It can't be easy being Rahul Gandhi: he isn't just a dynast but he is a fifth generation dynast at that. It is exactly a century since Motilal Nehru took over as Congress president and much water has flown under the Anand Bhavan since then. No previous dynasty, with the possible exception of the Mughals, has presided over sustained dominance over so many generations. But now, a creaking political empire has been handed over to a man who may not have the same burning desire to perpetuate a family legacy.
A simple photo-op can sometimes reveal the entire political picture. Last month, as Rahul Gandhi hosted an iftaar party, his high table did not include a single opposition party chieftain: most of them chose to send their representatives instead while the Samajawadi party gave the event a miss altogether. The message was clear: most opposition parties do not see the Congress as a first among equals, even less so Mr Gandhi as an unquestioned magnet for opposition unity.
Five years is an eternity in Indian politics. As Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav beamed beatifically into the cameras last weekend, the mind was thrown back to 2012 when just ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections, Gandhi had delivered a solo performance, stressing that the Congress was in UP for the long haul, and would fight the region-based caste parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. “The Congress doesn’t look at a single election, we have a 10 year plan,” he had boldly claimed then.
Sonia Gandhi first interview in 9 years,
We want a Congress Mukt Bharat,” thundered Narendra Modi in the 2014 general election campaign, a slogan echoed repeatedly BJP president, Amit Shah. The declared goal was not just to win an election, but to “eliminate” the Congress from the country’s national political map. Two years later, the Modi-Shah duo’s ambition is on track. If at the start of 2016, the Congress was ruling in nine states, it is now in charge in just seven states after its governments were dismissed in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
In a wonderful television series on the great boxing fights, Joe Frazier is asked on his legendary match-ups with Mohammed Ali. “I guess it wasn’t just about boxing, it was personal, we just didn’t like each other,” is Frazier’s candid reply.
What is true of Ali versus Frazier could well be said about politics in this country at the moment. Narendra Modi versus Sonia Gandhi is a battle of political heavyweights that is sharply personal as much as it is a clash of party leaderships.
Boxing films have always enthralled me. As a teenager, the Rocky series was inspirational. Raging Bull, the story of Jake La Motta, is probably the gold standard for all sports films, with Robert de Niro at his histrionic best. Other boxing films like The Fighter and Million Dollar Baby have also been captivating.