Rahul Gandhi bharat jodo yatra
Rahul Gandhi has not yet become the force that can change the present situation. He has to continue to run his 'mohabbat ki dukan' for a longer time. File photo

Rahul can be ‘tapasvi’; what Congress needs is labourers on its side

The Bharat Jodo Yatra and Rahul Gandhi’s changed image have to be cemented by roping in productive masses like farmers, artisans and farm workers

“The person you are looking at is not Rahul Gandhi. You can see him. You don’t understand it… Read Hindu scriptures. Read about Shivji (Lord Shiva), you will understand. Don’t be shocked. Rahul Gandhi is in your head, not mine. He is in the BJP’s head, not mine,” Rahul Gandhi said, answering a question in Haryana during his Bharat Jodo Yatra, on January 7. 

The question was from a journalist who had no positive view of Rahul Gandhi’s life and politics. He wanted to know what changes occurred to him in Bharat Joto Yatra. The media projected this description of himself as “He (Rahul) has killed Rahul Gandhi.”

Rahul said India is a country of tapasvis (hermit), not pujaris (priests). According to him, “The BJP and the RSS would not respect tapasya, but respect those who do their pooja (worship).”

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He asked: “Did demonetisation respect the tapasya of the poor? Certainly not. It was an attack on tapasya…The BJP and the RSS are taking the country towards forced pooja using wealth, capturing institutions and making people fear.”

Tapasya as labour

Rahul gave a new definition to the concept of tapasya (a position of sitting cross-legged under a tree all the day worshipping Vedic Gods) as work or labour. He also called himself a tapasvi as he was walking across the country. During the padayatra, he started talking from a different moral position. 

However, the notion of tapasya was never related to productive labour in Indian history. It was the work of a small group of Brahmins who sat under trees, without involvement in any production work or even in teaching some new knowledge to food producers, whether scientific or spiritual.

Rahul Gandhi has to reshape the Congress by inducting more and more Shudra/Dalit/Adivasis to challenge the RSS/BJP, which operates on pure spiritual ideologies without any connection to the production and distribution of resources, overcoming the caste discriminatory ideology.

Since the RSS/BJP brought in Narendra Modi — with an OBC image —  into the Prime Minister’s office, the Congress, with no history of allowing a Shudras/OBC to become the Prime Minister, will not be trusted easily by the Shudras/OBCs.

Rahul’s humiliation  

Rahul Gandhi has been humiliated by RSS/BJP leaders as ‘Prince’ of the Nehru-Indira Gandhi dynasty. Modi has dubbed him ‘tubelight’, ‘shehzada’ (prince) and so on. His party members called him ‘pappu’, escapist, foreign tourist and so on.

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However, the central attack of all the RSS/BJP leaders was that this was a dynasty political formation. He was projected as a dull headed incapable person with an undesirable lifestyle, one who can never pull the Congress in elections to win the required numbers, and one who never can become the Prime Minister. He was ridiculed as a nobody before Modi, who is seen as a great courageous leader.

Rahul and his mother Sonia Gandhi were accused of being agents of Italy. Finally, the RSS/BJP repeatedly talked about ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ which was under the leadership of Sonia-Rahul dynasty and much more.

They were accused of corruption. Court cases were launched by a BJP politician, Subramanian Swamy. Finally, Rahul and his mother were grilled by the Enforcement Directorate. Over and above, Jawaharlal Nehru, on whose credibility the family sustained its status, was attacked as a Muslim, beef eater, womaniser and anti-national.

The RSS/BJP regime period was the most difficult period for that family. The suffering was much more than the two murders the family faced or the responsibility for the anti-Sikh riots. The last eight years were a period of moral shattering for Rahul’s family. This is the background in which Rahul undertook his Bharat Jodo Yatra.

‘Power is poison’

Rahul as a person appeared to be unwilling to hold any position in the government even when the Congress was in power. His statement in Jaipur, that “my mother came to my room and cried… because she understands that power is poison,” way back in 2013 after he was made the Vice President of the party was an indicator that he has an anti-power trait in him. As recently as 2022, he told a public meeting: “I was born in the centre of power but it does not interest me.” These traits of Rahul were worrisome issues for the Congress leaders who wielded power by getting votes or Rajya Sabha seats with the image of the Nehru-Indira family.

The RSS/BJP wanted to demolish that family image so that it cannot come to power in the near future or forever.

Congress structure

Added to this, the Congress was and is full of traditional BrahminIcal leaders, whose main interest was power and continuing their own family dynasties. When the party was in power, they did not build any sustainable assets for the party but a lot of leaders made family assets. The party does not even have a well-built office in Delhi and in state capitals. On the other hand, the RSS/BJP built huge properties all over India. In Delhi, they built a massive party office.

