Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi (file photo)
Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Gandhi dynasty, is back in Delhi after his controversial 2-month disappearance, but he is still playing an old tune. There were hopes in the Congress party that its vice president, who some still appear to believe can turn its fortunes around, would bring fresh ideas back with him from his Vipassana retreat in Thailand, but no, he has stuck to his family’s signature’s tune: the Congress is the saviour of the farmers and the poor. What Rahul forgot to mention is that farmers are still committing suicide after half a century of Congress rule.
Actually the tottering party needs farmers and the poor more than they need it. 80,000 farmers were bussed into the capital on Sunday to attend the Congress rally, many of whom were actually unaware of the government amendments to the land acquisition bill that they were supposed to be protesting.
But we are digressing. Rahul’s supporters had claimed in February when he upped and left suddenly, that the 44-year old had gone away to “introspect”. By that it was assumed that he would ponder over the Congress’ spectacular defeats in the past year and work out a reform plan to bring in fresh ideas and internal elections to make the Congress relevant today. With anti-corruption party AAP engrossed in a self-inflicted purge, there is political space for a forward-looking reenergised party to play the role of opposition.
But Rahul has belied those hopes - the Congress under him and his mother Sonia is not forward-looking. His lip service to reforms and internal elections have all been dispensed with, and it is back to familiar territory: the family knows best.
Rahul alleged in his speech on Sunday that industrialists had funded the BJP’s election victory last year and the NDA government would snatch farmers’ lands to repay that funding. This is highly defamatory – with no evidence put forward by him, Rahul has actually left himself open to prosecution.
He has also unwittingly reminded everyone of his brother-in-law Robert Vadra’s dubious land dealings, in which tracts of land in Haryana were sold to Vadra for a pittance, which he then sold off to developers at inflated sums. There was obviously no mention of Vadra in Rahul’s speech, but Vadra remains the elephant in the room whenever the Congress tries to take the high moral ground on land acquisition.
Rahul would serve his party best by proposing real structural changes – starting with an internal election. AAP has shown it does not believe in internal party democracy, so perhaps the Congress could steal that position and set the new political standard in the country.
For an internal election to be free and fair, the Gandhis need to make it clear that no position in the party is off limits. Only by earning their right to lead the party again can the Gandhis once again become relevant in 21st century India.
Unfortunately, knowing Sonia and Rahul, that is one battle they are not interested in fighting. It is far easier to shout at a farmers’ rally and to lead protest marches in Delhi than to offer any real change.