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HomeOpinionPolitically CorrectFive lessons for Rahul Gandhi from what Machiavelli said 500 years ago

Five lessons for Rahul Gandhi from what Machiavelli said 500 years ago

Niccolò Machiavelli’s 16th century seminal treatise, The Prince, could offer some advice to Rahul Gandhi after the G-23 rebellion and Ahmed Patel’s death.

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Is there another Ahmed Patel in the Congress who can make a Sonia Gandhi out of Rahul Gandhi? When she had taken over as the Congress president in 1998, she reminded many of Ram Mahohar Lohia’s gungi gudiya description of her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi. But Sonia, who tentatively read out Hindi speeches written in Roman script, soon evolved into a formidable politician. Ahmed Patel was credited with her transformation.

The discussion about Rahul’s Patel has become more intense after the Congress’ dismal show in Hyderabad municipal polls; it saw the party meekly ceding its political space to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in yet another state, Telangana. A day later, veteran politician Sharad Pawar seemed to endorse former US president Barack Obama’s assessment of Rahul, saying there were ‘questions’ about Gandhi’s ‘consistency’ when it came to the people of India accepting his leadership. Obama had earlier left Congress leaders wringing their hands in despair and rage with his observation that Gandhi lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject.

Rahul Gandhi needs an Ahmed Patel, for sure, but his party colleagues see none around — at least none in the coterie surrounding the former-and-future Congress president. Rahul may, therefore, like to look up the Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli’s 16th-century seminal treatise, The Prince. Machiavelli’s ideas might be unscrupulous, dishonest, deceitful, and evil, but Rahul may find The Prince a very familiar and instructive read, even providing solutions to the concerns raised by the G-23 in their famous letter to Sonia Gandhi.

Also read: Can Ashok Gehlot be the next Ahmed Patel for Congress? Conditions apply

Too fortunate

Let’s start with the chapter on why Machiavelli thought the princes of Italy lost their states: “Do not let our princes accuse fortune for the loss of their principalities after so many years’ possession, but rather their own sloth…and when the bad times came, they thought of flight and not of defending themselves…and they hoped that the people, disgusted with the insolence of the conquerors, would recall them.”

Rahul Gandhi wouldn’t agree, of course. But many in the Congress — and not just the G-23 — find the current leadership slothful. When Amit Shah, J.P. Nadda, Yogi Adityanath — and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi who showed up to visit vaccine-maker Bharat Biotech’s facility — were in Hyderabad projecting the BJP as the principal opposition party in Telangana, the Gandhi family was holidaying in Goa to beat Delhi’s pollution. Machiavelli’s princes hoped to be recalled by the people once they were disgusted with the insolence of the ‘conquerors’. There is nothing wrong with Rahul nurturing the same hope. Only that the conquerors in 21st century India, Modi and Shah, enjoy more credibility than their putative challenger.

Machiavelli, in his political treatise, offers at least four other lessons to Rahul in The Prince:

Also read: In Congress after Ahmed Patel, Rahul Gandhi needs to play the bigger person, call for unity

A full-time job

“A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study than war and its rules and discipline…when princes have thought more of ease than of arms, they have lost their states… what enables you to acquire a state is to be master of the art…a prince who does not understand the art of war, over and above the other misfortunes, cannot be respected by his soldiers.”

This advice from Machiavelli is the second lesson for Rahul Gandhi. Replace ‘war’ with ‘politics’ in the above-quoted paragraph and you wonder if Obama was thinking about The Prince when he was writing his observation about the Congress leader. Rahul Gandhi is not a full-time politician and the G-23 said as much in their controversial letter, demanding a visible and active party president. He can’t have ‘ease’. A full-time politician doesn’t have weekend offs, casual/medical/French leaves, summer/winter vacations as also spring breaks and sabbaticals, preferably abroad. He doesn’t have to follow the UK’s working time directive of 48 hours a week.

