Thursday, November 08, 2012

Not what the country had hoped for

In India, the political paradigm seems to shift with general elections; be it 1967, 1971, or the more recent 2004, at the time you could almost hear the political cosmic clock go 'tick'.
Given the many variables at play during a general election in a country of the size of India, no one person or event determines that shift of belief systems, yet after the event you know that you are now in a new era.
What we have just witnessed is an effort to move that paradigm a good 16 or so months before the next elections are due, in May of 2014. Sunday's Cabinet rejig was said to be all about bringing the age of youth in the Grand Old Party. But somehow we haven't quite heard that 'click' as yet.

Rahul Gandhi may remain behind the scenes, but the reshuffle was designed to usher in the Age of Youth to the Grand Old Party


Critics have panned the exercise, calling it half-hearted and incomplete and commenting that the expected arrival of the Rahul Gandhi era has once again been inexplicably delayed. There were expectations that the reshuffle would mark the point where the political calculus met the national demographics. But this has not happened.
Perhaps this awaits a parallel exercise in the party's organisational functioning. But if the reshuffle is an indicator, it would be unlikely. Even less so than government, the GOP does not seem quite ready to hand over charge to those who will inherit its tomorrow.
But, the party supporters will argue, this was not meant to be a coup de theatre, but a joint effort by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, party president Sonia Gandhi and her heir Rahul Gandhi to take the party away from old patronage/welfare state networks to a forward-looking, pragmatic and non-ideological era.
The Congress is by no means a revolutionary party. Ms Gandhi and Dr Singh are not about to do anything as courageous as come up with "out of the box" solutions that many are urging them to undertake. Their complex task is not merely to enhance the image of the government in New Delhi through the Cabinet reshuffle, but to also triangulate regional and local caste, age and gender equations.
Rahul Gandhi notwithstanding, they are not about to let the Grand Old Party be subject to the politics of courage on the basis of the two bad years it has passed through. Even so, change has been in the air for a while. The dominoes started falling ever since Ms Sonia Gandhi was reluctantly compelled to accept Pranab Mukherjee as the party's presidential candidate.
In an odd way, the quintessential representative of the older generation became the unlikely agent of change because along with him went the mental block against change. The pro-changers have been helped, again paradoxically, by the anti-corruption campaign that has kept the stalwarts on the defensive.
The young, untainted yet, have studiously kept away from defending the Kalmadis, the Rajas, or for that matter Salman Khurshid and Robert Vadra.

Rajiv Gandhi

If you hear the echoes of Rajiv Gandhi in the current ethos, you will not be mistaken and it is no surprise that many of those being pushed to the centre stage - Kamal Nath, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Lalit Maken - were the youth brigade of the 1980s era.
In contrast, today's youth group have actually had a chance to taste the political future. Many of them were already in government, albeit as junior ministers - Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, RPN Singh, Jitin Prasada or Purandeswari.
If the eventual takeaway for the Congress of today can indeed replicate the serendipity of the Rajiv Gandhi period and fulfil what he saw as the mandate of pragmatic modernism, it will be a great achievement. However we should not be trapped by notions of ageism.
Generational change does not occur in one dramatic moment, it is always taking place. Look at the Congress party, within it are people born in the 1920s - Treasurer Motilal Vora - thirties like Prime Minister Singh, those born in the mid 1940s - Sonia Gandhi or Kamal Nath and those from the nineteen fiftees, sixties and, like Rahul from the 1970s. All of them are in leadership positions and it is difficult to say where one generation ends and the other begins.


On the other hand, time only goes one way - you get older and eventually fade away and die. So there is no turning the clock back. The young will inherit the earth, like it or not and it is always good to work out planned successions, rather than be overwhelmed by them.
Paradigm shifts are more complex, especially when you are a participant-observer and they involve many variables. You can't really pinpoint the day when people stopped believing that the earth was flat, what they did instead was to stop believing it over a period of time, and hey, presto, one day we all began to accept it.
Something like that is happening with the Congress party. On one hand, age and illness is set to take its toll of a generation of leaders and on the other, shifts in ideas, aspirations, the march of technology and the destructive force of contemporary events - not in the least the attack on cronyism and corruption - are altering the belief systems of the party.
We now have a generation of younger leaders who do not - repeat do not - believe that socialism or even socialistic policies are the answer, or that India must forever march to the tune of non-alignment. They have seen the destruction of the old political ways of doing things, but have not been given the opportunity to show their thing.
So the arrival of the Rahul Gandhi era remains an enigma. His men are swarming the ramparts of the Grand Old Party, but have not quite breached them. Like their mentor, they are still waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, India's decade of demographic opportunity is passing us by.
Mail Today October 29, 2012

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