A Pyjama Party? Rahul Gandhi Still Doesn't Get It

Published: August 19, 2015 11:46 IST
Sometime in 2010, while traveling to report from interior Maharashtra on the atrocities against Dalits, I came across a Dalit poet who had been arrested by the police for provoking Maoist ideas through his poems. During his interrogation in Nagpur, he was asked by a cop "Since when have you neechi zaat walas (lower caste people) started wearing suit-pants? You think you will be the next Ambedkar."

Babasaheb Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution, who fought hard for the upliftment of Dalits, used his suit as a sign of liberation from the age-old repression of Dalits, he used it as a symbol of a new India where the Western ideas of equality, fraternity, liberty would trounce the invidious caste system.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi who delivered the "suit boot ki sarkaar" phrase during the Budget session of parliament with considerable success decided to go a step further yesterday. While interacting with villagers in his constituency, Amethi, he said what was needed - and on offer by him was a 'kurta pyjama sarkaar' for the common man.

In his conversation where he spoke to villagers about bringing back the 'chappal wali (slipper) sarkaar' was the glaring answer to why the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, has so effectively sidelined the Congress, whose leaders appear to still be groping in the dark for the causes of their defeat. Rahul Gandhi may want to be seen as a jhola-wala and  chappal-wearing leader, but forgets that our huge young population has moved on - or is desperate to do so. According to a UN report of 2014, with 356 million 10-24 year-olds, India has the world's largest youth population .

A population that 45-year-old Rahul Gandhi is unable to connect with at all sorts of levels. While Narendra Modi wore jade-blue dapper suits for parts of his different campaigns, Rahul Gandhi appeared uninspiring cutting archaic cloth for the lackluster kurta-pyjama. While Modi spoke about getting foreign investment for India, tapping the potential of a surging youth population that dreams big and works hard, Rahul Gandhi appeared trapped in dated symbols of politics, which the new middle class of India refuses to identify with and wants to break away from.

There is also an inherent hypocrisy when Gandhi, who does not shy away from featuring with the elite at society parties, mocks those who wear "suit-boot" or branded attire. While there is absolutely nothing wrong in wearing the kurta-pyjama or the chappal for the sheer comfort it offers, positioning it as the uniform at a time when urban India's "dil maange more" disenchants many. More importantly, the construction labourer and the farmer of the new India want to wear the shirt pant too, with belts and whistles; the new India wants to modernize and reap the benefits of that progress, compete aggressively with other countries for a larger place in the sun. If that is the idea that Rahul Gandhi is mocking, then he has (again) got his basics wrong. He should note Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, who was attired in "suit boot", succeeded in bringing the Dalit and backward classes to the mainstream.

If Gandhi wants to be seen as a Leftist, a trade union leader who sometimes accessorizes with a stubble or wears "pant-shirt" when he meets the students at FTII to show he's with them, he must understand that much more is needed to tap into the youth. The Left saw a decline for its refusal to accommodate the ambitions of a new India, its refusal to reinvent itself. One cannot deny that the Left has provided a moral and ideological tilt to a lopsided Indian economy and polity, and that from Indira to Sonia Gandhi, senior Congress leaders have heavily borrowed themselves from the Left ideology. 

Yes, the Manmohan Singh government was forced to include pro-poor decisions influenced by the Left parties which supported it and which led to another term in office in 2009. But by wearing a "coat-pant", Modi did not end up alienating the vote of the rural and poor India. Gandhi should be willing to face the fact that young voters of the country were more inspired by a rather hep 63-year-old Modi, who spoke their language, than a then 43-year-old Gandhi whose ideas were out of synch with a country hooked to mobile phones and a determination to look forward.

As Prime Ministerial candidate, Modi proved he could be all things to all people - he was the chaiwala who worked his way to the top, a leader who would use Skype chats and the latest in technology to address not just urban but rural masses, transporting them to the promise of a future gleaming with technology and its potential. On the other hand, Gandhi was the leader of a party that seemed stuck in a time warp with its talk of fighting neo-liberalism and the pro-imperialist approach of the ruling class. The sort of jargon which makes the India of today yawn while checking its mobile phone for the latest.

Rahul Gandhi, you are 45, and you are finally somewhat on Twitter, and you now see that selfies - that Modi trademark - all work to "youthify" you. But embrace modernity in your thoughts and remember that a developing , aspirational India doesn't want a kurta-pyjama, but is also confident that it is not mocking its roots and traditions by wearing a pair of boots. 

(Rana Ayyub is an award-winning investigative journalist and political writer. She is working on a book on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which will be published later this year.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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