An open letter to Rahul Gandhi
The family can serve as your testimonial and the party as your political genealogy, but you speak the tentative language of a new generation desperate for an alternate politics.
Published: 12th January 2023 01:44 AM | Last Updated: 12th January 2023 01:44 AM | A+A A-
This is a letter not just to you but to a situation catalysed by you. Tentative, text-bookish, boy scout-ish, you still triggered a reaction, a discussion about India in general. Your walk was the only potentially promising event of the year. It was surprising because we all know you belong to history but did not create it yourself. Still you helped catalyse a situation which is full of hope and conversation. Let me give you a reading so far.
Rahul, you belong to the Congress but you have moved beyond it. The family can serve as your testimonial and the party as your political genealogy, but you speak the tentative language of a new generation that is desperate for an alternate politics. In fact, the people who joined you completed you like a jigsaw puzzle. They do not form a cadre. Cadres are dead ducks of thought anyway, either ideological machines or modes of violence—creatures of habit, incapable of anything new. Then you land up and literally say “I hypothesize therefore I am”. It is an invitation to a thought, not an inauguration of a party. But tacitly the group around you is saying “Let us try the new”. The Congress has done enough to muddy socialism. The BJP has done enough to wreck the idea of nationalism. Let us try the tentative, the promising and the futuristic.
I think you signalled it through the people who walked with you. There was Bezwada Wilson who dreams of equality in society. There was Ganesh Devy, T M Krishna, Harsh Mander, Swara Bhaskar, Amol Palekar, Akshay Shimpi, Medha Patkar, Admiral Ramdas—a festival of civil society. There were stars like Kamal Haasan desperate to carry the metaphor of films as politics into your party which lacks a sense of theatre. Their message is simple: We need new ideas and institutions which add to creativity. They sense that you are the most tentative Satyagrahi they have met. Yet you offer openings beyond the cliché. They realise we need a politics that goes beyond the current dispensation and dreams differently. The dream can be big or small, biographical or social. Take two examples…
Some time back I went to a meeting where parents had brought their children who wanted to study liberal arts. The kids were good but the parents showed a different kind of passion. Many of the mothers had to give up studies halfway. They dreamt of a different kind of scholarship. Can we create a way to bring adults back to the curiosity of second chances?
Or take a bigger example. The Indian elite is quaking at the spectre of China. Can we invent a counter which out-thinks China as an imagination? If the Dalai Lama can do it, why not us? Pushing it further, can you do an exercise which adds the feminist, tribal, ecological and Dalit imaginations as projects to the Directive Principles? India’s desperation for alternatives is what triggers the promise in you.
We all know you have to combine Swadeshi and Swaraj. You have not thought of Swaraj yet. Can you work the Anthropocene as a set of projects where people save plants, language and crafts as an act of trusteeship? Can we revive Mother Earth through a sense of sacred through our cosmologies? Indian cosmology, unlike Indian politics, is fertile. Add a dollop of cosmic-ness into a Constitution, so we dream of justice differently.
Reports are usually painfully dull. But can you set up a new report from the Congress on forestry, the seas and crafts? Just think of it, the current regime thinks weaving is a twilight industry. Nearly 14 million people need a promissory note for the future. You can provide it as part of your party-less agenda. It will add colour to your politics. Think of something like a diversity index. Make the Constitution a trustee of diversity, colour, seeds, skill and craft. Allow the imagination to perform before you mechanically echo the dreams of artificial intelligence or some other current fashion. Ask yourself what a housewife’s theory of politics would be. Read Ela Bhatt’s last book and enact the imagination. She understood livelihood as justice. Congress as an imagination has to revitalise keywords like equality and justice and render them more life-giving in contemporary terms.
One of the big problems of the Congress is that after making promises, it has a way of letting you down. Now work to stem this fear, create structures, hypotheses and rituals and play them out in public. Become a pedagogue around the new politics and invite others to help you. This will not be a Congress agenda but a civil society’s initiative to help the Congress from its current rut. You have stalwarts in your party—young and old—who can help you reimagine the party. Invite them to become that change. The Congress has to reinvent itself not from the chrysalis of the past but as part of the heuristics of the future. It has to become a series of thought experiments and dreams that the new generation can tinker with. What we don’t need is canned ideology. What we require is a new mode of caring and community. A vision of the future invented by the new Gandhis, Nehrus and Azads which creates a more civilisational idea of India.
Rahul, you have suffered from politics of the past. Now recreate the joy of the political. Celebrate the Constitution by adding new ideas. Create a Ganges with rights, not a public works department. Add playfulness to ideas so the Congress celebrates India as a plural self. Keep being the bumbler turning into the new trickster. Bumbling creates the unexpected and now we want the unexpected from you. Turn the walk into a parikrama, a pilgrimage. The next step is Satyagraha. Wishing you all the best—please don’t dream about the future in clerks and committees.
All those dreaming of an alternative future.
Social scientist associated with THE COMPOST HEAP, a group researching alternative imaginations