Someone in the Congress should tell Rahul Gandhi to start behaving in the manner befitting a 43-year-old and stop referring to Congress President Sonia Gandhi as his mother in his public remarks and speeches. We all know she is his mother, but, hell, because we are a democracy, he should refer to her as Congress president, not as his mummy.
Rahul’s reference to Sonia as mother invariably has a political reason behind it. Examine what he said on October 3: “My mother also told me that I used very strong words and that I could have said the same thing in a nice manner. As an afterthought, I agree it was a mistake to use harsh words but I have a right to raise my voice.” Rahul was alluding to his brusque characterization of the ordinance to protect convicted legislators as “nonsense”.
Parse the sentence to fathom better Rahul’s mother-fixation. One, he did not think it was improper to barge into a press conference of someone to declare as nonsense an ordinance the Union cabinet had decided to promulgate.
Two, despite the widespread expression of outrage against his indecorous criticism of the ordinance, he still did not think he had committed a mistake until his mother also said it was indeed the case. Good mother that she is, Sonia presumably lectured him on etiquette, yes, to a 43-year-old man who is the Congress vice-president, and who is, despite his protestations to the contrary, the party’s future face and prime minister.
It was only then, as his statement bears it out, Rahul was inspired to introspect, perhaps because he considers all criticisms of him motivated or BJP-inspired. Ultimately, wisdom dawned on him; he realised it was a mistake to call the now aborted ordinance nonsense, but as the scion of India’s premier dynasty, he couldn’t possibly tender an unqualified apology. Therefore, his assertion: “…I have a right to raise my voice.”
Indeed, these words have an infantile echo about it, making him sound as a truant but adamant child who must bow down to the opinion of his mother but not before harping on the principle – “the right to raise my voice” – he presumably holds dear. It seems Rahul’s public acceptance of his mistake was cleverly crafted to ensure his position in the party wasn’t undermined even as he mollified a hurt and angry Prime Minister. The statement of October 3 decidedly had a message for the party: he, Rahul Gandhi, only bows before Sonia Gandhi not because she is the Congress president but because she happens to be his mother.
In our culture, the symbol of mother is sacrosanct: bowing to her is characterized as obeisance; obeying her implies respect to her, not servility. In the statement Rahul made in Gujarat, substitute “Congress President” or “Soniaji” for “mother” and read the statement anew to register the change in its nuance and tone. To the public, it would have appeared he had been reprimanded and his assertion of his right to raise his voice as recalcitrance.
The Oct 3 statement isn’t the first occasion Rahul Gandhi has invoked the trope of mother for political purposes. The morning following his appointment as vice-president of the Congress in January last, he told an august gathering of Congressmen in Jaipur: “Last night everyone congratulated me… But last night my mother came to my room and she was with me and she cried. Why did she cry? She cried because she understands that the power so many seek is actually a poison. She can see it because of what it does to the people around her and the people they love. But, most importantly, she can see it because she is not attached to it…”
No doubt, Rahul is extremely fond of his mother, as most humans are. It is also possible the scene he describes in the Jaipur speech wasn’t the concoction of his speech-writers, aware as Sonia has to be, as we too are, about the destructive attributes of power. Yet contrast his disclosure of the intimate moments with his mother to the entreaties of Congressmen in 2011 – then they had rebuffed all inquiries about where precisely Sonia had gone for treatment, claiming the family members wanted their privacy to be respected.
Why then out the maudlin scenes involving Sonia and Rahul? It was because it was politically expedient, providing as it did to Rahul an opportunity to harp on the self-abnegation quality of his mother. In fact, way back in 2004, when Sonia refused to take the post of prime minister, the Hindustan Times quoted Rahul gushing, “My mother isn’t a Gandhi by blood… but yesterday she became one. I wouldn’t be able to act the way she did.”
In returning to the theme of self-abnegation in Jaipur, Rahul was subtly crafting a more benign image of himself and his family as selfless politicians. Here is how – despite the mother’s insights into the true nature of power, she was letting him participate in politics for the larger good of people. And he, an obedient, loving son, wasn’t entering politics to pursue power either. He said as much in Jaipur, “We should not chase power for the attributes of power. We should only use it to empower the voiceless.” So then, according to Rahul’s narrative, both he and his mother have entered politics to empower the voiceless, those who are poor and powerless.
Might it be rude to speculate over the reasons why Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi waded into politics? Considering that the Nehru family ruled for much of India’s post-Independence history, it would seem empowering the powerless wasn’t quite on their agenda, or they miserably failed in achieving that goal.
Indeed, Rahul’s references to his mother are aimed at reinventing the family in this era of coalition politics. Not likely to secure a majority on its own in the foreseeable future, and dependent on mercurial coalition partners unwilling to become sycophants to the Gandhis, Sonia and Rahul don’t seemingly wish to wield executive power only to ensure their stature of unquestionable superiority is not diminished. In staying out of power, nobody can accuse them of misgovernance or failing to fulfil the promises made to the electorate.
Yet their participation in electoral politics requires justification. It is for this reason the theme of self-abnegation has been invented, yet periodic care is taken to ensure their supremacy in the party isn’t eroded. No wonder then, Rahul chose to refer to Sonia as mother, not as Congress president, in the statement in which he accepted he had used harsh words to criticise the ordinance.
Rahul needs to be told that the mother-son story has become trite, sounding like soap operas of the yore, and, worse, portraying him as a leader who needs his mother to hold his hand.
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