Or Shri Rahul Gandhi, if that is more appropriate.
Congratulation on being made the Vice President of
the Congress Party, and being anointed as the person
who will lead it in the 2014 national elections.
This is a country of young people, and needs young
leaders. Let me take this opportunity to share with
you a bit of history.
At 40 years, two months and a few days, your father
was younger than you when he took over as the prime
minister on 31 October 1984. He was younger than you
when he called a national election and when the
Indian National Congress won 404 seats in the Lok
Sabha — a feat that never happened before in the
history of Indian elections, and not repeated since.
The party won 10 more seats in 1985 when Punjab and
Assam went to the polls. In effect, the nation gave
Rajiv Gandhi an incredible mandate to change its
Your father did many positive things during the
first couple of years in power. He signed the Punjab
and the Assam accords, and got both states to the
polls; these were followed by the Mizoram accord
with Laldenga of the Mizo National Front. And he let
it rip in a speech in the Brabourne Stadium
commemorating hundred years of the Congress. Here
are parts of it:
“Political parties, state governments and social
organisations promote policies, programmes and
ideologies which divide brother from brother and
sister from sister… Our legislatures do not set
standards for others to follow; they magnify
manifold the conspicuous lack of a social ethic…
“We have government servants who do not serve but
oppress the poor and the helpless, police who do not
uphold the law but shield the guilty, tax collectors
who do not collect taxes but connive with those who
cheat the State…
“Millions of ordinary Congress workers… are
handicapped, for on their backs ride the brokers of
power and influence, who dispense patronage to
convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy.
They are self-perpetuating cliques who thrive by
invoking the slogans of caste and religion and by
enmeshing the living body of the Congress in their
net of avarice… Their life style, their thinking or
lack of it, their self-aggrandisement, their corrupt
ways, their linkages with the vested interests in
society, and their sanctimonious posturing are
wholly incompatible with work among the people…
Corruption is not only tolerated but even regarded
as the hallmark of leadership.”
Rajiv Gandhi did more. His bÍte noire, V.P. Singh,
produced two excellent budgets and set the framework
for the value added tax; Sam Pitroda created the
first revolution in telecom; Rajiv made successful
forays to Moscow and the US. A young India was
And then came the fall. The first was the Shah Bano
case. Backed by a progressive Supreme Court
judgement, your father had the opportunity to
demonstrate that all were equal in the eyes of the
law. He initially went that way. And then got cold
feet and swung to the opposite side. The Muslim
Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act came
into being in May 1986. It removed Muslim personal
law from the Criminal Procedure Code, thus diluting
the judgment of the Supreme Court and denying even
destitute Muslim divorced women the right to alimony
from their former husbands.
This was followed by Ottavio Quattrocchi and Bofors.
Then the dismissal of V.P. Singh as the defence
minister in April 1987. Then a surge of terrorism in
Punjab and Kashmir. And finally being sucked into
Sri Lanka by Junius Jayawardene to participate in a
brutal and bloody military operation which saw over
1,200 Indian soldiers needlessly lose their lives.
It was India’s Vietnam.
The 1989 elections saw a young photogenic leader
lose more seats than he won. That is true. The
Congress won 414 Lok Sabha seats in 1984, including
in Punjab and Assam. It won 197 seats in 1989. The
number of seats it lost—217—was 20 more than it won.
There are three lessons from this tale. First, you
must focus on winning at least 230 seats in the next
Lok Sabha elections, so as to form the government.
You can’t reform a nation nor a political party
while sitting in opposition. Second, focus on few
things that you wish to change — things that matter
and will be immediately apparent — than a big
shopping list. In this, focus on areas where you
have the executive, legislative and administrative
bandwidth to execute and measure. Make these your
key electoral planks. Third, realise that the
rhetoric favoured by your party’s veterans will no
longer work in a new India. The vote bank is the
nation’s under-30. They think differently.
You have the mandate. Don’t fritter it. I wish you
Published: Business World, February 2013