Making sense of Rahul Gandhi

Why is he said to be fearless with no lust for power? Why does he talk of world order based on love? Possibly because few political leaders saw violence from such close quarters in growing years

Making sense of Rahul Gandhi
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Kumar Ketkar

At which turn of recent history of post-independent India, did forces of cynicism and regression become dominant?

How and when was ‘Politics of Hope’ overtaken by the ‘Politics of Hate’?

When did violence enter in our politics, and the ideal of non-violence become irrelevant?

One cannot pinpoint a specific date, but it is obvious that there was not much violence in the air till the mid-sixties. Naxalite movement, the Shiv Sena in Mumbai, the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, the early phase of Sikh militancy, the Left confrontations in West Bengal, the vicious caste violence in Bihar and UP and even militancy in the North Eastern states—all of them manifested in the mid-sixties.

Rahul Gandhi, born on 19th June 1970, is 50 now. No other person in Indian political class is ridiculed and humiliated so much, abused and trolled so much. There is a lot of viciousness and violence in those trolls. Indeed, he has grown with violence around him. No other political family in the country has lived with so much violence all around it. Over the last fifty years, we have become accustomed to violence-in politics and in families too.

During the freedom movement, majority of the activists and community leaders who came from the middle class were rooted in society. So, the dormant tendencies of violence remained dormant. People were engaged in social activities or movements in rural areas as well as urban—Gandhians, Communists, Socialists, Ambedkarites and others.

From trade unions to literary organisations, from peoples’ science movements to education or literacy campaigns were run by this activist middle class. In fact, the freedom movement was not only political in nature; it was at once a social reform movement and also a programme for cultural elevation of society. Non-violence and such socio-political connect were interrelated.

When was that connectivity lost? How to bring that spirit back? Can it be done?

It can also be a relevant question in the context of Rahul Gandhi’s evolution as a political leader. The two decades during which he grew into adolescence, from 1970-1990, were the most turbulent and traumatic years. Every sensitive person in his age group has lived through that tumultuous period.

The historic “Garibi Hatao” election in 1971, came on the background of the stormy sixties. Indira Gandhi routed the cynical alliance of the Jan Sangh and Socialists and Swatantra as well as the disgruntled Congressmen and women who had come together only to oust her from power. At stake were the values of the freedom movement and the Nehruvian programme of secularism and socio-economic justice. The “Indira Hatao” slogan was meant to throw out those Nehruvian ideals.


The year 1971 changed not only history of South Asia but also geography. Pakistani military attacked its own Eastern part, with full brutal force, killing millions of people and devastating the region. The reason was the East Pakistani Bengalis by their huge electoral victory, challenged the Punjabi-Pathan ruling establishment. The Bengali populace in the East rose in rebellion under the leadership of Mujibur Rahman.

Nearly ten million Bengali refugees came to India seeking life and shelter. India, under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, decided to support them and their freedom struggle. Bangladesh was born. Most migrants went back to their liberated country. There was a gang up against India, with Pakistan, China and US acting in tandem. But Rahul’s grandmother, Sonia Gandhi’s mother in law and Nehru’s brave daughter faced the situation and brought India to a new glory.

However, Indira Gandhi was challenged by the same nihilist forces led by Jaiprakash Narayan. JP had an aura of the freedom movement. In fact, in 1952, Pandit Nehru had offered him the Deputy Prime Ministership, which he had refused, saying he wanted to be away from politics. But he changed his stance in 1973 and till today no one knows why.

In the name of anti-corruption movement and with the grandiose slogan of “Total Revolution”, he entered politics of confrontation. That too at a time when there was huge economic crisis following the war, influx of 10 million refugees, unprecedented drought and famine, and the heavy increase in petroleum prices following Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

As a veteran freedom fighter, he was expected to help Mrs Gandhi in that hour of turmoil. But intriguingly, his movement led to mayhem and anarchy. The violent agitation to dissolve the elected Gujarat assembly, the nationwide Railway strike to paralyse the country and disrupt the public distribution system during the famine and of course the subtle communal campaign-all this was part of the script.

Rahul cannot possibly remember the sequence and consequence. He was just four-years old.

The sinister game, rather an international conspiracy, got exposed when Jaiprakash Narayan himself appealed to the police and the military not to obey the government’s orders. That was to force Indira Gandhi to resign, following the Allahabad Court order unseating her as a Member of Parliament. Actually, her appeal was in the Supreme Court, but JP and Jan Sangh-led forces were not ready to wait.

The destabilisation game was in full force. Unless this context is taken into account, this game of orchestrated anarchy, one cannot understand why and how the Emergency came.

