When Rahul Gandhi said that he quit the post of Congress President, a series analysing the Congress under him was launched by The True Picture called ‘Congress – The Rahul Years’. As first part of the series we have published analysis of the electoral performance of the Congress party under Gandhi’s leadership. Later, we analysed how Rahul kept ‘coming of age’ despite failure after failure.
In the next part of the series, we try to assess Rahul Gandhi through some of his own words. It would be easy to pick some funny statements of Rahul Gandhi and dissect him. Nevertheless, vision and action are the two parts on which any leader is judged. For the former part, that is to offer vision for people, communication plays a pivotal role and there is no escape from this reality for any leader. Speaking in the language of people, offering solutions, articulation of problems and policies with clarity, unambiguous understanding of the issues are the requirements for anyone who aspires to be a leader. Any common man can speak about the system. A leader too can, but at the end of it he needs to offer an alternative. It is not enough for a leader to dream; he must enthuse the masses to accept those dreams as their own.
When we evaluate Rahul’s famous or infamous statements will be tested based on the above logic.
Issue: Women Empowerment
“President Kennedy said a rising tide raises all boats. I oversee a women’s self help group in my constituency whom I told about Kennedy’s remark. They said a rising tide doesn’t raise people who don’t have a boat.”
Rahul Gandhi made this comment when he was still the Vice President of Congress, back in April 2013. His constant speeches on the issue of ‘women empowerment’ can be seen in his infamous television interview in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
A leader is simply stating a problem without offering a clear solution. It is also a self-goal since he is admitting that the women of his constituencies don’t have resources to rise despite decades of his party being in power. A struggling woman in the rural areas hardly knows why quoting Kennedy should matter. In contrast, what did Narendra Modi do for the last five years? He spoke about simple things on the ground such as toilets, gas cylinders etc.
We are not the only one who see the things this way. Here is a take from ‘Time’ back in 2013.
Issue: On Youth
“I don’t know the details of NCC training and that type of stuff, so I won’t be able to answer that question…. But, as a young Indian person I’d like to give you an opportunity where you can have opportunities, a successful education and a future where you can thrive in this country.”
This was in March 2018, when a young female student in Karnataka had asked the Congress President about the benefits that he would extend to the NCC cadets who have cleared ‘C’ certificate examination
It is not about knowing or not knowing NCC. For a leader who pitches himself as the ‘leader of the youth’, the casual reply of ‘NCC training and that kind of stuff’ indicated that Rahul Gandhi is not investing much time or effort in understanding the issues related to youth.
Almost every average youth in India who has attended any college knows about NCC. Such answers, while eliciting laughter on the surface, send a deeper message – that Rahul Gandhi cannot relate with the average Indian youngster, and hence, cannot work for him.
Issue: On Poverty
“The poor can’t eat roads”. “Poverty is a state of mind. It does not mean the scarcity of food, money or material things. If one possesses self-confidence, then one can overcome poverty.” The first comment was made in 2014 in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls and the latter in 2013.
It conveys the message that, to Rahul Gandhi, poverty is just an intellectual idea, whereas for the poor, it is a daily reality. Such statements betray a lack of clarity in addressing the issue of poverty. Roads, toilets, electricity bring opportunities to the doors of the poor and they know it well. Rahul Gandhi tried to say making roads doesn’t help, without bothering about the simple economics of how infrastructure drives growth.
“Every-time one takes selfie in India, a Chinese youth gains employment”
Rahul Gandhi had said it in Gujarat in 2017 and has repeated these lines on many other occasions to ostensibly make a point that India is not generating employment on the lines of China.
As the leader of the opposition camp, Rahul Gandhi may have been right in picking the issue of the need for employment. But the problem is in poor articulation and facts. The very example he picked put him in backfoot. When the UPA tenure had ended, India had just 2 mobile manufacturing units. By the time Rahul Gandhi was making this speech, this number had gone up to 120. India had moved on from the Congress era but Rahul hadn’t. Again, nobody knew what Rahul would do about this supposed mobile manufacturing job creation in China, as opposed to India.
‘aloo ki factory’, ‘made in Lucknow mangoes’.
These words were uttered by Rahul Gandhi in his campaign to Uttar Pradesh assembly election in 2017.
There is no problem in treating these things as a slip of tongue and understand that instead of saying potato chips factory Rahul said he wanted to see ‘potato factory’. Some reports also claim that Rahul had referred wheat as a tree. Rahul Gandhi didn’t give any idea as how he would make aloo chips and Lucknow mangoes competitive in the global market, it suggests that his understanding of farming sector is only superficial.