So, who wants the Congress president’s job in an era of 24×7 politicians like Modi and Amit Shah?

Also read: Anand Sharma’s praise of Modi’s vaccine tour is indirect thumbs-down to Rahul Gandhi’s line

An enterprising machine

The third lesson for Rahul in The Prince is an extension of the second: “As regards action, he ought above all things to keep his men well-organised and drilled, to follow incessantly the chase, by which he accustoms his body to hardships, and learns something of the nature of localities, and gets to find out how the mountains rise, how the valleys open out, how the plains lie, and to understand the nature of rivers and marshes, and in all this to take the greatest care… it teaches him to surprise his enemy, to select quarters, to lead armies….”

In a nutshell, the prince, Rahul in this case, must keep at politics all the time, and keep his organisational machinery well-oiled by incessantly following ‘the chase’. That’s what Amit Shah does. After dislodging the Congress and the Left (Tripura) from the northeast, he has moved on to uncharted territories such as West Bengal, Kerala, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu. The chase may be difficult and not always rewarding, but Shah is always at it. But Rahul doesn’t believe in the chase or in hardships. He says if India is a computer, the Congress is its default programme. If you follow his perspective, you may see that the electoral debacles in the past six years were mere software glitches.

Machiavelli offers another perspective: “Nothing makes a prince so much esteemed as great enterprises and setting a fine example. We have in our time Ferdinand of Aragon, the present King of Spain….In the beginning of his reign, he attacked Granada and this enterprise was the foundation of his dominions…he assailed Africa, he came down on Italy, he has finally attacked France; his achievements and designs… have kept the minds of his people in suspense and admiration… his actions have arisen in such a way that men have never been given time to work steadily against him.”

Let’s study just one ‘great enterprise’ of Rahul Gandhi. In the run-up to the 2007 Uttar Pradesh assembly election, he took it upon himself to rigorously screen aspiring Congress candidates. He interviewed them, asking questions about the number of LPG cylinders and electricity connections in their constituencies and why they thought they made the cut as the Congress candidate in a particular constituency. Only 22 of the 393 Congress candidates could win. In the 2012 poll campaign, he told people he wouldn’t leave UP until he brought development to them, no matter whether they voted for him or not. They didn’t and he left. In the 2017 assembly election, he piggybacked on the Samajwadi Party but the people still didn’t repose trust in the Congress. Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Rahul entrusted his sister, Priyanka, to complete his unfinished agenda in UP. His track record in other states is not awe-inspiring either. No wonder, Congress leaders who wouldn’t speak against the Gandhi family even in private have been thinking and talking aloud, of late.

The company you keep

Machiavelli offers the fourth lesson to Rahul Gandhi in The Prince: “The first opinion that one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men around him. When they are capable and faithful, he may always be considered wise….But when they are otherwise, one cannot form a good opinion of him….There are three classes of intellect: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehended; and, a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others. The first is the most excellent, the second is good, the third is useless.”

The background of some of the people trusted by Rahul Gandhi speaks volumes: Randeep Singh Surjewala, who lost the last two assembly elections in Haryana and messed up in Bihar assembly polls; K.C. Venugopal, who refused to contest from his Alappuzha seat in Kerala in 2019; Rajiv Satav, who refused to defend his Maharashtra Lok Sabha seat. Sonia Gandhi allowed Ahmed Patel & Co. to run the show for her, successfully. Rahul doesn’t belong in the first two categories. “There is no other way of guarding oneself from flatterers except letting men understand that to tell you the truth does not offend you,” says Machiavelli, adding that a prince who is not wise himself will never take good advice, unless by chance he has yielded his affairs entirely to one person who “happens to be a very prudent man.” But Rahul probably only read the next sentence — “In this case indeed he may be well governed but it would not be for long because such a governor would in a short time take away his state from him.”

