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Ram Jethmalani is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.

Unpleasant truths about Rahul

Rahul is around the age when John F. Kennedy was already running the world in those hard times of the Cold War.

Rahul Gandhi

t's official now. Rahul Gandhi has finally declared that he is ready to take the plunge — to fulfil his destiny as heir to the monarchic democracy of India. His statement of 19 July that he would play a more proactive role in the party and the government, though its timing would be decided by the leadership (meaning his mother and her advisors), smacked of an attitude that he had decided to make this great sacrifice for the greater good of his party and of the Indian people. Much like the sacrifice his mother made by self-abnegation of the Prime Ministership of India in 2004. Salman Khurshid, a spokesman and confidant of the Gandhi family, has bluntly and quite authoritatively stated that Rahul Gandhi will under no circumstances play Number Two — a message for the nth time clearly meant for the Prime Minister, who appears to have shrugged it off with calculated detachment.

Frenzied proclamations during the last two weeks from the usual Congress interlocutors suggest a strong degree of panic within the famiglia and coterie, that the succession cannot be deferred much longer. The interlocutors are showing great commitment, even at the cost of their own tenability, to project Rahul Gandhi as their Prime Ministerial candidate for the next election, in complete faithfulness to the searing desire of the Congress party president. For some mysterious reason, Rahul avoids the subject as much as he can, unless pushed to the wall, as he was on 19 July. The latest addition to the litany is that Rahul be made Leader of the House in place of Pranab Mukherjee. The Opposition cannot ask for better, and of course, there is not a word from Rahul on this.

There was speculation for the last few years that the game plan was to coronate Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister soon after the anticipated grand victory at the Uttar Pradesh elections led by him. But that did not happen. Hence, the "now or never" attempts, especially as we hear of the Congress president's failing health, and as the general election draws closer. In this piece, I would like to discuss and share with readers Rahul Gandhi's qualifications for his hereditary entitlement to being India's Prime Minister.

I am not prejudiced or old fashioned about the value of college degrees. I am also aware that sometimes, formal education stymies achievement of the gifted. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are eminent examples of this in the contemporary world. I believe even Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, whose achievements transformed modern pure and applied science, were also college dropouts. But it did not take them long to make their seminal contribution to the advancement of mankind. And I don't think on any occasion these famous college dropouts ever fudged their academic qualifications.

Putting aside Rahul Gandhi's academic achievements, about which enough has been written already, I am trying to think hard of any contribution he has made to the political, economic, social or cultural life of India in the years between his turbulent academic career spanning across several continents, and the present time. Note that he is around the age when President John F. Kennedy was already running the world in those hard times of the Cold War, and Barack Obama faced the challenge of becoming the first non-WASP President of the United States.

Undoubtedly, Rahul's strongest asset is his descent, and this in the fast evolving ethos of dynastic democracy in India, ipso facto provides him a natural entitlement to the Prime Ministership of India. However, it is apparent that despite the determined efforts of his mother and acceleration by the hired spokespersons to push his case, he remains somewhat reluctant, and that his heart is really not in it. Why else would he not have taken up some ministry or other, which would have been his for the asking, as did his peers, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, or Omar Abdullah?

Coming back to his contribution, I read in the newspapers that he has done much to bring about democratisation in the Youth Congress, a place where, as an unquestioned monarch, I presume he finds himself comfortable. This might keep him occupied and amused for the time being, but surely he realises that one day he would have to upscale the same democratisation device to the main Congress party, which he is destined to head. Is that what is called an oxymoron? Poor boy, the contradictions and injustices of his life, and the varied conflicts of interest implicit in his political destiny must make him disoriented. Perhaps, this is the reason why he disappears from the Indian scene for long periods of time — presumably to reconcile the great conflicts that he must confront, by the political role irrevocably destined and forced upon him.

I have tried to think hard of some substantive contribution from him in the last few years to solve the major problems facing India — from a speech in Parliament on any subject; or regarding alleviation of poverty that dehumanises at least a third of our population; or about inflation and rising prices that are making their lives even more miserable; or about corruption and black money that is devouring our country and perpetuating its poverty; or about Naxalism or fundamentalist terrorism that seriously threatens internal security; or about our relations with China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or the US and Russia. I must say that despite my best efforts, I draw a blank. Not even on the ongoing tragedy of Assam has he said or done anything yet. But I do recall Rahul reading out a sheet of paper in Parliament that the Lokpal should have constitutional status. I am not sure whether he was even aware that his government did not have the necessary strength to pull through the amendment required for his suggestion.

There is also a murky side to Rahul's history that is in the public domain. Alas, it is inescapable that along with his dynastic Prime Ministerial entitlement, he must also inherit the sins of his dynasty. KGB archives after the fall of the Soviet Union reveal that since 1982, when Indira Gandhi was still the Prime Minister, Soviet trading agencies were channelling funds into a company controlled by her son and Rahul's father, the future Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Harvard Russian scholar Yevgenia Albats has clearly narrated this in her book, The State Within A State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia. The Swiss news-magazine Schweizer Illustrierte (11 November 1991) provided more details. Citing newly opened KGB records, it reported that Sonia Gandhi, widow of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was controlling a secret account worth 2.5 billion Swiss francs in a Swiss bank in her minor son's name.

Ms Albats had full access to secret files of the KGB, and disclosed in her book that KGB chief Victor Chebrikov in December 1985 had sought in writing from the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), "authorization to make payments in US dollars to the family members of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, namely Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Ms Paola Maino, mother of Sonia Gandhi." CPSU payments were authorised by a resolution, CPSU/CC/No 11228/3 dated 20 December, 1985; and endorsed by the USSR Council of Ministers. These payments had been coming since 1971, as payments received by Sonia Gandhi's family, and "have been audited in CPSU/CC resolution No. 11187/22 OP dated October 12, 1984".

These facts have been published in the national and international media, and have not been contradicted by anyone in the Gandhi family, nor has any defamation suit been filed. Rahul Gandhi, do you have anything to say about this?

This piece raises questions which our Prime Minister in waiting must answer to the people of India to set at rest serious misgivings about his credentials and qualifications. I had invited his answers to nine questions raised by me in my letter of 27.11.2008. He has never been able to furnish them or make them public. I reiterate them again and request him to refresh his memory. There is a Right to Information Act in this country. People are entitled to know all they want to know about our imminent ruler to be. Rahul Gandhi must also realise that he is not an eternal minor, and Manmohan Singh is no eternal Prince Regent.

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