Whenever you write about Rahul Gandhi or mention him, the reaction you get from Rahul Gandhi supporters (they preface their support with “I am not a supporter of Rahul Gandhi” because if there is anything that hurts more than being a Kolkata Knight Riders fan is fessing up to love for this royal scion) is “if Rahul Gandhi is of no significance, why do you bother about him?”
Well, it is not universally true that Rahul Gandhi is not significant. Politically, in Indian elections, yes. For now, and I say for now, because Indian politics is so fickle and the forces that have propped up the family are not without resources and have the brains to play the long game. But for the West, particularly to large swathes of Europeans and North Americans whose interest in India is merely perfunctory, he represents “royal blood”, which ties into their idea of India being still a land of elephants and kings and the Gunga-din, and so while we in India might take his pronouncements with the seriousness reserved for the dialogs of Batuknath Lalan Prasad Malpaani’ (played by Shakti Kapoor in Chaalbaaz), given that both of them are perennially “chota sa, pyara sa, nanha sa, baccha”, regrettably that is not the case internationally. Add to it the fluent English, lack of Indian accent, and the Caucasian-friendly looks, Rahul Gandhi represents a comforting face to a Western audience and so what he says, unfortunately, matters.
Rahul Gandhi’s handlers have realized this, which is why Rahul Gandhi is often seen in the “phoren”, talking to people who do not have a vote in India, while his own party leaders rue the fact that the man is not available to meet his party’s grassroot leaders back in India.
Sample some of his priceless lines here:
“A democratic context depends on certain structures, it depends on an election system that is free, a judiciary that is independent, and a press that is fair and, very importantly, depends on the type of money that different political formations have. If we are fighting an electoral contest, then we are fighting the institutional structure of India.” (Link
Now if Trump and his acolytes cast aspersions on the American electoral system, without an iota of proof, it is called fascism. When Rahul Gandhi does exactly the same, without an iota of proof, it is called dissent.
But the topic of this piece is not the royal scion throwing mud at the Indian electoral system just because he is a sore loser. That is old hat.
I am writing this because this gentleman is saying something way more dangerous. And not just once.
Sample the headline of the piece.
The word “nation” is a Western concept, says the forever-emergent prince of Indian democracy, India is a union of states LIKE EUROPE. (Capitalization mine)
So the corollary is evident. If Brittan could exit the European Union through a referendum, so can Kashmir and Punjab and whoever-so-wishes exit from the Union of India. If my family can’t rule it , well no one else shall either.
Fans of Rahul Gandhi (who will hasten to add that they are not) will say he is merely repeating what is written in the Indian constitution. Yes, well-caught and here is an ice-cream. Now listen. When India was formed in 1947, it indeed was a union of states, princely (565 of them) and British-held, and the likes of Sardar Patel used instruments of accession to create that union. The essence of the establishment of India as a sovereign, socialist democratic republic was to fuse those “states” into one indivisible whole. After independent India was established as a “nation”, the states were then further divided and sub-divided, through action at the federal level, proving again and again, as if it needed proving, that India was “nation”. Brussels, on the other hand, cannot decide to split a constituent “union” member. Of course, if Rahul Gandhi only knew that the “N” in his party stands for “national” and not for “Nehru”, his great grandfather, maybe he would not have been able to say what he said with a straight face.
I can be wrong. Rahul Gandhi does set his own standards.
Which brings me to Jawaharlal Nehru. It has become fashionable by those who get their history on Twitter and Whatsapp to dump on Nehru, but let’s accept that, despite his faults, of which there were many, Nehru set into place many of India’s robust democratic institutions that have made it what it is, with a sagacity that was beyond many of those who currently appropriate his brand. One of his greatest intellectual achievements, and yes he was a true intellectual of the highest order, regardless of whether you agreed with all he said or not, was to precisely formulate the notion of India as a “nation”, one that his great grandkid is so desperately trying to roll back.
Those people Rahul Gandhi is speaking to in Cambridge, their ancestors, long-coated Occidental experts and genteel British liberals, had actually promulgated the theory that India was never a nation, but merely an union of princely states. Yes, and there is more iron-y here than in Shimoga, is exactly what Rahul Gandhi is parroting back to them today. Let no one accuse the man of being original, as they say.
So the old British liberal line was that India did not exist as a concept. The notion of nation, and the British obviously used Western ideals drawn from Western political philosophy, of Plato and Thomas Hobbes and the rest, was foreign to India. What existed as India was a British construct, just like the concept of a nation and hence any independence, should it be given, should be given back to the states. It was then that Nehru, who along with others, dismantled that philosophical argument by pointing to history, before the British came, of an idea of India, captured in the annals of foreign travelers as an individual unit. No matter who ruled, the philosophical unity that is felt by the people has remained and it is that identifies itself as a nation, indivisible and fundamental.
This philosophical underpinning of Indian nationhood is nothing remotely close to the Union of European Union, and I would have possibly wondered if Rahul Gandhi has ever read the works of his own great grandfather but having seen the man in action over the years, I know the answer. Just because the word “union” is there in the Indian constitution, and the word “union” is there in the European Union, does not mean they are in any way similar, just like there is a reserved word called “union” in the C language, which has nothing to do with either.
This is not just a cheap shot at someone with a series of gaffes as long as IPL trophies in CSK’s trophy cabinet, a marginal player in Indian politics, whose main significance is that he makes BJP wins elections.
No, this is to say something much deeper about the very nature of what India is.