Let us begin by asking the following question: “Who is the happiest person in Delhi today?””Is it Narendra Modi? Is it Rajnath Singh? Is it Harsh Vardhan?” Most people will choose one of these three and proceed to justify their choice with very cogent and persuasive arguments. Others could name Meenakshi Lekhi, the combative new MP and a regular TV panelist representing the BJP? I, however, would like to argue that the happiest person today in Delhi is not a winning member of the BJP or the NDA, but the Vice President of the Indian National Congress, the natural, heavenly-born heir to the throne of Indira Gandhi, the once-and-future King, Rahul Gandhi.
Born with a diamond-encrusted platinum spoon, endowed with natural, “ruggedly handsome” good looks – William Dalrymple made a special mention of it in his recent, rather long and boring article in the New Statesman – Rahul Gandhi’s life has been a fairy tale, or so it would appear to us lesser mortals. Subramaniam Swamy tells us about the legendary riches that lie in Swiss Banks; riches that would make the country’s GDP look measly in comparison. Swamy also tells us about the equally fabulously rich girlfriend from a South American country who shares his house on Tughlak Road – (why did they have to allot him a house on this of all the roads in Lutyen’s Delhi?) But after seeing him on TV yesterday, accepting responsibility for the decimation of his party in the Lok Sabha elections with the broadest smile decorating his visage, I realised that Rahul Gandhi was actually happy that his party had lost so badly that even the post of the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament, would now not be thrust upon him.
He was just 21 when his father was assassinated by a suicide bomber. Fearing for his safety, his mother sent him abroad to pursue a college education, and to get some working experience. But she knew that, sooner rather than later, he would have to come back and assume the responsibility that his noble birth had preordained for him. The constant dinning of the refrain that one is the future Prime Minister of India, would have sounded like heavenly music to a 21-year old boy, still not out of his adolescence. But, when you are staying in the country that symbolises Western consumerism, with an unlimited supply of funds, you naturally pick up expensive habits, lifestyle, and arm-candy. By the time his mother regained her courage to throw poor Sitaram Kesri out of his one room in the Congress Head Quarters in Delhi, and assumed the Presidentship of the party in 1998, Rahul had grown into a 28-year-old young man, no longer wet behind the ears, but with an interest in fast cars, and the other indulgences of the rich and the famous. But, while it may be acceptable for a Berlusconi to become the Prime Minister of Italy, it is a totally different ball game when it comes to holding high political office in India.
Even Rajiv Gandhi, who also had an eye for the finer luxuries in life – I remember his fondness for Gucci shoes – had to completely overhaul his wardrobe to suit the perceptions of the Indian masses. In 1984 he had won the largest mandate in the history of the country, albeit due to the sympathy wave generated by his mother’s tragic assassination. However, within three years of his rule, the first big corruption scandal erupted on the 16th of April, 1987, when the Swedish Radio broke the news about kickbacks in arms procurement deals. From then onwards it was a downhill slalom for Rajiv Gandhi. In 1988 he tried to resurrect his image by reenacting the Mahatma’s famous Dandi March. But the cruel cartoonists and the press infamously called it The Dandy’s March. Rajiv Gandhi could not hold on to power and was unceremoniously dumped by the people in the General Elections in 1989.
From the time Sonia Gandhi assumed the President’s office in the Congress party, she has worked single-mindedly to see her son installed in the office of the Prime Minister of India. She ensured that no grass was allowed to grow under his feet. All the young dynasts within the party were made his deputies, firmly kept in their place by diktat. No party apparatchik had the courage to question him or his decisions. Sonia Gandhi also ensured that he did not dirty his hands with mundane ministerial work, where he may have to become answerable to Parliamentary institutions. His destiny was to become the Prime Minister, nothing less. Even her husband had ejected from his pilot’s seat in the cockpit, and landed straight in the PM’s chair.
Building the image of a future Indian Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi has had to give up on all his luxuries in personal attire. He has to wear white cotton Kurtas and pyjamas, with a vest on top during the winters. He has to wear chappals, and sometimes, is permitted the use of track shoes. He cannot be openly seen with his girlfriend (s), and his private life is secretly guarded from public view. He is forced to visit the dusty, dirty heartland of rural India, make polite conversation with the poor and the grimy, and even spend some nights in their unlit, poorly ventilated huts, bitten by mosquitoes and other terrible pests. He is even expected to partake of their meagre meals and drink water from earthen pots – even if only for photo-ops.
In 1997 his younger sister got married to a scrap merchant from Saharanpur. Since he was not expected to assume political office, there were no such demands on his lifestyle. Robert Vadra made the most of the connections his marriage gave him, and became a billionaire almost overnight. He had all the perks and privileges that were available to the highest constitutional authority in the country, but with absolutely no responsibility whatsoever. Indulging in his passion of physical fitness, he would spend hours in his personal gym with the best trainers, ride the most expensive motor cycles for thrills, enjoy the company of the richest and the most flamboyant, party hard and party long. His whole life seemed like a never-ending party of the most rich and famous. He could even wear pink trousers and T-shirts – something that would be anathema for a PM-aspirant. How all this must have been rankling the soul of Rahul? Here he was, the natural heir to all these riches, and yet condemned to live a life of apparent poverty and misery. On the other hand, the scrap merchant was lording it over everything and every one, as though the kingdom was only his.
It must have become apparent to him in 2009 that his mother would not allow Manmohan Singh another term and that he would be asked to take up the responsibility in 2014. Even the other contender had meanwhile been elevated to the post of the President, and the way made completely smooth for the transition. His appointment as the Vice President of the party must have looked like the beginning of a life-sentence that would condemn him to a life of perpetual servitude. At heart a simpleton, all he wanted was to have a good time and let his mother or someone else mind the country. However, there appeared to be no escape, as the opposition parties did not appear to have a strong enough candidate who could challenge the UPA in the general elections. The rise of Narendra Modi must have come as a shot-in-the-arm for young Rahul. Here was a man with a proven record of governance, and the necessary energy and drive to galvanise the NDA and generate a new hope among the youth of the country. Modi provided the easiest escape route for Rahul, and from the date the elections were announced, he must have been praying hard for his success.
That was the reason why Rahul went missing the day the elections ended on 12th May. He couldn’t wait for the ordeal to be over, and was on the first flight out of the country to an unknown destination where he must have put his hair down and had the party of his life. While TV channels were going into overdrive announcing one disaster after another for the UPA, lamenting the demise of the Grand Old Party, Rahul must have been rejoicing in his heart at the Great Escape he had engineered for himself. That is why he was not keen on attending the Prime Minister’s farewell dinner. He was fed up with all the Sarkari food, and would rather have a quiet evening at home. That is why he was sporting the broadest grin while accepting the responsibility for the historic defeat at the hustings. He would have said more but his mother beckoned him away rather sternly.
Rahul Gandhi has ensured that he is not called upon to take up the onerous responsibility that his mother was planning for him – at least not for the next ten years. By 2024 he would be in his mid-fifties, and he would have had enough time to enjoy life in the fast lane, like his brother-in-law. In fact, his brother-in-law is more likely to lose all his privileges, and may have to settle for a mango-man’s lifestyle in the banana republic so assiduously put together by the retiring Prime Minister.
By Vijaya Dhar
Picture Courtesy: IANS