Also read: Why Sonia, Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi have not said a word on Yogi govt’s ‘love jihad’ law

Trust and inspiration

Given how the Gandhi family has reacted to G-23’s letter to Sonia, it’s unlikely that it would heed Machiavelli’s fifth piece of advice: “There never was a new prince who has disarmed his subjects; rather when he has found them disarmed he has always armed them because by arming them, those arms become yours, those men who were distrusted become faithful, and those who were faithful are kept so….Princes…have found more fidelity and assistance in those men who in the beginning of their rule were distrusted than those who in the beginning were trusted.”

G-23 can only hope.

Machiavelli has another advice: “To exercise the intellect the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former; and above all do as an illustrious man did who took as an exemplar one who had been praised and (became) famous before him…as it is said Alexander the Great imitated Achilles.”

Rahul Gandhi would have none of that. He won’t praise or emulate any victor (read Modi). Amit Shah’s exploits won’t impress or inspire him. Like the Italian princes, Rahul seems convinced that Indians will be forced to ‘recall’ him. If only Machiavelli had known the Gandhi family and modern Indian princes!

Views are personal.

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  1. You sir, say read read and read! Fine, but who will read, Rahul. Forget it, does he have the strength to do that. In fact will he understand reading The Prince. Why waste words on someone who doesn’t understand the difference between chalk and cheese. .

  2. That’s right. Read Machiavelli. Read and read and then try to implement it. But don’t try and use common sense, don’t work for people’s benefit, don’t even try to, take your vacations when regular people are under a lock down or suffering from Covid. Just act on whatever foolish ideas pop in your head. There will always be Machiavelli’s philosophy and teachings to bring you around and win people’s hearts. Meanwhile, Congress can hope and pray that their leader reads the book and understands it but they will not find a new president for themselves. They will go down with the dynasts in the hope that one day…. one day at long last this prince will rise to the occasion only by reading Machiavelli. What a royal waste of time.

  3. Other than Shekar Gupta rest are bunch are leftist liberals pushing crap on this site. What business does news site have in pushing an agenda or propping up a party. So much for fresh take on journalism, same old crap you see in other places,

  4. In India it is plain and simple caste war. Congress has lost both caste and religion backing. Hence Rahul and Priyanka can only wait for opportune time when contradictions within support base of present ruling dispensation surfaces.

    • It would be a mistake to say that caste is the only issue that’s plaguing India. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who was instrumental in the abolition of the practice of Sati, was also resolving a social ill. In reality, the problems that plague India society, social, political, etc are part of a multi variate problem. Each issue, including Caste system, is responsible for the current social fabric structure of India. Abhorrent as it may be, Indian society is in inertia where people see the problems, know the solution, but are so dependent and accepting of the status quo, including those who claim to be “woke”, its hard to make changes without tearing that fabric because it changes the way a society interacts. As Newton stated in his third law of motion, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The goal should be to overcome that reaction, not with violence, anger, and an echo chamber but through a force of compassion, respect for a fellow human being which would be the bedrock for an honest and hard conversation. The goal of such a dialogue should be the equitable resolution of current conflicts where parties who join the dialogue must understand that the end goal requires an intent to address all past and present societal issues. The need for and the ability to have a hard conversation is required. Adding strategic depth for an argument by writing PhDs and pursuing ideological purity in a world which is imperfect would only result in a world where people talk at each other instead of with each other. Mr. Rahul Gandhi is a symptom of a larger problem. Their initial pursuit, after independence, of a full powered, unanswerable majority, which breaks state level governments for defying its diktats and questioning the federal government is well known and well documented. That has created this thirst in other political parties to seek political domination instead of coexistence. It has come a full circle with the BJP in power, seeking to wipeout Congress from India, a Congress free India. Pursuing ideological purity is the bane of this world, not only India. Pursuit of religious ideological purity leads to misguided, uneducated, sheeple (people who behave like sheep) killing others in the name of God, you can have your pick of them. Pursuit of a political ideological purity leads to fascism if it concerns hard right wing politics and communism if its the hard left. Worst is when the pursuit of religious and political ideological purity mixes and creates a different beast like Hindutva and Political Islam. It destroys any chance to find common ground as the ideological purity itself would be the first barrier to building mutual trust and the ability to cooperate and recognize that in the pursuit of an ideology, you destroy the nation towards whom loyalties should be in the first place.

