It is near impossible these days to say something about Rahul Gandhi, the heir of the family that has ruled India for most of the country's independent history, which has not been said before. Even more so given the plethora of criticism hurled at him every time he makes an appearance, a speech, or just tweets, all the activities that he has been doing more often these days.
But his standing in the Congress, which despite its failing performances, continues to be the second most important (barely) party in India, makes it critical to give importance to what he says and does in public.
And the latest of these at the University of California, Berkeley, is no different. This time while he acted out the part of one of the tallest leaders of the opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government with some political competence (a rarity in itself) he was quick to invite criticism (like only he can) even from the neutrals when he spoke about the workings of dynasties in India.
"Most parties in India have that problem. So don't give us stick because Akhilesh Yadav is a dynast. Stalin is a dynast. (Prem Kumar) Dhumal's son is a dynast, even Abhishek Bachchan is a dynast. That is how India runs," was his not so well thought out reply on dynastic politics.
And he has gotten enough and more stick (and deservedly so) from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Twitterati, among others, for his attempts to justify his 'inheritance' based on his understanding of how "India runs."
Although the multiple problems with such a statement are obvious and have already been pointed to, the troubling factor for the latest Gandhi in charge of the Congress is that, even if in an attempt to humour him such a pretext is accepted, the young (the excuse everyone makes for him) Gandhi scion has till now even failed by the already low standards of dynasty politics found in the country.
Making him a curious case not only among other present day dynasts but also those who came before him in his own family.
Not a good enough dynast as well
The first thing the 'common public' talks about as a major problem when it comes to subsequent generations of successful people entering the same field with a red carpet welcome just on the basis of whose children or grand children they are and having little to do with showing glimpses, forget proving, their talents.
This is true of most of the names Rahul mentioned (it's not clear how it has gone down with them) in California and many more in almost all fields. And when it comes to using such an opportunity in politics, he has done far less than most other heirs of political parties, albeit of regional ones.
His major flaw lies deeper than the most startling fact of not being able to inspire his party to a successful electoral performance (the bread and butter of any political party). It comes in the form of not even taking responsibility officially (or lacking the confidence unlike others) and owning up for the party's performances, good or bad.
While he was given full credit for the only good election result under him with Congress winning an impressive 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh during 2009 Lok Sabha elections, yet cronies and sycophants near him help him wash his hands of all the defeats.
Something helped by the curious and un-understandable fact that he has still not taken over as the president of his party from his mother, Sonia Gandhi, despite her ailing health and him being vice president of the party as well as three time Lok Sabha member.
Meanwhile, other privileged kids of mainstream and successful politicians have either taken over their parties or become part of governments, unlike Rahul who refused to join the Congress-led UPA government.
Some examples being Akhilesh Yadav (son of Mulayam Singh Yadav) of Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh who took over as Chief Minister and even rebelled against his father to take control of the party, or Tejashwi Yadav (son of Lalu Yadav) who became deputy chief minister of Bihar or others like Stalin of the DMK who has taken control of the party.
Failing the test of his own family too
Political observers have talked about his elevation being postponed due to the old guard of the party, considered close to his mother and still quite powerful, being a hurdle in it. Though such an excuse might have some merit, his perceived inability to counter it doesn't speak very highly of his political acumen.
This also goes against the standing and power enjoyed by not only his mother but also his father (Rajiv Gandhi), uncle (Sanjay Gandhi), grand mother (Indira Gandhi) and far-far away from his great grandfather and first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru.
Power enjoyed by these leaders in the party is not the only criteria where the latest Gandhi in the fray lets down those who came before him. Unlike his predecessors when it comes to Rahul it is still unclear what he stands for, even though he has been in public life for well over a decade.
For example, while Nehru had a touch with the masses like no other prime minister has had in India's history and became the maker of modern India, Indira Gandhi was able to project herself as the champion of the poor and strong leader who defeated Pakistan. Rajiv Gandhi though considered politically immature just like his son still carried an image of a new age leader with a vision of a future for his country based on technology. His mother, on the other hand, was able to with her work and travel through the length and breadth of the country, similar to Modi, was able to unite and bring her party it back to power.
Rahul has not been able to do any of these or find a unique standing for himself. This is doubly worrying for the leader and his party, especially since the Congress vice president, who can easily be considered the weakest of the long line leaders from his family is facing the strongest opponent any of them ever did. Unlike past challengers, a Modi-led BJP is neither divided nor lacking in mass support and possesses what can be considered one of the biggest strengths any serious opponent of the family has ever had, a weak opponent in Rahul.
Holding on to the greatest gift for dynasts: Time
Despite all of this, every time a supporter of the Congress points out that he may still become Prime Minister given he is still 47-years-old, even his critics have to pause a moment or two and find it difficult to completely rule out.
And here is where the second biggest advantage heirs of dynasties enjoy that makes the rest angry, comes in to help him. The availability of time and years of continuous opportunity despite consistent failures, a luxury someone not coming from the same background will never enjoy.
This though, might not remain true for Rahul very long if things keep going in the same direction as they have been for the last few years in the political arena. With the BJP now in power in 18 states and in complete control of the lower house of Parliament with a mandate unprecedented in the last 30 years, and moving towards forming a firm grip on the Rajya Sabha.
Most of this has happened on Rahul's watch, resulting in the emergence some voices calling for change at the top. Yet given the system of hierarchy in the Congress, such sounds will soon be drowned, if they haven't been already.
Though those from outside the family might not lay claim to the party anytime soon, most shouts of rebellion against Rahul have pointed at him not even being the best possible option within his family, forget the country. As is indicated by calls for his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, to come and take charge even though she has an albatross around her neck named Robert Vadra, her husband, due to allegations of corruption against him.
These will just grow louder as till now every time he seems to do something right, which gives who wish him to do well some hope and make others stand up and take notice, he either follows it up with a holiday of some sort or words and actions which eclipse any political points he might have won.
His speech on 'India at 70'at UC Berkeley being just the latest example of this as what was a highly effective and credible performance aimed at criticising Modi, and made his opponents come out with strong reactions (good sign for a politicians) will be overshadowed by the dynasty issue in the national media that seems ever ready to ridicule him at every possible opportunity, sometimes undeservedly, but mostly not. So continuing the journey of the curious case of Rahul Gandhi.