His interpretation of India, enunciated at Udaipur, reiterated in London and Cambridge.
In his epic, Discovery of India, penned while he was imprisoned and put on solitary confinement for four years at Ahmednagar Fort prison in the aftermath of the Quit India movement and published in 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru traced India’s multifarious rich culture, religion and complex past, which developed from the Indus Valley Civilisation to India’s Independence and prided that India as a Nation was a 5,000-year-old civilisation which “was entitled to its sovereignty”. During Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister, Doordarshan in 1988 telecast a 53-episode serial, “Bharat ek Khoj”, curated by Shyam Benegal based on the book. Rahul Gandhi’s repeated statements on India’s nationhood, which began with his speech at Udaipur on 15 May and was reiterated at London and in Cambridge past week suggest that his idea of India as a nation is diametrically opposite to that of his great-grandfather.
India, according to Rahul, is not a Nation “in the western sense” but a “Union of States”. Overlooking the objectives stated in the Preamble of the Constitution of India: “to secure justice, liberty, equality to all citizens and promote fraternity to maintain unity and integrity of the Nation”, he prefers to refer only to Article 1, which says, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. The fact that the Preamble precedes Article 1 is disdained by him. When he spoke at Udaipur, as always in the GOP, an atmosphere of hallelujah prevailed. In London, where he repeated this formulation at an “Ideas for India” conclave it went unchallenged. But when he persisted with his interpretation of India not being a Nation at a Cambridge University event an officer of the Indian government, who is on a sabbatical, challenged him. Pointing out that he was ignoring the Preamble, the Cambridge scholar quoted Chanakya, who as a teacher in Taxila, had told his pupils that though they came from different Janpads (provinces) they all belonged to the “Rashtra”. (He also cited Adi Shankaracharya locating his four Mutts in North, South, East and the West to define India as a nation.) Rahul’s response was “Rashtra” meant “Kingdom”—the interjector corrected him and said “Rashtra” was a Sanskrit word which in English meant Nation. Perhaps Rahul, who possibly mistakes party as fiefdom, thought that Rashtra is kingdom.
India, according to Rahul, emerged as a result of a “conversation between states in 1947”. When freedom, accompanied by painful partition, came, entire British India, which fell on this side of the borders as defined by the Radcliffe Line, became part of the Dominion of India (nothing was negotiable). The 500-odd princely states were integrated due to the painstaking effort of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel under the Prime Ministership of Nehru. As the people of the princely states wanted integration, the dynastic ego of the erstwhile princely rulers, who had accepted suzerainty of the English Crown, was bulldozed. At Cambridge while insisting that India was a product of “negotiations” Rahul said, “I know as my grandfather was part of it”. Nehru was Rahul’s great-grandfather. Had Rahul imbibed even part of the stellar heritage of his grandfather, Feroze Gandhi, he would have preferred to be a good parliamentarian and not been on sojourns overseas while Parliament is in session.
Rahul seems to be influenced by the US Constitution, which evolved as a result of a bitter civil war—it is not unitary like India but federal in character—States have the right to secede. In India, States are part of the Union and on several occasions, beginning with the Reorganisation of States in 1956, boundaries have been redrawn. During Rahul’s tenure as vice president of Congress, Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014 to create Telangana—he seems to have overlooked immediate past history while formulating his idea of Union of India.
If Rahul’s interpretation be valid, then states are free to do their will. In USA, states are entitled to have their own laws. Even criminal law in the US is state-specific. That is not so in India. When states were reorganised on linguistic lines in 1956 and new states created thereafter, there was no “conversation”. Parliament deliberated, decided.
Rahul during his UK sojourn met former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who now is an Independent MP. He was stripped of his position as Leader of UK’s Opposition after he led his party to a debacle in 2020. Thereafter he was suspended from primary membership of the party—his membership was restored after a while, but the new Leader of Opposition, Keir Starmer, refused to admit him as member of parliamentary party—thus he now sits as an Independent. Labour’s rout in 2020 was partly attributed to Corbyn’s anti-India stance, especially on Jammu & Kashmir, which alienated the traditional Labour voters among Indian diaspora, who preferred to vote for the Conservatives. In the past, Corbyn had taken stands contrary to British policy—he even backed the IRA in Northern Ireland. What mileage was Rahul expecting out of meeting Corbyn? Indian National Congress has had fraternal relations with the British Labour Party. A meeting with Keir Stramer therefore could have been understandable. But Corbyn? (Congress’ official retaliation to the criticism of Rahul-Corbyn meeting was that Narendra Modi too had met him in 2015—Modi was on a bilateral visit, it is customary for a visiting PM to meet the Leader of Opposition as well.)
At Cambridge, Rahul was visibly stumped when the interlocutor, Dr Shruti Kapila, asked him a “Gandhian” question on his view on the compact between violence and non-violence in Indian society. He fell silent. When he did not speak for a while, a section of the audience began clapping (the British are polite, they do not boo an overseas visitor). Dr Kapila said, “I am sorry that I have stumped you”. At which point Rahul came out with his answer: “I think the word is forgiveness”. The sight of a Nehru family scion feeling lost for words at the alma mater of his ancestors was a tad pathetic.
Around the time Rahul was saying in London that “India not in a good place” and that BJP was “destroying” all institutions and “spreading kerosene all over the country and all it needs is just a spark”, in Davos, Telangana minister, K.T. Ramarao (KCR’s son) was asked a question on internal situation in India. “In Switzerland I have come to represent India. I would not like to be drawn into this debate”, was his prompt answer. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Quad leaders feted Narendra Modi. Joe Biden even praised his handling of the Covid pandemic and cited it as an example of the success of democracy over autocracy. In contrast, Rahul told his anglophile audiences that India’s “soul has been crushed”. He certainly can seek better role models than Jeremy Corbyn.