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Is Rahul Gandhi The Hamlet Of Indian Politics?

07/11/2016 5:15 PM IST | Updated 10/11/2016 8:44 AM IST
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Adnan Abidi / Reuters

A Congress MLA from Chhattisgarh was recently suspended for making derogatory comments about Mr. Rahul Gandhi. According to media reports, the MLA said that he wouldn't call a donkey a horse. Now I believe that legislators could well avoid using unparliamentary language, especially since there are more sophisticated similes to pick from. And who better than Shakespeare to help us with one?

"All the world's a stage," the bard had once said. If Shakespeare were to pick his cast from Indian polity then most certainly Rahul Gandhi would land the role of Hamlet. Don't look surprised. The similarities are far too many to be ignored. And if you have ignored them so far, grant me creative license, and I shall point to a few.

[A]s the play advances it doesn't take audience long to realize that Hamlet has been given a task he is not fit to carry out.

The story is set in India, circa 2004. Our prince returns to his native state after receiving his education from abroad. He has lost his father to an unfortunate conspiracy. The young prince discovers that instead of eschewing the politics that cost his father his life, the queen has embraced it. Like Gertrude, Mrs Gandhi has (strictly figuratively) married the seat of power—she has become the president of Indian Nation Congress and, as many would say, the proxy Prime Minister. Our prince is young, charming, brooding and seemingly intense. The loyalists of the Congress party throughout the country rejoice. In the young prince they see their future king. They think he could set right what is wrong in the "rotten" state, and who better than the noble prince with a nobler last name, Gandhi, to take up the mighty task.

The ghosts of his ancestors loom over this young prince. All his words and actions are always weighed against those of his forebears. As with Hamlet, the ghost of the past colours the actions of our young prince in the present.

But as the play advances it doesn't take audience long to realize that Hamlet has been given a task he is not fit to carry out. It becomes amply clear that he is where he is not out of his own volition but filial obligation.

"The time is out of joint, O cursed spite

That I was ever born to set it right."

The spectators keep waiting and waiting with bated breath for the prince to act. A year passes, then two, then three and then almost a decade, but the wait doesn't end. We keep hearing about democratization within the Congress party, its strengthening from the roots, women and minorities being empowered, but nothing ever happens. The introspection is underway, we are told. Our prince, like his Danish analogue, is characterized by delaying action to the point of exasperating the audience. However, every now and then there's a dramatic spike in the narrative. There come moments when the viewers find themselves perched on the edge of their seats, hoping to see the prince finally rise to the occasion. There he is with the sword in his hand, he is alone with the king, now is the time he will run that sword through the wicked king, they think. But nothing really happens. Many opportunities are wasted: ordinances are called "complete nonsense", manifestos are torn with flourish, bread is broken with Dalits, political arrests take place; but nothing really happens on the ground. Alas! The prince disappoints us yet again.

The spectators keep waiting and waiting with bated breath for the prince to act. A year passes, then two, then three and then almost a decade, but the wait doesn't end.

Our prince is extremely fond of speculation. He soliloquizes about how politics is in our shirt and our pants, how Congress party is an idea, ek soch, how poverty is a state of mind, how Dalits need the escape velocity of Jupiter. We find his utterances absurd, annoying, amusing even, but never statesman-like. Our prince, like Hamlet, churns out profound observations on life and death. He compares power to poison and waxes eloquent on how he has chosen to drink from the poisoned chalice, despite knowing it's lethal, because he is obliged to.

The problem is that all that he says would have sounded perfectly plausible if he were only a poet or a philosopher; but for a would-be ruler who has been consigned a serious responsibility, his witticisms and pontifications sound misplaced, vacuous, and at times insulting too, especially when they are not backed by concrete actions. His actions, sadly, have not borne out the illustrious pedigree that he was born into.

One senses in both Hamlet and Rahul a deep-seated anger. This anger is not only futile because it doesn't translate into anything productive, but it is also in a way reflexive because it is aimed at his own kin. Hamlet's criticism of Gertrude and his uncle Claudius is akin to Rahul's criticism of the "system". He doesn't realize that he is the epitome of that system and that system is the doing of his own family.

Hamlet's criticism of Gertrude and his uncle Claudius is akin to Rahul's criticism of the "system". He doesn't realize that he is the epitome of that system...

Hamlet could not be the quintessential revenge-play hero that he was supposed to be. He couldn't be shrewd, scheming, opportunistic. As the play ends, the spectators are overcome with disappointment rather than pity—the mindless bloodshed could have been avoided, so many lives (including those of Ophelia's and Gertrude's) would not have been lost if the prince had not dithered for so long and had chosen to act at the right time. Our prince too could not be the darling of the masses that he was supposed to be. He couldn't connect, communicate, comfort or care. As one watches him, one only feels disappointed.

Now, whether this analogy is tragic or comic is up to you to decide.

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