulate Singh in this realm too?
A paradigm shift may be the clue
During the course of his press conference [Refer to the video: Watch from 16 minutes of Congress President Rahul Gandhi addresses the media on Assembly Elections] answering a question about farm loan waivers, Gandhi said that sanctioning of loan waivers by his party was a temporary but urgently required relief, given the scale of agrarian distress that the country is witnessing. He admitted there are no easy solutions and expressed confidence in Congress party's ability to come up with a solution in due course of time, riding on the success of 1970s and 1990s. The party is deliberating on it, he added.
The current agrarian situation is complex is common knowledge. It is his reference to 1970s and 1990s that needs closer scrutiny. By referring to 1970s, did he wish to refer to the green revolution? And by invoking 1990s, he was very clearly referring to the process of economic liberalization, introduced by Manmohan Singh. These examples clearly suggest that Gandhi is aware that if a long-term solution to the agrarian distress has to be found, a fundamental reassessment of underlying principle of policy making has to be undertaken. So the internal discussion that he referred to couldn't be looking at some quick fix. It has to be a policy shift of paradigmatic proportions. And that is not possible unless Rahul Gandhi distances himself from Singh's legacy of economic liberalization. Is Rahul Gandhi and the Congress Party prepared to alienate themselves from their own past? The answer may not be available yet but it is time we must be aware that the question hangs in the air.
(The author is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Zakir Hussain College, Delhi University)