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By Amulya Ganguli
In America, “ambulance chaser” is a derisive term used for those insurance agents who assure the relatives of a sick man that he will help with their medical claims. Rahul Gandhi, too, appears to be similarly approaching all supposedly disaffected groups with the promise of standing up for them with regard to their various demands.
He has been transiting, therefore, from farmers who may lose their lands, to netizens concerned about net neutrality, to flat-owners curious about the real estate bill, to servicemen agitating on the one-rank, one-pension issue, to fishermen worried about their livelihood.
In a large country with myriad issues, there will no doubt be a plethora of topics for the rejuvenated Congress vice-president to make up for lost time in his more carefree past by seizing the contentious issues in order to berate the government. But, the question will remain whether it is the task of the leader of a major party to reach out to every group with a grievance and offer unqualified support without an examination of the intricacies of the problem. Or whether he should focus on one or two issues and give his considered opinion which will show a grasp of the subject, thereby making people in the government and outside to take serious notice. Or, whether he should only give a broad idea of his vision. To be sure, Rahul Gandhi’s vision appears to be of an India where all policies will be directed at eradicating poverty. But, the difficulty with this outlook is that virtually all economic theories aim at achieving this very objective though by different and often diametrically opposite means. In the dauphin’s case, he has apparently chosen to advance the cause of a welfare state as opposed to those who take the capitalistic route – “suit-boot ki sarkar” – as he calls the pro-market Narendra Modi government.
But, in the heir-apparent’s somewhat random choices of the people he wants to support, there is a danger of consorting both with those who may be wary of Leftists and those who are not against private enterprise. For instance, are the flat-owners socialists ? Given their middle class background, it is unlikely that they have any ideological objection to an open economy. Instead, their complaint about the real estate bill is not that it tilts towards the promoters, as Rahul Gandhi argues, but that the government’s intervention in the name of regulation in transactions involving private parties is a case of official overreach, which can create unnecessary complications.
The issue of fishing is more complicated. Rahul Gandhi’s objections to a ban on fishing are obviously based on the belief that it will diminish the fishermen’s earnings. But, such bans are necessary during the monsoon to allow the fish to breed, which is why the fishermen themselves support the prohibitions. However, there is also a view that those fishermen, who do not use the “destructive fishing gear” associated with the trawlers, should be allowed to continue fishing with their traditional methods.
What these different opinions show is that it unwise to rush in without an adequate knowledge of the subject. There is a possibility, therefore, of Rahul Gandhi embarrassing himself if he continues in the present somewhat reckless vein. Besides, continuous criticism of the government can yield diminishing returns in terms of popular response even if he has been able to enthuse the Congress cadres to a considerable extent.
However, the enthusiasm shows that the party remains in thrall to the dynasty. There is no one else who is able to hit the headlines as effectively as the crown prince has been able to do although Mallikarjun Kharge has shown that he can be quite effective in taking on the government in the Lok Sabha. But, outside the House, he lacks the requisite charisma to be able to make as much of an impact as Rahul Gandhi does. Nor can anyone else in the 130-year-old party.
The difficulty of the crown prince, however, is that he continues to give the impression of being an amateur who is dependent on a few catchwords – “suit-boot ki sarkar” is probably the more effective of them – who will be at a loss to carry forward an argument in a no-holds-barred question-and-answer session.
It might help him, therefore, if he desists from dabbling in every issue which he thinks will embellish his pro-poor image, and concentrate on outlining his thinking without lapsing into an identifiable economic category which can be a minefield for those who are not well-versed in its intricacies.
There is another problem. Rahul Gandhi is now virtually alone in his battle with the government. It isn’t only that there is no one else in the Congress who can take up the cue, but that he doesn’t have any backup support from any other party. As the collapse of the Janata “parivar” in Bihar and the travails of the Aam Admi Party in Delhi show, the BJP’s other opponents are in disarray. Rahul Gandhi, therefore, will have to continue battling for a long time. This is the pitfall of the Congress’s dependence on the warriors of a single family. (IPA Service)