Issue: Empowerment of Dalits and Backwards
The ‘escape velocity’ comment has been ridiculed for a long time. Moving beyond that ridicule, what is clear is Rahul Gandhi’s convoluted way of speaking. Even if you buy the concept of ‘escape velocity’, nobody knows what Rahul Gandhi would do to ensure Dalits become empowered. As for the ‘shikanji’ comment, it was lampooned for both its factual inaccuracy and lack of research on the part of Rahul Gandhi. In the age of the internet, making such statements which become a butt of internet ridicule is the easiest way to be thought of as a non-serious politician.
“A law that stopped a particular tribe in Iraq from getting government jobs…the network that was excluded from jobs in Iraq…the Tikriti tribal network linked up with the cellphone network of Iraq and with the network of artillery that was left in Iraq and you got an insurgency that fought to the United States and caused massive casualties to the Americans. That insurgency slowly entered empty spaces. It entered the empty space in Iraq. It entered the empty space in Syria. And, it, in the end, connected with the global internet to form the horrific idea called ISIS.” (August 2018, in Germany)
Rationalising terrorism? That is what Rahul Gandhi seems to be doing with this convoluted theory that some youth being excluded from jobs created the ISIS. It also exposes the shallow understanding of terrorism on the part of Rahul Gandhi as radicalised youth with good employment such as engineers, doctors also had joined the ISIS. It reminds us of another statement from Rahul Gandhi when he was still a general secretary of Congress party. After the Mumbai terror attack he said, “It is very difficult to stop every single terrorist attack. The idea is that we have to fight terrorism at the local level. ” He also said, “We will stop 99% terror attacks but one per cent of attacks might get through”
At a time when the world is taking a tough stand on terror, Rahul’s view on the subject presents him as an apologist of terror or worse, a person who is clueless about what drives terrorist groups.
Issue: Innovation & Industry
When he was the Vice President of the party, in an interaction with students in January 2016, Rahul Gandhi offered this gem, “You say you work in the Airline industry, so you are in the Aircraft industry. The Aircraft has tyres, so you are in the Rubber industry. The Aircraft has passengers, so you are in the people industry, you are in a food industry…So how can you say that you are working just in an Aircraft industry or in an Airline industry.”
When Rahul Gandhi was elevated to the post of President in the party his idea expanded from ‘aircraft/rubber industry’ to another bizarre idea of connecting all the MRI machines to revolutionise healthcare.
When he was general secretary of the party he had said, “India is the Saudi Arabia of 21st century and youth is responsible for it.”!
Muddled articulation comes from lack of original thinking or understanding of how the world works. Faced with a politician who makes such far-fetched statements bordering on the ridiculous, it is natural that the youth of the country would not take such a person seriously.
Issue: Knowledge about the Nation
Rahul Gandhi in October 2018 had shared a story on Sainik Schools that opened the doors to girls after half a century of its existence. While the story referred to Mizoram, Rahul instead wrote that it was of Manipur while sharing it.
The person who aspired to become Prime Minister of India, showed that he couldn’t tell Manipur from Mizoram.
The role of Vice President and President in the grand old party should have a person with some depth of understanding, if they want people to consider them seriously. Being goofy at times can be overlooked if the person still manages to offer substantial ideas. Many utterings of Rahul Gandhi, some of them before he was anointed Congress President, gave him an image of a non-serious contender. After that too, he continued on the same path, never able to go into any level of detail to articulate his vision for the country. What his ideas on serious issues like farmers, women empowerment, poverty etc are there to see in the above instances.
There is a slew of statements that indicate lack of depth, Rahul’s unwillingness to understand the things and his non-seriousness. Some funny statements he made before and after assuming the top post in the party need no deliberation. Just to mention them may show why Rahul Gandhi acquired the reputation that he has. They are:
Politics is everywhere. It’s in your pants, it’s in your shirt, its everywhere.
In India two out of every single kid is malnourished.
This morning, I got up at night.
If India is a computer, then Congress is its default program.
India is a beehive.
To end this piece, we quote Rahul Gandhi’s answer from an interview with India Today where he was asked a simple question on what fruit he likes. Read his answer for yourself.
Rahul Gandhi: I do Vipassana. The mind constructs the flavour of the fruit. You can like or dislike any fruit you want. You can choose to like mango, you can choose to hate it. You can choose to like poor people, you can choose to hate them. You construct everything in your mind. The mind decides everything. I might start off hating someone, but after a bit of interaction, I’ll see things through their eyes, and be like: Actually, I like him; he’s great’. But to answer your question: I like mangoes, I like bananas, I never used to like carrots, but now I do. I never used to like asparagus, but I do now.