NEW DELHI ~ The more things change, the more they stay the same. For the last seven years that he has been in politics, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi has asserted several times that he wants to rid the party of dynastic politics. The massive electoral reforms initiated at the level of the Indian Youth Congress and National Students’ Union of India have been bandied about as a counter to the Congress’ culture of picking favourites for top jobs. We are told, some day the Congress too will have internal democracy. Yet, when it came to re-launching the Congress’ campaign for the 2012 Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Gandhi chose to play the dynasty card again.
The day and place for his rally to launch the Congress into election mode were carefully chosen: Phulpur near Allahabad on 14 November, his great grandfather and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s 122nd birthday. Phulpur was Nehru’s political bastion from where he won his first Lok Sabha election. Gandhi launched a more aggressive than ever tirade against the Mayawati government and principal challenger Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP).
His teammates, young central ministers Jitin Prasada and RPN Singh, among others, went a few steps further and bashed up enthusiastic SP workers who broke the security cordon to wave black flags at the rally. They are now named in an FIR lodged by SP activists. The party’s posters and banners shouted out Gandhi’s Nehruvian connection with the slogan, ‘Nehru ji ko yaad karenge, Rahul ji ke saath chalenge’ (We will remember Nehru, and go with Rahul) across Allahabad. Hardened by his experience in politics, Rahul himself was more measured in invoking the dynasty—unlike in 2007, when on a tour of Western UP he had infamously taken credit for belonging to the family that split Pakistan. “At one time Nehruji was the MP here, today mafiamen are MPs here. There has been a lot of change in UP but no development,” he said, subtly reminding those gathered of his Nehru connection.
This was the second time that the Congress was launching its bid for power in UP. The last time round, Rahul had launched a massive campaign against the BSP government with a show of strength at Mayawati’s political citadel Ambedkar Nagar on BSP’s founder Kanshi Ram’s birthday, 14 April. There was no mention of the dynasty then, but of moving on from casteist and communal politics that Rahul said was keeping UP backward. From such loftiness, both the party and its emerging leader seem to have taken a few steps back this time in Phulpur.
“I have been in politics for seven years and I have been touring all of India and UP. In these tours, you have taught me the most. The poor in UP taught me if a leader does not go to people’s homes, eats with them and sees them toil, he will not understand poverty. Till a leader does not drink dirty water from wells in their homes and fall ill, he will not understand anything about poverty,” he said, hitting out at SP and BSP top leaders. “And, till the time a leader does not understand poverty in the homes of the poor, he will never be angry at atrocities against the poor in the state. There was probably a time when Mayawatiji and Mulayam Singh Yadavji had this anger in them. Today, that has died in them, and they are running after power,” he said.
Gandhi’s remark on migrant labourers is already drawing protests, including a law suit, from all over. “For how long will you beg in Maharashtra or work as labourers in Punjab? When are you going to change the government here? Tell me right now. I want a reply. Let all of us join hands to bring about this change,” he said, raising the tempo and adding, “Sometimes I think I should come to Lucknow to fight for you myself.” Gandhi’s faint suggestion that he might even run for UP’s top post comes a tad late, with elections just a few months away. And, the Congress will still have to pay a price for abandoning last year’s campaign launched at Ambedkar Nagar which was less aggressive but more progressive, rather than one that invokes the dynasty and witnesses central ministers beating up rival political workers at the very outset.