  5. Crispy and Good advice. But wasted since you yourself implied Rahul Gandhi has the intellect of the third class. A new Congress president or more hardships for average Indians.

  6. It is the slothfulness in the society which is trying to prop up the reluctant politician in RG.
    It is the reluctance of the media to not call faults of gargantuan proportions of the govt and instead bemoan state of affairs in congress which is out of power.
    Somewhere you want RG to fight your battles, but you don’t stop fighting him 🙂 …

  7. Instead of asking Rahul to find another AP, Congress needs to find another president.

    A strong opposition is imperative for strong democracy.

  8. 1. Why are you giving lesson to Rahul Gandhi? Has he asked you for lesson? 2. Do you think that Rahul Gandhi has time to read your essay? 3. If you seriously want to say something to Rahul Gandhi why don’t you write to him personally.
    You are wasting time of readers.

    • Mr. Donkey, these pieces may seem to be written as lesson to someone but these are important to understand the politics. These are not advises/lessons to Rahul Gandhi but to the readers to understand the polity. Democracy are governed by both ruling and opposition party, hence it is important to understand the dynamics of each. These articles are for readers to understand the polity of opposition parties/leaders.

  9. Shri Rahul Gandhi may well be right that India may still call him. After all he is still not 50 and BJP may not win forever beyond Shri Modi and Shri Shah’s time. But then, there is always a Prince Charles!

    • RG is reluctant now … After Modi and shah are done and india will be behind nigeria or namibia, do you think prince will be eager to come and take you out of the rut.

  10. The Prince. The best book for politics. No, Rahul is not made of that stuff. Nehru was 24×7. It is because of him that Congress ruled till 2014. Just like because of Akbar the Mughal empire lasted till Aurangzeb.

  11. An excellent article. Perhaps, the greatest handicap that Rahul suffers from (as if all the above was not bad enough) is that he firmly believes that mere ridicule, cheap jibes, childish acronyms and mockery, (some of it so personal as to betray his hatred) all aimed at Modi day in and day out, without either substance or sense is sufficient to convince the voters to make him, Rahul, PM immediately. He never learns ANYTHING from any electoral reverse, despite there being TOO MANY of them to count. Salvation is impossible.

  12. Why Congress leaders win elections on their own instead of depending on Gandhis
    They should stand on their own challenge Gandhis. Unfortunately, BJP still depends on
    Modi only Modi. The way Civic election campaign was carried out, there was no chance non TRS parties except the one under Muslim BJP

  13. Another typical left liberal piece of advice obsessed with RaGa. Why him, why not someone else as an alternative ?? Why try to elevate a prideful, entitled brat as a serious politician ??

  14. If the author is analysing American or politics of any foreign country, it would have been more pleasing. In India’s case it is pathetic. We are the pawns in the hands of politicians and we thoroughly enjoy when they play us.
    Ahmed Patel making a Sonia Gandhi and she became a leader? I agree with the author but how pathetic is it? A national leader comes this way and we justify that. We want another leader to come up this way and we call that masterstroke? Every politician in India is cheating people one way or another. Simple lying (openly) is something we accept and welcome. India is the only country where this is tolerated.
    We can see droves of politicians changing parties like people changing jobs. They are CTC (Cost to Country) and that is enormous. It is sad that we accept it as it is.

  15. 1st lesson for RG: A for Apple, B for Ball.
    2nd lesson: 1+1 =2
    3rd lesson: brush your teeth before you go to bed
    4th lesson: respect your elders
    5th lesson: don’t interrupt when elders are talking

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