Rahul Gandhi no dilettante in politics: US Ambassador

Peter Burleigh, the former interim ambassador to India, was much impressed with Rahul Gandhi whom he called a “young man in a hurry.”

Burleigh, who met Rahul in 2009 after a “long-standing request for an appointment,” dismissed the idea that the Gandhi scion was a “dilettante” (amateur) and was impressed with his party-building ideas.

“Gandhi came off as a practiced politician who knew how to get his message across and was comfortable with the nuts and bolts of party organization and vote counting. He was precise and articulate and demonstrated a mastery that belied the image some have of Gandhi as a dilettante,” Burleigh said in a cable to his masters in Washington in May 2009.

According to Burleigh, Gandhi seemed to be working towards the post of the Prime Minister by reorganizing the party rather than cutting his teeth as a cabinet minister and then rising to the top.

“Given his commitment to party building, it seems unlikely he would seek a Cabinet position anytime soon. While his party work will professionalize and democratize Congress, it will also create a cadre of party loyalists which will be useful as Gandhi moves into a position where he can be a credible candidate for Prime Minister,” he pointed out in the cable released by Wikileaks.

Bureigh’s long wait for an appointment was suitably rewarded as Gandhi was in his element when he met him, soon after the general elections unexpectedly brought the Congress back to power in 2009.

Gandhi explained to him in detail his mega plans for removing the “heredity factor” from politics, or at least Congress, and making the party an open, merit-based platform for any young person to enter politics. Bureigh’s comments are in line with Rahul Gandhi’s public statements over the last one year despairing at the ‘father-son’ culture of Indian politics.

“Gandhi said that for many, politics is a “”black box”” to which entry is opaque,” the ambassador went on, “Noting unselfconsciously that most Indian politicians got into politics through family connections or friends, he said that establishing an open and transparent process of candidate recruitment starting at the most basic level and democratizing the party would do much to aid Congress in the coming years by bringing in fresh faces and new ideas.”

Once democratized, the Party would be rejuvinated and would be able to beat back the ‘caste-based’ parties that have pulled the rug from under Congress’ feet in many crucial states such as UP and Bihar, Gandhi believes.

“He dismissed many parties in India as being essentially ‘one man’ structures, where a single leader was the party. Looking into the future ten to fifteen years, Gandhi asserted that many of the caste-based parties would ‘crack up’ because of dissatisfaction with caste as an organizing principle and voters’ rising expectations of better governance.

“Looking 30 years ahead, he predicted that Indian voters will act much like their counterparts in developed countries and vote based on their pocketbook or on other salient individual interests,” the cable went on.

Gandhi also explained that the strength of caste-based parties would also be their undoing, as other caste groups would resent the rise of a particular caste to power, creating a rift along caste-lines. This would play to Congress’ advantage, he said.

“He drew a chart of each party’s strength, noting that the dominant castes in the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) drew the resentment of other groups in the party, who Congress had targeted in the latest parliamentary election. This ‘revolt from below’ against the caste superstructure of the parties created opportunities for Congress to make a successful non-caste appeal,” he added.