I am not as surprised by Rahul Gandhi's statement
in Berkeley, California, as I am by Smriti Irani's vitriolic attack
on him. While addressing the press, she looked rather stern as she said "He is a failed dynast". Smriti Irani is one of the most articulate leaders in the Modi Cabinet and she believes in giving it right back to her opponent. But today, she was overly aggressive. One can understand her anger as Rahul had touched a raw nerve of the regime - "The growing intolerance and politics of violence and polarisation". Other BJP leaders too joined her in saying that Rahul had insulted India by talking about Modi being the "fulcrum" of hate politics.
Rahul Gandhi can justify his statement by saying that the truth needs to be said and his critics can respond by saying that even if this were true, he should have avoided the statement in a foreign land. Of course, this would mean that Modi's critics will ask how could Modi demand fairness and justice when he himself had done the same during his visit to Singapore when he said "Before I became PM, people used to regret that they were born in India". His statement was certainly not in good taste and does not behoove a man holding the office of the Prime Minister. But such has become the colour of politics in India and the relationship between Modi and the Nehru-Gandhi family that acrimony between them is no longer news. At best, Rahul's criticism of Modi's regime should have been ignored, but the BJP's rather strong reaction has made Rahul a national headline.
Whether the BJP/Modi/RSS like it or not, today, there is hatred and bitterness in the air and the atmosphere is getting vitiated day by day. Attacks on the minorities, Dalits, left and liberal intellectuals have increased manifold and none is willing to accommodate a rival's viewpoints. Ever since Modi became the Prime Minister, there is a definite attempt by the RSS and its affiliated organisations to raise the temperature of debate and subdue even an iota of disagreement. Whether or not Gauri Lankesh was killed as a result of this sort of intolerance has not been established, but what was more shameful was the reaction of the right wingers, many of whom were followed by the PM and his cabinet colleagues on social media. The way she was referred to, and the kind of language used to attack liberal voices now, is unprecedented.The New York Times
wrote in its editorial - "...but whom you follow on Twitter is considered an indicator of your taste, and a handful of the accounts in his registry have drawn sharp criticism, especially now... some of the accounts Mr Modi follows on Twitter have made misogynistic comments, spread anti-Muslim feelings and dangerous rumours, or made remarks that do not always jibe with his message of tolerance." In that respect, Rahul Gandhi was right in his criticism. When questioned, he blamed Mr Modi for presiding over the powerful machine which spits venom on social media and otherwise.
But the real question after his speech is whether Rahul Gandhi was right on the issue of dynasty politics in India - that he should not be blamed as India's politics and society is full of such examples. He even named his friend Akhilesh Yadav and Abhishek Bachchan as those who have benefited from their surnames, along with the Ambanis, and, somewhat surprisingly, Infosys. It is true that there is hardly any political party which is not inflicted by this disease. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, political parties have become private limited companies. Sheikh Abdullah was succeeded by Farooq Abdullah and Farooq was replaced by his son Omar Abdullah. In Maharashtra, sfter the death of Bala Saheb Thackeray, it is Uddhav who is running the party, not seniors like Manohar Joshi or Subhash Desai. And now, the third generation in the shape of Aditya Thackeray is getting ready for the future. Akhilesh Yadav, Naveen Patnaik, Supriya Sule, M K Stalin, Tejashwi Yadav, Sukhbir Singh Badal, H D Kumaraswamy - they all are the product of dynastic politics and nobody else from their parties was allowed to take over from the original leader. In fact, even siblings, like Mayawati's brother or Mamata Banerjee's nephew, are being groomed for the future. One can therefore understand the tragedy of a democratic polity which claims to be the most vibrant democracy. But Rahul Gandhi can't escape by shifting the blame elsewhere.
In 1929, when Jawaharlal Nehru called for full independence, he was the president of the Congress party. His presidentship gave a definite fillip to the freedom struggle but it was also the beginning of dynastic politics in India. It was for the first time in the 20th century, when India was aspiring for freedom and democracy, that a father was succeeded by his son as party president. In 1928, it was Jawaharlal Nehru's father Motilal Nehru who was the Congress president. Motilal Nehru was a rich and much sought-after lawyer who made a great contribution to the freedom struggle along with Mahatma Gandhi and others. He wrote the famous "Nehru Report" as a counter to the Simon Commission, envisaging "dominion status" for India. He had been in jail for many years but his love for the son sowed the seeds of dynastic politics. It was not that Jawaharlal was not a competent leader, but the immediate succession was bad in precedence, and it is a matter of intrigue why Mahatma Gandhi let it happen! The Congress could have waited for some more time for Jawaharlal Nehru.
Jawaharlal Nehru was a great democrat and intellectual of high order but after becoming Prime Minister in the 1950s, he took his daughter Indira Gandhi under his wing. He made her the party president in 1956. In later years, she was virtually his shadow. At that time, the Congress had many stalwarts who could have led the party with great competence. With the demise of Nehru, the Congress experimented with an outsider, Lal Bahadur Shashtri. But his sudden death brought the Nehru-Gandhi family back into the picture. This was the beginning of dynasty politics in the true sense. The Congress has never recovered. So Rahul Gandhi can't get away by saying that he is a product of Indian society. The fact is that his forefathers are to be blamed and he should also share the blame. If he is a true democrat and truly believes that dynasty is anti-democracy, which it is, then he should create space for any other Congress leader and gracefully work under that leader like an ordinary worker. But he won't do that. Of that, I am dead sure.
The BJP too has no moral right to talk about this. There are enough leaders in the BJP with dynastic backgrounds to disprove the claim that the BJP does not suffer from this malaise. Smriti Irani's stand was hypocritical. Who is Anurag Thakur? What is his claim to fame? Who are Pankaja Munde and Poonam Mahajan? Who are Pankaj Singh, Abhishek Singh, Rajveer Singh and Jayant Sinha? They are sons of Rajnath Singh, Raman Singh, Kalyan Singh and Yashwant Sinha. All of them were tall leaders of the BJP. And above all, who is Vasundhara Raje Scindia? Had she not been the daughter of Vijaya Raje Scindia, would it have been possible for her to be deputed as Chief Minister of Rajasthan? This signifies two things about Indian politics. One, that the Indian nation may have invented the most modern constitution and state apparatus but it is rooted in a feudal or a semi-feudal setup. The state is modern but its society is yet to evolve to be truly democratic. Second, in the true Bhakti
Tradition of medieval Indian society, we still believe in the personality cult and its transference to the next generation.
Rahul Gandhi knows that society is moving at a fast pace and that time is near when dynasts will find it tough to hang onto legacy. Legacy is good as long as it is in the past, it should not dictate the present and future. And God willing and good sense prevailing, that time is now near.(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)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.