Rahul Gandhi: Post-caste politician succumbs to caste politics
Thursday February 02, 2012 11:40:48 AM,
Mayank Chhaya, IANS
Indian politicians have mastered the
art of perpetuating and mining the politics of sordid caste
consciousness even while simultaneously pretending to reject it.
The latest to succumb to the easy lure of caste politics is
ironically widely seen as a post-caste politician, none other than
India's prime minister-in-waiting and Congress party general
secretary Rahul Gandhi. Even more ironically, the man whose
example Gandhi is so expediently exploiting was until recently
defined entirely by his world-class technological accomplishments
- Sam Pitroda.
What began as an apparently calculated move in December last year
at a rally in Akbarpur area of Ramabai Nagar in Uttar Pradesh, has
now become received wisdom in the Congress in the context of state
assembly elections. The media has been quick to pick up on the
move in calling Pitroda the "OBC face" of the party.
At the Akbarpur rally Gandhi was quoted as saying, "Twenty years
ago Rajiv Gandhi thought of bringing mobile phones to India. Do
you know who brought them? Sam Pitroda, who is a Vishwakarma, 'barahi'
(carpenter). He brought mobile phones to your houses."
Pitroda has tried to make the best of a bad situation by adding
nuance to Gandhi's comments. "The intention has been to convey to
the people of Uttar Pradesh and India that if son of a carpenter
like me could use education and technology to overcome centuries
of social injustices, anyone can. Personally, I have never been
either conscious of or defensive about the fact that I come from
the margins of society. Technology gave me an identity that is
agnostic to such classifications. That said, it would be wrong to
read too much into what Rahul has said other than a genuine wish
to inspire others," Pitroda said.
Notwithstanding that explanation, the fact remains that Gandhi
resorted to the caste construct so unselfconsciously. What makes
it particularly galling is that his comments came across as
reflexive. It is possible that his comments were not even remotely
motivated by condescension, but they sounded as if he was
suggesting that whatever Pitroda might have accomplished in life
should be seen from the prism of his arbitrarily defined social
At the heart of everything that Gandhi has been doing in Uttar
Pradesh is fuelled by a wish to win the assembly elections, an
outcome that he might see as the signature accomplishment of his
political career so far. But that does not extenuate his use of
this egregious nomenclature. There are those who might reasonably
argue that what Gandhi did is entirely in keeping with the
realpolitik of India's peculiarly structured electoral landscape,
but that is precisely the problem with it.
If it is Gandhi's desire to cast himself as a modern politician
free from the cynical perpetuation and exploitation of this
centuries old nonsense, then he should have known better than to
use Pitroda's so-called caste. It is up to young leaders like
Gandhi and many others cutting across party lines to liberate
India's politics from the skullduggeries which the older leaders
have so routinely indulged in.
It is disheartening that someone who has distinguished himself
globally for over four decades in the world of cutting edge
technology has now been dragged down and given a label that India
as a civilisation ought to reject. Unless the country's young
leaders once and for all erase such regressive and often bigoted
constructs from political discourse, there is little hope that
those whom they seek to inspire would ever rise above them.
Mayank Chhaya is a Chicago-based writer and commentator. He can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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