Rahul Gandhi is a born-again Buddhist. He says he regularly does Vipassana – the meditation technique apparently taught by the Buddha himself.
In Vipassana, one sits and observes one’s body. The meditator starts by hunting for sensations in each part of the body from the feet to the top of the head. And over a period time, he or she turns all his energies and focuses away from the outside to the inside starting with the breath and the body.
With practice, he or she experiences the subtlest of sensations in the body that are inevitably related to the mind, too. The explanation goes that as one sharpens one’s observations, the hard, solid reality of the world, the ego and, the self dissolves into nothingness, leaving one enlightened, in a state of bliss.
Rahul certainly needs to turn his mind inward. Destiny has thrust him into the role that he is playing and it’s due to an accident of birth. He was born to Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia and for no other reason he is in a position where he can realistically aspire for the top job in the country. It’s like Po falling from the sky in front of Oogway. But self-belief alone will not make him dragon warrior.
Need for introspection
More than self-belief, what Rahul needs is genuine introspection. A certain learning has to come into him, so whenever an impulse gets into him, whenever he gives into his callow instincts and impish non-seriousness, and relapses into comfortable boyhood, he has the presence of mind to come out of that state. And this learning can possibly come from Vipassana. It’s a path that the Buddha had promised would take anyone to the pinnacle of existence. And it possibly can take Rahul to a place where he looks and feels like a mature adult who knows what he is speaking.
Rahul has to find that centre within him and stay there long enough so the strength of what he has sought to establish in this election becomes an authentic part of him. Until then, few would be convinced that he is the Rahul Gandhi he has sought to project.
What Rahul has tried to do in this election can be a game-changer. He talks of love and compassion, like a true Buddhist. He portrays himself as a regular man who likes human relationships and wants to be in touch. He has consciously refused to talk about war. He is the soft-hearted liberal who has tried not to shake off the ‘pappu’ image but converts it into an advantage. He is the metrosexual who tells young women that he is their peer, their equal. Rahul is everything Modi is not, or at least he wants to be seen as the non-Modi.
Rahul has consistently talked about the poor. He has advocated daring reforms to overturn inequality. He wants to focus on poverty and has sought to shift the narrative towards that, and rightly so in a country like India. But it hasn’t worked.
Though India’s electoral system baulks at presidential-style politics, Rahul’s disadvantage continues to be that he appears non-presidential. And that is not because he is liberal or left wing. It is because people still are unsure of him as prime minister of India. In the end, when the votes are counted, this election would have hinged on that score and Rahul would have failed to measure up, in most people’s eyes.
Perhaps the best example of this is Rahul’s attempts to corner Modi on Rafale. What has been established by diligent journalism is that the Modi government short-circuited due process to clinch the Rafale deal, and the price of the aircraft therefore went up. Further, the regime likely helped to ensure that the contracts did not go to the public sector firm, HAL. It went overboard in giving many unfair favours to the French suppliers.
The Modi regime may have even nudged Dassault into cozying up with Anil Ambani. But there is as yet no money trail. There is nothing to establish that Anil Ambani was set to land a bonanza in the deal, or that there was a quid pro quo for Modi or the BJP. It is plausible that hubris and a rush to equip the Air Force with the latest equipment alone drove the Modi government into doing what it has done on Rafale.
But Rahul has misrepresented himself and others in trying to corner Modi. And it hasn’t worked.
Modi hit back to remind Rahul of his father, perhaps rightly so. Journalism, corroborated by documents obtained by the CBI, did indeed establish that the Bofors contract was clinched almost solely because 3% of the value of the contract was going into the pockets of a shell company called A&E Services.
From this firm’s accounts, money was quickly transferred into various other accounts, one after another, two of which were in the name of Maria and Octavio Quattrocchi – family friends of the Rajiv Gandhis. Among those who fought in Swiss courts to prevent information about Bofors pay-off accounts from reaching India was Quattrocchi.
In the court of public opinion, Rajiv was certainly guilty of shielding the corrupt, at least in 1989, if not later. As prime minister, he just did not seem interested in investigating the case and finding the truth. It was probably no coincidence that the UPA was in power when the CBI finally lost the case although Rajiv Gandhi was exonerated in the run-up to the 2004 elections.
Truth does have the habit of reinforcing people’s credentials. And Rahul Gandhi is on weak ground here. A mature, self-aware Rahul would have picked his battles well, but he didn’t.
The elections would soon be over. It appears that the BJP would come back to power with more allies. If the pendulum swings further away from the BJP then the regional parties would become the key.
If that were to happen, it may be best for Rahul. He can take on a smaller role for himself, perhaps a ministry, and learn the ropes, even as the Congress becomes part of a coalition led by another leader. He will find the time and mind-space to observe and learn. And every battle he will lose, every victory he would gain, and every little political elbowing he would have to put up with would make him more aware, more observant, more centered. He would then see things as they really are – in the true spirit of Vipassana – and be better prepared. For now, Rahul can’t be prime minister.