‘Youth Icon’ Doesn’t Sound Youthful

Rahul cannot afford to compromise with the idea of freshening up his party like his father did in the 1980s after initially betraying bouts of energy; a responsible, serious force of the youth, and not a mix of the young and the old, can rejuvenate the Congress


If Rahul Gandhi wishes to be a successful leader and campaigner someday, he needs to stop being a bore. While it is expected of a party in the opposition to be critical of the government, the Indian National Congress president’s diatribes against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the plenary have been so clichéd, they induced a big yawn. For one, the INC faces the same ideological dilemma that the economic wings of the RSS do: How to be a brand distinct from that of the communists? If the RSS/ is allegedly a party that thrives on hate, the communists — and their band of ‘intellectual’ followers — have a monopoly over the allegation. It’s an accusation that couldn’t be established, as all the hoodlums of the right wing, who have grabbed headlines over the past four years, turned out to be fringe elements rather than authorised extensions of the Narendra Modi government. Also, the people of the country do not feel the difference when a government changes because the economic policies of Congress, BJP and third front governments have largely been mutually indistinguishable. Has Rahul grown up from the stage where he had demanded of the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, 12 subsidised cylinders a year for the people in place of six, which had made mother Sonia Gandhi proud? Second, like his father Rajiv Gandhi, after the initial burst of youthfulness, Rahul has gone back to talking of a balanced mix of youth and the experienced.

Rahul cannot presume that the has-been in his fold are comparable to the pre-independence stalwarts the oldest party had produced. It is these hags that are responsible for the decline in the public impression of the party. They turned government into an idea of entitlements, which, in turn, led to a series of scams since the era of the jeep scandal under Jawaharlal Nehru — that saw no end until the second United Progressive Alliance government fell due to the Commonwealth Games pillage, 2G spectrum scam, the coal block allocation irregularities and more. Agreed, the experiments the youth bring to the table may sometimes not click and come across as silly. To claim that the @OfficeOfRG handle — changed to the much-needed @RahulGandhi recently — was run by Rahul’s dog Pidi was one such attempt. Rather than projecting the soft side of an otherwise inaccessible leader, born with a spoon, the projection of the pet ended up making the president of the party a butt of jokes. Then, there are mistakes they keep repeating. For example, several of the quizzes the cyber cell has conducted on Twitter by @INCIndia gave an opportunity to the detractors to make a mockery of the agenda of the party.

The students’, women’s, youth and trade wings of the INC can work in areas where their counterparts are missing in action. This is harder than managing the social media. It calls for toiling in the field rather than fiddling with Google and Facebook algorithms in the confines of an air-conditioned party office. Outside of an election season, the workers of no party are seen connecting with ordinary citizens. That ‘connect’ cannot be for the sake of meeting a commoner’s puerile, selfish needs like fixing civic issues or settling disputes between neighbours. Like communists and swayamsevaks, the youth in Rahul’s party need to reach out to the remotest corners of the country and impress upon the have-nots the ideology of the Congress. Nehru had, of course, famously said his party didn’t have one. So, the first task is to make one, which cannot be a me-too socialist ideology. The youth will always provide the solutions to the problems created by the bygone generations. Rahul Gandhi must figure out how his boys and girls champion causes that the communists and the Sangh have not identified yet. The fortunes of the INC are unlikely to revive anytime soon, but this long haul is the only key to its relevance and survival.

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