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This situation gave enough fodder to the RSS/BJP ranks to attack the politics of dynasty in Indian democracy. The regional parties also have this problem of dynasty; hence the RSS/BJP took a campaign against dynasty rule. Even small Muslim parties like AIMIM and National Conference are dynasty parties.

Educated leader

Rahul is the most educated in his family. His great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru took a law degree from London. Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi were not graduates though educated in England. Rahul studied in Delhi’s St Stephens College, Harvard, and completed his graduation in Rollins College Florida, US, in the difficult times of his father’s assassination, his own security facing a threat even in the US. Finally, he moved to London and completed his M Phil degree in Trinity College, Cambridge. He worked for three years in England on a research project, Monitor Group, a management consultancy.

I met him three times and I found him well read. This is a rare quality among Indian politicians after the first generation freedom fighters. Not that he has no weak side of the personality. He did not seem to fit the kind of political environment that both the Congress and RSS/BJP and regional parties built over a period of time since the days of Indira Gandhi. The RSS/BJP wants to follow the Indira Gandhi model, Emergency or no Emergency. Rahul Gandhi certainly does not fit into that model.

It is in this background we have to understand his statement that “Rahul killed Rahul Gandhi”. He certainly washed away his prince or ‘pappu’ tag with his padayatra, with a will power that many have not seen in him earlier.

Dynasty tag

However, the main problem is that of his dynasty. Unless he turns into a moral force after this broad image shifting padayatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, he would not morally and ethically defeat RSS/BJP. His repeated statement that he has opened a “mohabbat ki dukan (store of love) in a nafrat ki bazar (market of hatred) of RSS/BJP” is not going to achieve concrete sociopolitical results in India unless he becomes a 24/7 working moral political force.

Two examples that serve his purpose that overcame the ruling dynasty problem are that of Gauthma Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi. Both had a ruling dynasty background. They gave up formal political rule marg (path) to change the national conditions of their times.

Though the Buddha is a distant example of establishing moral Sanghas, Mahatma Gandhi belonged to Rahul’s party by always remaining out of formal power, living in ashrams but directing the party and the power wielding forces with his moral authority. The Buddha left his Sankhya dynasty tag behind, and Gandhiji left his Kathiawar ruling dynasty tag completely behind.

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Though Rahul is working hard to change the situation in the country, several forces around him keep talking about his prime ministerial candidature in the 2024 elections. The coterie around Congress headquarters is visibly Brahminic and consciously anti-Shudra/OBC, if not anti-Dalit. This coterie wants power in Delhi very soon, that too with just his changing image.

Should he think of being PM?

If Rahul aspires to become the Prime Minister of India, as his party’s old guard and power-wanting forces want, he cannot change the institutions that have undergone a huge change in the last few years. The Buddha remained an unchallenged leader, mellowing kings, because he did not want to become a king himself. Mahatma Gandhi became an unchallenged leader of his time because he never even became the president of the Congress but directed it to have his own choice person as president.

Subhas Chandra Bose and Sardar Vallabai Patel had to give up the president’s position in the party because he asked them to give up. Sardar Patel, because of Mahatma Gandhi’s intervention, gave up his ambition to become the Prime Minister. The moral power of Mahatma Gandhi over the Congress and the civil society was unparalleled. Rahul has to seriously learn from that experiment of Mahatma Gandhi.

Rahul has not become the force that can change the present situation yet. He has to continue to run his mohabbat ki dukan for a longer time. The RSS/BJP infrastructure at the ground level is not like that of British rule. It is much more cemented by roping in huge Shudra/OBC vote power by presenting Modi as the first OBC Prime Minister. Given the Congress history of remaining anti-Shudra/OBC right from the 1990 Mandal days, the party has to do ground work at the mass level.

Shudra/OBC PM

Rahul has to give a strong message that he prefers a Shudra/OBC for the Prime Minister’s candidate, not himself. The power monger lobby, if the Congress becomes the single largest party in Parliament and forms a government with the support of the regional parties, has to be sidelined and ground level election winners have to get power. The Shudras/OBCs have to be convinced about the possible change. As of now they have no trust in the Congress. That trust must be built by Rahul Gandhi by turning the party into a new mass movement.

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The Bharat Jodo Yatra and the changed image of Rahul Gandhi only initiated a new path for the party. But that path has to be cemented by roping in a massive number of productive masses like farmers, artisans and agrarian labour. These masses have to be assured that in future their children will get the same language and content education in government schools that the rich are getting in private English medium schools. Their labour will be paid for in the future Congress rule. Rahul should convince them that he will be a guarantee to their empowerment.

(Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author. His latest book is ‘The Shudras–Vision for a New Path’, co-edited with Karthik Raja Kuruppusamy. He is now working on a book, ‘The Shudra Rebellion–History from the Field Memories.’)

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)

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