Rahul Gandhi is the vice president of the Indian National Congress which has formed the government in India for nearly 60 of the 67 years since independence. He is in that lofty position not because of his achievements but because he belongs to the first political family in India. It is important to remember that democracy in India, like in other South Asian countries, is not like the democracy you see in Europe. Here the traditional feudal structures have adopted the concept of democracy and moulded it to fit what we are temperamentally suited for – a feudal structure. While these matters will change in the future, this is the status as of now in almost all parties except the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist parties.
Rahul Gandhi (RaGa) has been in the public space for 9 years. In this time he has not done much to cover himself with any glory. He is a reluctant politician who has been forced into the family business against his wishes. Since his heart is not in it, he does not really put any energy into the leadership role. This is scary because reluctance or not, he is in a powerful position.
A few days ago (28th January 2014) he went ‘public’ for the first time with an interview to a TV channel. This has been, by all accounts, disastrous to his image in the English speaking and English media following Indian crowd (less than 6% of the electorate mind you). Those on the social media have been ridiculing him for months and this lampooning reached it’s pinnacle following the interview.
Some of the reasons, in no particular order, for this negative sentiment on the social media space are:
- Comparison with a serious, ambitious, career politician (Narendra Modi – NaMo) who has come up through the ranks. A battle of oratory with NaMo is something that RaGa cannot hope to win. He does not have the skills. In terms of content both of them are vacuous but NaMo has administrative skills & track record to fall back on.
- Being at the leadership of a coalition government that is widely perceived to have failed India on the governance front. I say perceived deliberately – governance failure or success is mostly a matter of perception. IMO the government has done reasonably well on some fronts. However, it has failed to meet the aspirations of the vocal middle class in times of economic recession. The corruption, inefficiencies have been laid to rest at the door of the leadership of the government and Rahul gets tarred with that brush.
- Rahul has lots of words and ideas. Some of these are anachronistic. Some not backed by action (intra party democracy). Naturally this is a sore point and can be easily latched on to for criticism.
- RaGa is in an unfortunate position where he is expected to take the blame for things that had nothing to do with him personally; some of them happened when he was in his nappies. Even more unfortunately, acknowledging these events means criticizing his grandmother (Emergency) or father (Sikh riots of 1984). What can he realistically do? Dammed if he does, dammed if he doesn’t.
- It is easy to criticize anybody on the social media space. In a world driven by 140 character sound-bites and / or memes, one never had to defend anything. So long as one sounds witty / acerbic, one gets kudos. The crowd is going in that direction because NaMo has been better in managing social media as well. Once he does form government and does not deliver fast, NaMo will also face the ire of the political slactivists.
A last note :
In the life of a politician there is nothing like bad publicity. The scarier part for a politician is obscurity. I do not think that RaGa is losing any sleep over the criticism.
First, it is restricted to English Speaking, social media aware citizens who are less than 6%.
Second, the likelihood of the UPA losing the 2014 general elections are high. Winning and losing is part of political life. RaGa is young and can afford to wait. A stint in opposition will do him a world of good. Who knows? He may mature or decide to quit politics completely forcing the Congress to choose a non-family leader. All good for democracy in India.