Rahul Gandhi’s Berkeley speech, unlike Nehru’s, was a private affair. Bereft of an element of thought, he expressed his own state of mind and that of his party’s – lacking in direction and cohesion
Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech, delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, on October 31, 1949, was titled, ‘The age of crisis.’ One can’t help but express an interesting analogy and it is that the Congress, of which Nehru was once the patriarch, and which is now run by his puny and intellectually stunted descendents, is itself passing through its most acute ‘age of crisis.’
Nehru’s great grandson, who is not at all a chip off the old block, when he delivered a semblance of an address at the University of California, Berkeley last week, should have similarly titled his speech and qualified it thus: “The age of crisis – in the Congress and the role of the present Nehru-Gandhis.” Such a title and topic would have better enabled the audience in the university to understand how one of India’s principal political party is seeing rapid decimation due to its myopic, confused and uninspiring leadership and of how a number of challenges that India faces today is a result of decades of faulty planning, misdirected application of political thought and petty dynastism that the Congress under Nehru’s daughter, grandson, grand daughter-in-law and now great grandson brazenly promoted.
The point on the dynasty bit, Nehru’s great grandson accepted, but in his inimitably callow and confused style, displaying a deep and striking degree of thoughtlessness, he decided to exempt himself and his dynasty from promoting the scourge of dynastism and chose to castigate, instead, our collective psyche for being addicted to it. Had the audience in Berkeley, or at least the self-professed thinking ones among them, examined India today, they would have perceived how it has broken through the manacles of dynastism, of how it is led by leaders who have come up from the roots, from the soil through a ceaseless phase of struggle and toil among the people. This transformation is especially noteworthy because it has happened in the last three years, starting from the summer of 2014. This shift happened not because Nehru’s descendents and their courtiers had ordained it; it has happened and is happening inspite of them.
To return to Nehru’s speech, it was well organised – he was officially invited as the Prime Minister of India – was reflective, ruminative, philosophical and gave an insight into Nehru’s own state of mind, his quest – intellectual and political – and also gave some idea of the position that he wished India would eventually occupy in the comity of nations. On this occasion at least, Nehru did not lapse into lecturing and moralising, it was more of a public introspection of his quest, of India’s march after freedom and of the overall global geo-political situation post World War II. It is another matter that Nehru’s month-long trip to the US in 1949 achieved little in political and foreign policy terms, though it had generated interest and anticipation in the US Administration and among the intelligentsia alike.
Nehru spoke of how all his life he was “engaged in a quest of – the discovery of my own country – India” and how during the course of this life’s journey, he found much in his country that inspired him, much that interested him and much that made him “understand a little of what India was and is today” and yet, his quest continued, “India, with the weight of ages behind it and with its urges and desires in the present, has only been partially discovered by me and I am continually finding new facets of its many-sided personality that continually surprise me.”
Nehru argued that the aim of freedom was to free and to uplift the millions out of their burdens, “there was always an economic facet to our political struggle for freedom. We realised that there was no real freedom for those who suffered continually from want, and because there were millions who lacked the barest necessities of existence in India, we thought of freedom in terms of raising and bettering the lot of these people. Having achieved political freedom, it is our passionate desire to serve our people in this way and to remove the many burdens they have carried for generations past”.
Nehru’s descendents, however, were not as passionate about working out this second dimension of freedom – economic empowerment – as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is today. This section of Nehru’s speech directs one to Modi’s own exhortations today of liberating the millions of their burdens of marginalisation, exclusion and dependency. Nehru’s speech had its flashes of inspiration and makes for good reading even today.
In contrast, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s speech was a confused cacophony. Bereft of the element of thought, full of random and disjointed expressions and arguments, Gandhi’s address – if it may be called one – essentially expressed his own state of mind and that of his party’s – lacking in direction, cohesion, and in intellectual quotient. What could have been utilised as an occasion to spell the Congress’ or the Opposition’s vision of India for the future, articulated in a cogent, civil and intellectual manner, actually degenerated into a rant by a mind that appeared to often plummet into the depths of despair, of mental trauma while displaying an ignorance of the spirit of India, of aspirational India and of its civilisational dimension. It displayed a mind which was occupied in trying to fish in the sand with his back turned to the vast sea.
That Gandhi had not yet discovered India, was nowhere near understanding its many dimensions, was evident from the cavalier manner in which he spoke of the people of India and commented on their mindsets and attitudes and went an extra mile to exonerate his party and family from the contribution they made to their plight. His refusal to condemn the many atrocities, especially the anti-Sikh pogrom, that took place under the Congress’ watch, often aided and fuelled by their cadres, manifested his arrogance, complacency and his incapacity for introspection and directional overhaul. That it was a stunted mind which spoke was evident when people in the audience were prevented from asking Gandhi questions while only crony intellectuals with set questions were given space.
Gandhi’s attacks on Prime Minister Modi, his immature rants against the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, his false narrative of an India under siege, have actually breached the golden rule of not carrying the baggage of domestic politics abroad, it is an act which needs to be, henceforth, responded to in kind at every occasion and opportunity.
The narrative in response must describe how Gandhi’s party landed India in a great mess, widened faultlines, left festering conflicts, engineered societal chasms, all for its political benefit and of how now, under leaders from the grassroots, that mess is sought to be addressed, to be rectified against great odds – in short how Congress under the Gandhis subverted India and how India under Narendra Modi is waging India’s second struggle for a many-fronted emancipation from that subversion.
Meanwhile let us be happy that Gandhi’s talk, unlike Nehru’s, was an entirely private affair, was attended largely by dissatisfied cronies who had points to score in India, the occasion prevented a free flow of thought and exchange and was more of a mannequin infested puppetry show. Rahul Gandhi’s address itself is already being buried in the dump-heap of history’s refuse.