Just six months before the Emergency, a senior minister in Mrs Gandhi’s cabinet, Lalit Narain Mishra was killed in a bomb attack at Samastipur. One can say that was the first such political killing. Comrade S A Dange publicly said that the murder of Shri Mishra was a warning issued by the forces of anarchy to Indira Gandhi. The Emergency, Mrs Gandhi said, was unfortunate, but had become necessary to defeat the destabilisation conspiracy. The Emergency indeed stabilised the polity, but with heavy political price.

In the elections held after the Emergency, the Congress was defeated. But not all over India, as is generally presumed. Indira-led Congress won landslide victory in all the Southern states but lost totally in the Hindi belt and therefore, lost power at the Centre. JP-led Janata Party came to power in Delhi. The maximum support to the Janata Party came from the urban middle class, in most parts of India. In fact, the Congress began to lose its middle-class constituency from 1977, or from the JP movement in 1973-74.


Be that as it may. Rahul is not likely to remember the tense situation prevailing in the country and in the subcontinent. In August 1975, the President of Bangladesh, Mujibur Rahman and almost all members of his family were brutally murdered, by Pakistani military agents with the help of the CIA. Within the next two years, the Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was overthrown and the military took over reins of power. Couple of years later Bhutto was hanged in 1979 by the military court.

In 1980, after the Janata Party disintegrated and their government collapsed, Indira Gandhi came back to power. But it also must be recognised that urban middle-class India did not fully endorse her, like it had in 1971. The hostility of the media, most of the bureaucracy, academia, intellectuals, artists, executive class in the private sector, stock markets, financial institutions were psycho-politically opposed to her rule.

Even after the accidental death in an air crash of Sanjay Gandhi, there was not much sympathy for the family, from this class. Rahul was 10 years old when Sanjay Gandhi died in June 1980. It was around that time when the violent Sikh extremist movement raised its head. The horrendous extremist killings in rural Punjab with conspiratorial aim of creating Khalistan became obvious when their terrorists occupied the Golden Temple.

If Indira Gandhi had not dared to take military action to eliminate Bhindranwale-led terrorist threat, Khalistan would have become a reality. Indira Gandhi was aware that she was signing her death warrant. She was assassinated on October 31, 1984.

Rahul was 14-years old when she was killed inside the Prime Minister’s residence.

Rajiv Gandhi’s Prime Ministership began on a very high note and high hope, but within three years, allegations of corruption in the Bofors Gun purchase enveloped the politics. BJP seeing the general discontent, launched its Ayodhya movement. The real aim was to demolish the Babri Masjid and polarise the Hindu-Muslim communities. They succeeded in that nefarious game.

Indeed since then, the ghost of Hindutva extremism and polarisation of our society is haunting us. Rajiv Gandhi was killed during the election campaign of 1991, in a bomb attack by Tamil militants in Tamil Nadu.

Rahul was 21 when his father was killed.

And Babri Masjid was violently demolished by the Hindutva militants. The destruction of the Masjid led to widespread violence across the country. In fact, the Idea of India was destroyed and the basis for the Hindu Rashtra founded.

Sonia Gandhi had not joined politics after the murder of Rajiv. In fact, she had a premonition of Rajiv getting killed and she had expressed it in so many words. Rahul was witness to her apprehensions. Rahul has witnessed one accidental death (of Sanjay in 1980) and two violent assassinations, one of his grandmother, and the other was his father.


Incidentally, yet another murder, which had remained under wraps for 34 years, was that of Sweden’s Prime Minister, Olaf Palme in 1986. That mystery is still not fully resolved, though the investigations were closed last week, by the Swedish authorities. There was suspicion that the conspirators who killed (or planned to kill) Olaf Palme could be the same behind the murder of Rajiv Gandhi. Such killings do not take place on account of personal revenge. They are conspiracies, often global.

Thus one can see, Rahul’s life so far, is surrounded and shaped by violence on all sides. All psychologists agree that traumas suffered in childhood remain in the subconscious and shape mind and life of the person. With faith in the philosophy of non-violence and the existential life full of violence is a cross Rahul is carrying. Clearly, such a person cannot be driven by personal ambition or craving for power to rule. Idealism gets its strength from ideas and values, not from barrels of guns or from crown or seat of throne.

It is by now clear that Rahul has a mind of steel, and no amount of ridicule or trolling can weaken his resolve. Whether he electorally or politically succeeds or not, is partly a matter of destiny and partly of the forces around him. The hostile forces are within as well as without.

That means he could be the target of international plotters, helped by local enemies. Indira and Rajiv, both had such friends, that enemy without was not required!

Rahul Gandhi has seen all that too closely. He can and will weather any storm or twister!!

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