So, it’s true what they say. Our fate is written in tea leaves. Rahul Gandhi’s, in particular, seems to have been brewed personally by Gujarat’s most popular tea connoisseur. Pretty boy, obedient son, loyal brother and reluctant politician. As credentials go, these aren’t exactly PM material. But, then, India is a nation where every kid with means gets retrofitted into the family business — once he’s done with the statutory Ivy League trail, of course. For the Nehru-Gandhi clan, that business is prime ministership to be precise. What’s more, business has been brisk for them for almost half a century, magically insulated from market forces. Until now. The fledgling Gandhi, India’s PM-in-waiting, has just been put out of business by an indigenous start up, a local merchant whose street smarts more than compensated for the absence of summa cum laudes. The world’s largest democracy has finally run out of patience. And, jobs. And, for a while there, even hope.
Things couldn’t get any more bleak. India was on her knees, battered and bruised, brought down by the apathetic Congress. Ministers had swapped consciences for Swiss bank accounts, the rupee had fallen, scam curry was the daily staple, testosterone-fuelled yogis were turning kissassanas into a political sport, and even the once-humble onion had acquired a cocky attitude. The timing couldn’t have been better. TsuNaMo swept in from coastal Gujarat at speeds greater than the escape velocity of Jupiter. He wooed India with those four little words every self-respecting nation wants to hear — good governance and development. Waves of hope swept millions off their feet and carried them straight to the poll booths.
At a press conference not long ago, RaGa had smirked at the naiveté of Indians for expecting “a man to ride up on a horse and change everything”. Turns out, the man who holds the reins now was once none other than the chief charioteer of the epic Rath Yatra in 1990. Whether he’s India’s knight in shining armour or not, only time will tell. But, for RaGa and his confederacy of dunces, it is time for the curtain call. Possibly, the most expensive detox in the world, it has cost India $570 million to flush out dynastic rule. That’s $500 million more than it cost to send a state-of-the-art Rover to Mars last year. Totally worth it, of course. We can certainly do without what author William Dalrymple calls “India’s most striking example of sexually transmitted democracy”.
For someone who is pegged as the youth icon of the nation, RaGa’s language is more dated than his political lineage. He can’t be accused of not getting a response from the youth of India — they yawned and fled to a man twice his age and bodysurfed him all the way to the PM’s chair. Admirable show of restraint, India, only yawning at a rich man pitching lines such as “poverty is just a state of mind and not a scarcity of food, money or material things” to a crowd that can’t afford an onion. Whoever said Gandhi didn’t play the technology card in his campaign is so wrong. Remarks like “if India was a computer, the Congress is its default programme”, straddled both technology and pomposity with élan and made quite an impact. People woke up to the fact that the Congress had become India’s comfort zone, even though it hardly brought them any comfort. They didn’t just step out of this zone, they stormed out en masse. The minorities, particularly, charged out with the same escape velocity of Jupiter that RaGa thought was impossible.
Other detractors have accused RaGa’s rhetoric of lacking humour. Truth be told, his narrative was filled with irony, his speeches were sheer satire, his very presence in dusty villages elicited more laughs than jokes like “a day will come when the US president will wear a watch made in Allahabad”. In a world where technology has made it virtually impossible to be isolated even if you wanted to, Gandhi remained detached from the people, distant from their issues and alien to their dreams. Firewalled from the ground realities by his party leaders, he refused to even consider buffering up for the impending TsuNaMo. “The opposition is trying to sell combs to bald men, even offer them haircuts,” he scoffed.
Combs and haircuts were delivered via a high-octane 360-degree campaign using every conceivable media vehicle, created by the country’s most persuasive communication professionals. It looks as if every bald man in India is dying for a haircut. Let alone leading the nation, Gandhi and his congress of clowns won’t even lead the opposition in the lower house. After all, how does a mere mortal, however posh his lineage, fight a brand? Gandhi’s response to the poll results is a telling story. He conceded defeat and admitted to failing his party with a flash of his famous dimples and a lopsided grin.
Political pundits have plunged into deconstructing that grin. Was it a sheepish grin that communicated remorse and apology? Or, was it a grin of relief at his narrow escape from a post he’s evidently not ready for? And, perhaps, will never be? While adversary Modi was christened a democratic asteroid by the same political pundits, Gandhi is being written off as the flâneur of Indian politics. On the bright side, he’s in the esteemed company of Proust and Baudelaire, the master flâneurs in history.
While the Congress has gone into a conclave to mull over mission reboot, a giant lotus floats surreally on the murky waters of the Ganga, marking a dramatic turn in the narrative of Indian politics. The Bollywood version, already in production, goes something like this:
RaGa: Mere paas bungla hai, gaadi hai, paisa hai, aur ma bhi hai.
Tumhare paas kya hai?
TsuNaMo: Mere paas Ganga ma hai. Chal phoot.
Priya Mirchandani is an independent writer and editor