The paradox of action is the distance between intention and fate. You step out for a morning walk, slip on a banana peel, break a bone, and land in the hospital. What you intended is to go for a walk, and get fit. What resulted from that intention is a fractured limb.
Rahul Gandhi is out for the longest morning and evening walks in his life for the next six months. More than banana peels lie in wait for him.
Last Wednesday Rahul Gandhi, who continues to decline the presidency of the Congress party, started out on the Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, spanning 3,500 kilometers.
The Yatra will take six months to complete if all goes well. This is in the context of two things. 1) The Modi-led BJP government at the Centre continues its appropriation and co-option of the Nehruvian legacy and its onward march to greater popularity. And 2) The disintegration of the Congress, with leaders and former honorary Gandhi family members like Kapil Sibal and Ghulam Nabi Azad, quitting the party, blaming Rahul Gandhi for his ‘inaccessibility and immaturity.’
As for the BJP's ascent, it just now seems limitless. Their latest act of (both) assertion and defiance is in the opening of the revamped Central Vista — with the Raj Path rechristened Kartavya Path. The place now is more majestic and is even more public-friendly; Rs 23,000 crore seems well spent. Never mind if it was needed to be done.
The thing about the Modi dispensation is that it does pretty much whatever it wants. They are changing the Prime Minister’s residence and doing away with the old parliament building. A new face of India is emerging, that of the one-party democracy.
The great Indian debate is so altered now that the idea of India has been objectified. We are constantly required to flaunt our Indianness in terms of patriotism. Never has been there a time in post-Independent history when the list of things NOT to be done to be a true India has been longer. There is now in place a prescription for being Indian, an identity we cannot naturally take for granted just because we are born here in this country, but we must constantly renew our efforts to become that. Indianness has become aspirational, a status outside ourselves, one which we must work towards.
The disintegration of the Congress is an intended consequence of the process. The paradox is the voluntary exit of the leaders. On their part, many justified their exit because the party is the Gandhi family and they no longer listen to them. This is true. Neither Sonia Gandhi nor Priyanka or Rahul give an ear to the old guard. Why should they? Surely, the once entrenched senior leaders were at least partly responsible for the current plight of the party?
The last general elections, when the BJP whipped the Congress, saw Rahul Gandhi virtually single-handedly campaigning nationally, isolated by and from the old guard. To be the president of the Congress as it existed then was to be the president of the group of 23 stalwarts. It would have been a hostage situation. This is the reason behind Rahul's recalcitrance, easily mistaken for foolishness or arrogance, to do business with the old guard. Is this the right course of action? We don’t know, least of all Rahul, because that is the paradox of action.
On Sunday, Rahul Gandhi will walk into Kerala, still one of the few bastions of the Congress. As he walks, he will be talking to ordinary people to find out about their lives firsthand. It is a kind of discovery of India, a project his grandfather started in another millennium. By the time Rahul Gandhi reaches Kashmir, and if all goes well, he would have met with a cross-section of India. Would that make him wiser? Or would he slip on a banana peel and break a leg? Either or both could happen depending on how the paradox of action spins.
But one thing is clear. As with the BJP bulldozing the old-new India of Nehru, so Rahul is razing down the old Congress. The unprecedented confusion politically and socially around us and the resultant chaos we are steeped in explain why mobs, off the road and on social media ( right and left), have taken over the act of value prescription.
And where the mobs call the shots, the individual is likely to be seen not as a hero, but as an aberrant; for this is not the age of the hero. Sad is the country that needs heroes, Brecht said. Well, sadder is the country without them.
Rahul Gandhi is trying his best to be a hero, an individual, and the ‘old, official’ Congress party is acting, for want of a better word, like the mob. The non-democratic methods they attribute, as mentioned in Ghulam Nabi Azad’s recent letter of resignation, to Sonia Gandhi are, paradoxically, what Rahul considers them guilty of; he believes they have hijacked or tried to hijack, the party by other means. In his mind, he is breaking their feudal hold on the party.
So, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi brings down old India, Rahul Gandhi is bringing down the old Congress. Modi often steps out of his party’s ambit and exhorts Indians to work not in political silos but in vast, collective movements, be it in start-up culture or sports.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi brings down old India, Rahul Gandhi is bringing down the old Congress.
Rahul has stepped out of the old Congress; his action, paradoxically, is practically demolishing the party. His consistent efforts are to become a mass movement hero, beyond the scope of organized ideology. A road strewn with banana peels.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra is the nearest that the Gandhi family has come to dismantling the old Congress. We have no idea what could replace it. Rahul could end up completely destroying the National Congress and reduce it further into a regional party, like the CPM or the DMK.
What’s he going to raise in its place? The paradoxical chances are that he might end up strengthening the BJP, exactly the opposite of what he intended when set out from Kanyakumari.
(C P Surendran is an author and senior journalist. Views are personal)