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Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya

Posted: May 4, 2009 05:35 PM

For heirs apparent in democratic countries like India and the USA, elections are times for high learning the ropes. Be it a Jeb Bush or a Caroline Kennedy or India's own Rahul Gandhi, ancestry hands down a political legacy. But it does not necessarily equip them intellectually to deal with the 'hand-me-downs.' As a result they expose themselves with political chicanery (Florida secretary of state's role in the 2000 US election) or over-ambition (Kennedy's attempt at replacing Hillary Clinton as New York Senator) or plain, old fashioned ignorance (Rahul Gandhi).

Gandhi went campaigning for India's general elections '09 to the eastern city of Kolkata in West Bengal - the heart of India's Left movement. He went and told an audience there, "I was asked by a Chinese communist leader while I was on a visit to China, 'What kind of a communist government exists in Bengal? Why is there no change?' I had no answer. Communism is finished in the rest of the world."

His criticism was at two levels. He was attacking the longest serving democratically elected communist government in the world, the Left government of West Bengal for its long tenure in office. And he was claiming that communism has ended in the world, reflecting his unfinished education in Rollins College, Florida and Cambridge, the UK.

Gandhi did not know that a communist leader in China would not ask him that question in seriousness. For, the Communist Party of China had fraternal relations with the Indian Communist Party of Marxists. So the former regularly sent delegations to the latter each time they held their party conferences. In other words, the Chinese were well aware what kind of government ruled the state of West Bengal and why the people of the state re-elected the same group of parties over and over again.

But more importantly, Gandhi in inadvertence echoed Francis Fukuyama's embarrassingly wrong predictive adventure of "End of History." A youth of the television generation, Gandhi should have known that after the current crisis of neo-classical economics - one that has taken the stuffing out of its capitalist enunciation - has a flip side. The flip side is the rise in general interest about the teachings of Marx and that of his disciples like Rudolf Hilferding, Kautsky and many others.

Rahul also does not seem to be aware that the American half of the southern hemisphere is now ruled by political parties who trace their allegiance to some form of Marxism or the other.
But Rahul Gandhi is not to be blamed for his sins of omission. He was cavorting with his Colombian girl friend and working for an UK-based management consultancy firm when he parachuted down on the Indian political landscape. Ostensibly, the incessant calls from the members of the Indian Congress Party to him for returning to the country and taking on the family legacy were too insistent for him to ignore. Result: neither has his intellectual maturity ripened enough before he straddled the centre stage nor was his education about India complete.

But asked this week by pesky journalists, whether he was ready to take over as the prime minister of India, Rahul showed some inherent sense of caution. He replied, "(If asked) Now ... I would refuse. I do not think I have the experience to be the prime minister of the country right now." Considering that he is 39, and Barack Obama is 48, Gandhi still has about a decade to learn the lessons of statecraft before he pitches for the top job.

It is a different point that unlike 1984, when the people of the country had readily accepted Rahul's father, Rajiv Gandhi, as their leader, after the assassination of the country's then prime minister and his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, this time around the going is far tougher.

This election is much less about personalities or political allegiances but much more about sectional interests. Commentators across the country are even bemoaning the lack of a central issue around which this election could be fought. The diversity of India is throwing up diverse issues, but most of them are related to the well-being of the people.

The general divide running through the country between the advanced cities and the backward rural tracts exist as much it did during the 2004 polls - the last time the country had voted for a federal government. The demand for getting on to the bandwagon of economic development is loud and clear.

But if one were to look for an alternative vision to the current development theology from the right, left or centre, one would be disheartened. For, everyone seems to have concluded that capitalist mode of development based on full exploitation of resources - man made or natural - is the best route to be followed in the near term. Result: the arguments have become too predictable.


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