By Humra Quraishi
Before I write details to Khushwant’s observations about Rahul Gandhi, it’s important to point out that Khushwant didn’t think much of Rajiv Gandhi’s political prowess. He would tell me that though he was initially optimistic about Rajiv Gandhi coming to power but he turned out to be a misfit in the world of politics. “Rajiv was bullied into a position he wasn’t equipped to handle…In fact, Rajiv did very little with the massive mandate he’d won after his mother Indira’s assassination …He was pleasant, and had some good ideas, but none of them extraordinary. I don’t think he was cut out for politics…even in the positive things he did, like telecom and computers – the plans had started in Indira Gandhi’s time.”
Interestingly, on the contrary, Khushwant seemed impressed with Rahul Gandhi. Far-sighted Khushwant Singh could see that Rahul Gandhi has the potential to come centre stage. Khushwant had interacted with him and would tell me details of how he found Rahul not just earnest but focused and committed. In fact, when Khushwant and I would sit discussing the dismal political scenario engulfing the country he’d quip, “This young man (Rahul Gandhi) could change things, if only he is allowed to govern. There is something about him which makes him different from the politicians of the day. He comes across as straight forward and honest. If he is assisted by his sister Priyanka, the two can bring about noticeable changes and can halt the rise of fascism in this country. Today my biggest worry is the rise of communal forces hell bent on destroying this country…they have got to be countered and defeated if we love our country. And its only young politicians like Rahul Gandhi who can understand the dangers involved if let these fascist forces go about un–checked.”
And in the book ‘Absolute Khushwant’ (published in 2010 by Penguin) which Khushwant and I wrote, he had this to detail about Rahul Gandhi- “I think Rahul is much more talented than his father. He has a vision and that’s very important. I’m impressed with him, impressed with the way in which he’s conducting himself. He has the right attitude. Even if much of what he does only amounts to gestures, the thinking behind them are right…He has taken on Mayawati in her own territory. It is a brave thing to do. He himself seems to have no caste or class prejudice. What he has been doing in Amethi, staying with the lowest castes and sharing their food – I don’t think you can criticize him for that. He is not being patronizing; he is highlighting a shameful reality of in our country. Even in the twenty-first century there are untouchables in our society and they live wretched lives…And the manner in which he took on the Shiv Sena in Bombay (February 2010).He lambasted them for attacking non- Maharashtrians and said publicly that Bombay was for all Indians. Then he went to the lion’s den and dared them to do the worst. He walked in the streets, travelled by local train. The Shiv Sena goondas failed completely. Hardly any Maharashtrian joined the Shiv Sena protest against Rahul. It was a very well -planned move by Rahul and his advisers. It was good theatre…The young Gandhi is becoming a mature leader. Maybe after the next elections (2014), if his party wins, he may agree to become PM. Or he may still choose not to. He has his priorities right- he is not concerned about position and kursi, but strengthening the Congress party.”
In fact, one late afternoon Rahul Gandhi had visited Khushwant at his Sujan Singh Park apartment. This was in 2009 …To quote Khushwant on that meet- “Rahul had telephoned sometime last year and said that he wanted to come and see me. He came at the appointed time – 4p.m.- and spent almost an hour in my home. I gave him tea – he said he’d like some tea – and we spoke of politics; about the current situation in general and other things in particular. I told him , ‘Your cadres are very weak. The BJP has the RSS and the VHP to work for it at the grassroots level. The Congress lacks that.’ He said he agreed with me and that he was already working on this. He is seeing to it that party members are trained and the party built up. I see that he has been concentrating on young workers and he has picked some very talented workers, many of them women. I also told him that during elections, voters have to be wooed and drawn towards the party. I said that the most important thing that he should keep in mind is to resist flatterers and to hold back from accepting any portfolio.”
I’m certain that if alive Khushwant would have been happy to see Rahul Gandhi heading the Congress party and with that reviving the secular strains that this country is desperately in need of. These last few weeks I have been hearing Rahul’s speeches during the Gujarat electioneering and I have found them to be great connects. His words are simple and his relays un-complicated, which come across as such a relief to the ears!
In fact, Rahul made a mark this summer, when during his interactive session at Berkley University, he came across as a young politician who realizes the realities to the day and wants to reach out rather too earnestly.
One is waiting to see how Rahul Gandhi will convert his words into action… there’d be some chance of conditions improving in the country if Rahul Gandhi revives the Congress cadres , especially at the grassroots level.