Social elitism is a peculiar problem that only the Congress among our political parties suffers from. In this weekend’s Cut The Clutter, Shekhar Gupta takes a look at the party’s history to find out why.
Here are edited excerpts from the video:
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey came to India and created a little controversy about Brahminism. Hindu conservatives furious and protested. And who waded into it on their behalf? A leader of the Congress party, Manish Tewari. He spoke as a Brahmin and went on to say that Brahmins are actually victims today — they are targeted and are like the Jews in India.
Now this is troublesome.
One, because a leader of a party which claims to be socialist and egalitarian — speaking for the downtrodden, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, minorities, the weaker sections — comes in and argues as a Brahmin, in terms of his caste.
Second, because it also trivialises the tragedies that the Jews have faced.
To compare anybody’s, least of all the Brahmins’ fate in India to a community that faced the Holocaust is really childish.
If this wasn’t enough, C.P. Joshi, Congress party’s leader in Rajasthan, who’s been quite a favourite of Rahul Gandhi in the past, came up with another bizarre statement. He said that only Brahmins can talk about Hinduism and not (by implication lower caste) people like Narendra Modi and Uma Bharti.
Now we know that Narendra Modi and Uma Bharti are other backward castes (OBCs). This (C.P. Joshi’s statement) is insulting, this is improper, this is also politically, if I may say so, stupid.
So no surprise then that Rahul Gandhi admonished him, made him apologize, and disassociated himself from the remarks.
But both these remarks have done their damage because these have conveyed the impression that deep down Congress’s leaders, no matter what their politics or manifestoes say, they still live out their caste identity. Remember this comes on top of Congress party spokesman Randeep Surjewala proudly asserting that Rahul Gandhi is a janeudhari Brahmin.
So what is this big deal about everybody claiming to be a Brahmin and asserting Brahmin identity?
It does not work well for the Congress party. But please do let me sum where it comes from.
This comes from the party’s essential elitism which comes from the social upbringing and background of many of its leaders.
Shashi Tharoor recently made headlines again by talking about ‘chaiwala’ (tea-seller) Narendra Modi. He said that only Jawaharlal Nehru and the kind of system he set up made it possible that a ‘chaiwala’ could become the Prime Minister of India.
It is a ridiculous statement. Because long before Modi came Giani Zail Singh.
Who was he? He was from a poor carpenter caste and family of Punjab, barely educated. In fact he had no formal education. He became Chief Minister of Punjab and the President of India.
Other leaders? Look at Lal Bahadur Shastri. He was a very poor child in a very poor family. He used to swim across the Ganga to go to this school. He could become the Prime Minister of India. Kamaraj, was as poor as they get.
Then there was Sushil Kumar Shinde who became chief minister of Maharashtra, home minister of India and even had a shot at becoming Vice-President or President. He was born in a stone-poor Dalit family and started his working life as a “boy-peon” in a mofussil court, and later became a police constable.
So Congress party has actually been a cradle of political talent from all kinds of social backgrounds. It should be taking great pride in having people from such humble beginnings reach the top.
But ever since the offspring of the first generation if Congress leaders began to take over — the new generations of the various dynasties, not just the main Gandhi dynasty — they brought in their elitism because their parents had now arrived.
And these children were not brought up in the same environment as their parents. So they brought along their inherent elitism with them.
That is why Mani Shankar Aiyar talked about ‘chaiwala’ in 2014 and gave Modi a very good political metaphor, for which he should send a ‘thank you’ card to Aiyar every year.
Actually, this problem began much earlier. We saw it with the rise of Rajiv Gandhi. He made a few ‘smart alec’ statements in the beginning and was loved for those. But then he began to slip up and it became embarrassing. For example, he said “for the opposition we have 10 plus two plus three system”, because the three main opposition parties got 10, 2 and 3 seats respectively. That was seen as funny, not arrogant.
Having said that, he then went on to say some odd things.
He signed a peace agreement with Sant Harchand Singh Longowal in Punjab but he would never pronounce his name right. His name was simple, had just five consonants and three vowels, lon-go-wal. But he always said Sant ‘Longewala’ ji.
Now, a lot of the Sikhs who heard this laughed and many others were angry that look, he signs a peace agreement with our leader and can’t even pronounce his name right. And his name was not even a complicated one.
Then the Sikhs in Punjab, still recovering from the traumas of 1984, decided to observe on the first anniversary of Operation Bluestar what they called as a Ghallughara Diwas.
Now, Ghallughara is a Sikh concept like the holocaust. Or their version of their holocaust, a scar that they carry from Mughal times — when Aurangzeb and others subjected them to atrocities.
So Rajiv Gandhi in an interview said, “Oh! They are having their Ghallu-Ghallu thing.”
Now it may sound funny and you may laugh at it but for the Sikhs, then, it was a very irritating thing.
When V.P. Singh was breaking away from Congress in 1987-88 and somebody from his party taunted the Congress, saying that Rajiv Gandhi even wears shoes made by Gucci, another Congress leader, a usual suspect said, “Oh at least my boss wears shoes from Gucci, your boss wears from mochi.”
Now can you imagine somebody saying that today?
It will be seen as terribly elitist.
In one of the parliament debates on Bofors, Rajiv Gandhi got so angry that he told a member of parliament, who was physically challenged, that he didn’t “have a leg to stand on.”
Now that kind of thing, usually in our politics is not said, and I don’t believe that these young leaders of the Congress also say it with malice. But they say it from their inherent elitism.
That does not go well with the political proposition that the party presents. It is anti-elitist, non-suit boot, common man’s, poor man’s party.
You can’t have both together.
If Congress party has to have a future, Rahul Gandhi and his colleagues, Rahul himself too, they all have to sit and give themselves what might be called 3 by 5 cards on these issues — 3 by 5 cards are something that fit in your pocket. It says, on this issue you will say this, on caste you will say this, on the poor you will say this, etc, etc, etc. And these are the insults you shall not throw at your rivals because these look elitist. If you continue doing this then you will only yield ground to the opposition and especially to Modi.
Remember, Modi is from a backward caste. Many leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now are from backward caste. In fact, BJP has done a brilliant job in empowering backward castes in their party politically. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) may not have done it but the BJP has.
Up against that, if Rahul Gandhi and his colleagues don’t clean up their act, then gaffes like this will continue to be made and they will pay the price for it.
Also read: The Congress is a repeat offender, its chaiwala comment reeks of elitism