Every man is his own prisoner. Camus was wrong when he said every man is an island. He is not. He is a prisoner of what defines him—his conscience, his ambition, hate or compassion, humanitarian instincts, and his ideology. The essence of Hindu philosophy is that the soul is trapped inside the body and freedom through action leads to becoming one with the Supreme, thus removing fetters.
Rahul Gandhi is no committed Hindu. He is a prisoner of his agenda. The discovery of India captivated the boy who had grown up in a privileged, protected environment where family tradition dictated that his destiny was to rule India. So like his father, Rajiv, who reluctantly entered politics after the death of his fiercely ambitious brother Sanjay—who was bound to the dream of creating a modern India at any cost—Rahul, too, was a hesitant entrant. It is his karma as India’s politically blue-blooded scion to lead the party and the country, urged his partymen, who knew they would be in the wilderness without a Gandhi.
When Rahul arrived as the new hope of the Congress, there was a strong similarity to his father’s style. An introvert who relied on a coterie of technocrat friends armed with data and PowerPoint, earning him the sneering epithet of ‘rocket scientist’ from party elders, who feared being sidelined by a young upstart. The system, a rotten edifice of sycophancy, corruption and cynical electoral arithmetic, swung into action. It reminded them of the threat Rajiv Gandhi posed to their fiefdoms in his historic speech at the Congress Centenary Session held in Bombay on December 28, 1985. He called for the ouster of “brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy”. It was ironic coming from a man who was himself part of a politically feudal oligarchy. Rajiv was a prisoner of his dream to change the party and India. His son Rahul inherited it. Rahul’s famous 2008 speech in Parliament about Kalavati, a poor farmer’s widow, earned him sneers and jeers from the Opposition, but he continued unfazed. Rahul, then, was a prisoner of his naivete, convinced that he could change the system. It is another matter that Kalavati suddenly catapulted to her five minutes of fame, tried her hand at politics, but that is not Rahul’s fault. He tried to understand his country, by staying over in the huts of the tribal poor, travelling second class in trains, and sleeping in the open in villages. His young followers followed suit, braving the mosquitoes, and that alone should have alerted him that sycophancy was the survival code in the system. But it didn’t.
The Congress party got wiped out by Modi. Modi beat the establishment by becoming the establishment himself. Every politician is a captive of the need for relevance. Rahul has realised that. The new Rahul’s vicious personal attacks in Parliament, his attempt to co-opt the President of India in a film institute squabble, and his ritualistic visit to protesting ex-servicemen wearing a cap with OROP printed on it shows that he has changed. His conscience and altruism have given way to the time-tested cynicism of the very same party politics he and his father tried to change. The establishment has succeeded in capturing him in the end. Rahul is no longer his own prisoner but theirs. Some see it as maturing. But in reality, it is a life sentence.