How immature can Rahul Gandhi be

20th year | Number 20 | 25th September 2017

by Edgar Benkwitz

It has become quiet about Rahul Gandhi, the descendants of the most famous political dynasty in India, the Nehru Gandhi family. For years Vice President of the Congress Party, the 47 year old was seen by many Indians as a beacon of hope for the top position in his party and in the state. However, to the general disappointment, he could not make up his mind to join the Congress government, which existed until 2014, as minister. He was also not enthusiastic about the chairmanship of the party, which his mother, Sonja Gandhi, has still occupied for 19 years. The opinion solidified that the Gandhi offspring was politically immature and inexperienced, that he lacks determination and willpower, and that he shies away from responsibility.
During a trip through the USA, Rahul Gandhi was confronted with questions about his political career and family origins right from the start. Not unusual, because after all, with his father Rajiv Gandhi, grandmother Indira Gandhi, great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru and great-great-grandfather Motilal Nehru, he looks back on an impressive line of ancestors that decisively shaped the new India. In this respect, curiosity and expectations are understandable on American soil as well.
Now, Rahul Gandhi, who has been politically active since 2004, is hardly known to have made any statements about his famous ancestors. On the contrary, he tries to downplay his origins. Just recently at Berkeley University, where he referred to himself as a “political dynast” when asked, but dismissed the unpleasant topic with the remark that all of India was ruled by dynasties. And he added, surprisingly, that he was now "absolutely ready to take on a managerial responsibility." He had never heard of him before, and in his home country there was immediate speculation that the head of the Congress Party would soon be handed over from mother Sonja to son Rahul. There are now increasing signs that this could happen as early as October.
His comment on a dynastic culture in today's India, which he obviously wishes to see as something normal in his own interest, aroused sharp criticism in his homeland. A “failed dynast” was defending this state of affairs, which his party had only introduced in India in the first place. Treasury Secretary Jaitley, the strong man in government, castigated the reference as a national disgrace and an attack on Indian wisdom.
It is a fact, however, that the highest offices in India today - such as President, Vice President and Prime Minister - are held by representatives from simple, therefore non-dynastic backgrounds. The composition of the Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi also largely stays away from dynastic representatives. But the topic is still present. Notorious are family clans with a dynastic background in large union states such as Tamilnadu, Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, which are repeatedly associated with abuse of power, corruption and crime. A study by Professors Tantri and Thota from Hyderabad shows that the Indian parliament is also interspersed with dynasts. According to them, 97 such representatives sat here in the 2004–2009 legislative period, and 136 (out of a total of 545 members) from 2009–2014. An investigation in their constituencies revealed considerable democratic and social deficits compared to constituencies of non-dynastic MPs.
However, there is more to the discussion about the role of dynasties. A growing middle class, self-confident and often nationalistic, is asking critical questions about their country's recent past. The focus is on why India developed so slowly in the first 40 to 50 years of its independence and still faces huge social problems today. Comparisons are made with other Asian countries that had a similar starting position as India, but have meanwhile rushed far away from it. So, of course, China, which was about the same economically as India in 1970, but is four to five times stronger today. South Korea and some ASEAN countries are also mentioned. It is quickly concluded that the political leadership of the country at the time, which until the eighties of the last century was almost always provided by the Nehru Gandhi family, is responsible for this. Their adherence to ideological principles resulted in low growth rates and sluggish development. It is even claimed that J. Nehru and Indira Gandhi decisively inhibited the development of India with a socialist planned economy, secularism, tolerance, non-pacts and closeness to the Soviet Union. Cases are also mentioned where capable politicians of the Congress Party were set back in favor of upholding the dynastic claims of the Nehrus and Gandhis and refused them high offices in party and state. This line of argument is consciously driven by Hindu nationalist forces and used in the political daily struggle.
One has to credit Rahul Gandhi for wanting to avoid such ahistorical accusations and the bickering about them as much as possible. Nevertheless, he cannot avoid the debate and has to face a mood in circles of the Congress party that see the Nehru Gandhi family as the last binding agent to hold together a badly battered and crumbling party. They dream that the last capable scion of this family can lead the party again and to new heights. But this wishful thinking is far removed from the political reality. The once proud Congress Party, which ruled for 37 years in the first 42 years of independent India and also provided state government in most of the Union states, is now struggling to maintain its claim to a national party. She only has 44 seats in the lower house. And in the 29 states of the Union it only governs in five directly or with alliances.
In contrast, the big rival, the Hindu nationalist Indian People's Party (BJP), has 281 seats in the lower house and governs alone or in alliances in 18 union states. It provides the Prime Minister, the President, the Vice-President (also Speaker of the House of Lords) and the Speaker of the House of Commons. According to many observers, the Congress Party has lost touch with political developments and is doing nothing to restore it. On the other hand, the BJP continues to expand the positions it has achieved with great commitment and all available means.
A new parliament will be elected in India in just over two years. In all likelihood, little will change in the existing political power structure with Hindu nationalist dominance. Large parts of the country's political, but above all the intellectual elite, are frustrated by this development and believe that the leadership of the Congress Party is partly to blame for this situation. They do not understand - so they say - that their party is urgently needed to shape the country as a counterweight to the Hindu nationalist forces. Capable and competent politicians should take their lead. The existing but neglected nationwide party structure could be reactivated with new constructive ideas. Lost trust must be regained, because this is the only way to win over the multitude of politically willing forces across parties.
The dilemma for the last political dynast of India, Rahul Gandhi, aptly characterized the Times of Indiawho took up his saying "I am ready" and in turn asked the question: "But is India ready for him?"