In 1889, Prince Albert Victor, the eldest son of the then Empress of India, Queen Victoria, was dispatched on a world tour — to India, in this case. Getting to India took a month, so it’s no wonder they had to invent India Pale Ale. Anyway, ‘Prince Eddy’ had courted controversy in his time, with several rumoured affairs and even some suggestions that he (and not his father, the soon to be Edward VII) was the notorious ‘Jack the Ripper’. The tour to India was supposed to have given him lessons in statecraft — after all, he would inherit the British Crown one day, and where better for a young British heir to the throne to travel than the dominion of India?
And so, almost a century and a half later, India’s crown-prince, heir-apparent and all-round good-guy Rahul Gandhi is on a world tour of his own. He’s gone where Uncle Sam (literally, in this case, thanks to Sam Pitroda) has advised — the land of The Donald. RaGa went to the University of California, Berkeley (great college). He held a Q&A session there, during which he was rather candid, and despite the occasional complaint of moderated questions, at least he answered more questions in the Pacific Time Zone than he ever has done in Indian Standard Time. Some of the answers about ‘dynasts’ were matter of fact, although they should have been handled with a bit more tact, but all in, it was an impressive performance. I’m not on his side of side of the divide, and I still believe he is not qualified enough to be India’s leader, but props where they’re due. It was impressive enough for the BJP to roll out Smriti Irani to counter it, which was unwise — the BJP has better spokespersons than her. But then again, Sambit Patra would have trotted out a picture from WW II and claimed Rahul was Mussolini’s lost grandson or something. Rahul was no Swami Vivekananda, but at least he was a realist. The rest of the trip was pretty low-key, and other than a couple of paeans by the diminishing elements of the Indian media who still profess loyalty to the INC, the Congress media cell wisely decided to tone things down. The thing is, can Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Clown Prince’ image be salvaged at all, or will he, like Prince Eddy, become the man who never became King?
This brings me to another point, that of the story of Rahul Gandhi as the ‘reluctant prince’ that has been spread by some of his well-wishers. I have met Rahul Gandhi a few times, and let me assure you that he is not a bit reluctant. He knows what he wants (that is, to lead), he has some good ideas about governance, and he understands that the Congress has to be changed from the bottom up — but he did expect the leadership role to be handed to him on a platter. There is another problem. I do not for one second think that Rahul is a corrupt man, or that he does not have the best interests of India (as he sees them) at heart, but he is surrounded by some of the most vile and corrupt individuals in the country. I’m sure he wants some of them out, but any wholesale purge of the Congress will make it vulnerable, and unlike Stalin, who by sheer force of will managed to pull the Soviets together by the summer of 1943, Rahul does not possess that skill. He is a smart man, and his ‘World Tour’ will definitely give him some fabulous ideas, but I don’t think anything will prepare him for the tour de force that is Amit Shah’s electoral machine.
Sure, the ability of the BJP to take a gun and aim it squarely at its foot is quite sound and it has its fair share of morons, but the Modi-Shah combination is formidable. You see, while Rahul tours the world, Shah is travelling through Gujarat, Karnataka and West Bengal. Unlike Modi, Rahul doesn’t have a Shah — he will have to do many things himself. You see, Prince Eddy didn’t become King — it was Prince George, who was quite used to doing things himself in the Royal Navy, who did. We are at an unprecedented stage in the country right now, with the BJP needing some strong opposition — and a world tour is not the solution.