Jawaharlal Nehru had a daughter. That daughter had a son. That son had a son. And that son is constantly blamed for it.
Lineages in India are more often than not mentioned with pride — but not for Rahul Gandhi, the son of an Italian mother with three Prime Ministers of India in his bloodline. And while he was (still) recovering from electoral defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, historian Ramachandra Guha chose to pounce on his legacy too.
At the recent Kerala Literature Festival in Kozhikode, Guha blamed Malayalis for electing Rahul Gandhi to Parliament from Wayanad. He also went on to say that the fifth-generation dynast stood no chance against self-made Narendra Modi. Last I checked, India was still a democracy and criticising a politician was normal. (This doesn’t apply to Ajay Singh Bisht though). Guha’s statement was especially unsurprising because he has blamed the Gandhis many times in the past.He has also clarified that this comment was cherry-picked from his speech at the lit fest.
But the battered image of Rahul Gandhi as an entitled half-politician has become the go-to criticism every time you want to show your allegiance to the powers that be. And Ramachandra Guha using the same old ‘dynast’ jibe at Rahul makes one think, did the detention in Bangalore get to him?
A false equivalence
One wonders how many times Ramachandra Guha has chided Modi voters in various constituencies for voting for the BJP. A historian has to assess and evaluate. Not admonish voters.
Modi has had a 15-year career as a chief minister and five as a prime minister. A Gandhi standing opposite him does not chip away at that image, as the Lok Sabha elections have proved. His past, with the Gujarat Model and Gujarat riots, has left no space for fence-sitting. Either you’re for Modi or against him.
Emphasising Modi’s self-made credentials would only make sense if Rahul Gandhi was in a position of power due to his lineage. He has barely sunk his teeth into Indian politics and has even lost the Gandhi bastion in Amethi. There are no electoral freebies for Rahul for just being a Gandhi. He is not even the Congress president anymore.
So, Guha is drawing a false equivalence. He is wrongly putting the onus of Modi being in power on one leader from the opposition, no matter how many times he’s been branded as irrelevant and matchless to the charisma and oration of Modi. Also, Guha should know by now that no one is actually self-made in politics. One can’t discredit the mammoth backing of the Sangh Parivar and corporates to Modi.
Wayanad’s loud No
I’m in no position to advice someone as able as Ramachandra Guha, but instead of admonishing Keralites, he should congratulate them for sending a big message to Amit Shah’s communal campaign in Wayanad. Shah had said Wayanad looked like Pakistan just because of the constituency’s sizeable Muslim population. The BJP has been trying to stake its claim in south India, and Wayanad voting Rahul is a loud ‘no’ to Shah’s divisive politics.
In fact, Guha sounds childish when belittling lineage. One would expect better of an ‘expert’ who boasts about the achievements of his nephew, son and grandfather. The smart genes definitely run in the family and there is no need to be embarrassed about it. Just like Rahul Gandhi doesn’t need to be apologetic about coming from a political family that has served India since before Independence.
A true historian wouldn’t
Guha’s speech at the Kerala lit fest is based on an article he wrote for Outlook where he discussed constitutional patriotism versus jingoism. In it, he tries to dissect the reasons why Modi came to power.
Guha mentions that one of the salient features of constitutional patriotism is the “ability to feel shame at the failures of our state and society”. Although one can’t deny that Guha has been rather critical of the Modi government, but creating the Modi vs ‘Rahul Gandhi and his fiefdom’ narrative is not only unimaginative, but also tries to put the onus of misgovernance by the Modi government on a person who barely has any stake in it.
Guha also faults the Left for having a greater allegiance to other countries such as erstwhile USSR and China rather than India. An even more irrelevant segment in India’s politics as it stands today.
Ramachandra Guha calls the “chamchagiri culture of the Congress Party” a big disgrace. There’s no denying it. The durbar-style organisation of Congress is insufferable. However, the chamchagiri is very much alive and kicking within the BJP too. Entire elections are run and fought only on one name — Narendra Modi. The jobs of the External Affairs Minister, Defence Minister, Finance Minister are in effect handled by the PM — from world tours to demonetisation to using clouds in airstrikes. These are things Guha doesn’t admonish voters for.
So, rather than drawing false equivalence and playing a balancing game, Ramachandra Guha should act like a true historian — one who knows that history remembers every word.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.