Nitpicking is not a good habit I am told.
But there are times when the opportunity is too good to resist.
Rahul Gandhi in a recent speech which has become famous as the “escape velocity” speech said “To Jupiter ki escape velocity kya hoti hai? Agar koi Jupiter pe khada hai aur Jupiter ki kheech se nikalna ho to use 60 km/sec ki acceleration chahiye. (So what is the escape velocity of Jupiter? If you are standing on Jupiter you need to go at 60 km/sec).”
Rahul had defined escape velocity a little earlier in his speech. “Escape velocity matlab agar aap ne dharti se space mein jana hai… agar aap hamari dharti pe hai to 11.2 km per second aap ki velocity honi padegi. (There is a concept of escape velocity if you want to go into space from Earth… your velocity has to be 11.2 km/sec).”
There is a very basic flaw in this small lecture on escape velocity. Acceleration and velocity are two different concepts. As Rahul said “Agar koi Jupiter pe khada hai aur Jupiter ki kheech se nikalna ho to use 60 km/sec ki acceleration chahiye.”
The word to be used here was velocity and not acceleration. Acceleration, as anyone who has studied basic eight standard physics will tell you, is the rate of change of velocity per unit of time. Lets consider the following table which shows the velocity of a moving object:
As we can see clearly from the above table, the velocity is constantly going up at the rate of 5 metre per second, in each second of time. Hence, the object has an acceleration of 5 metre per second squared (m/s2).
So that is the difference between velocity and acceleration. They are two different words, with two different meanings, which cannot be used interchangeably.
So that was the nitpicking bit.
The “escape velocity” comment has been a subject of lot of ridicule since it was first made. But there was a bigger joke in Rahul Gandhi’s speech, which people haven’t latched onto. He recounted a story that his late grandmother Indira Gandhi had told him about how she had cheered a team playing an ice hockey match against Germany, which was then ruled by Adolf Hitler. As Rahul said “It was a match between Germany and some other team. The other team was being thrashed and the crowds were cheering….My grandmother (Indira Gandhi) felt very bad and got up to cheer the weak team, but was shouted at. She sat down out of fear.” (As reported in The Time of India)
“The whole stadium (full of Germans) shouted against her. She sat down in fear but decided that never again in her life she will ever sit down in fear… If somebody is doing anything wrong never sit down,” Rahul said (As reported in The Telegraph). This it seems had an impact on Indira Gandhi and she resolved never again to be cowed down, while doing what she thought was right.
This is the bigger joke in the speech. Indira Gandhi only did those things that ensured that she continued to be in power. She destroyed the democratic institutions in this country. The lack of governance today in India is because of all that she did when she was the Prime Minister. As Gurucharan Das told me in an interview last year “The damage that Indira Gandhi did was far greater. Her license raj combined with the mai baap sarkar, this double whammy gave the illusion to the people that the state would do everything…The second was the damage she did to our political institutions…During the period she was the Prime Minister, I think she dismissed fifty nine elected governments in states…She tried to change India’s culture and change our political system. A lot has been written about the emergency and so on. But the enduring damage we don’t realise. Before her, Chief Ministers were a little afraid when a secretary said no sir you can’t do this. And if you tried to do it, the secretary wouldn’t bend very often. Now they just transfer…Also after Indira Gandhi the police became a handmaiden of the executive. The police lost its independence. Even the judiciary was damaged. She wanted committed judges.”
Other than destroying the democratic institutions of this country she turned the Congress party, into a party which thrives on chamchas and chamchagiri. Historian and writer Ramachandra Guha explains this in an essay titled A Short History of Congress Chamchagiri which is a part of his book Patriots and Partisans.“Most Indians are too young to know this, but the truth is that until about 1969 the Congress was more or less a democratic party,” writes Guha.
Indira Gandhi had been planning to settle in Great Britain. After Nehru died in May 1964, she was invited to join the cabinet as the minister of information and broadcasting by Lal Bahadur Shastri who took over as the next prime minister.
“When Shastri died in January 1966, Mrs Gandhi was, to her own surprise, catapulted into the post of the prime minister. There were other and better candidates for the job, but the Congress bosses (notably K Kamraj) thought that they could more easily control a lady they thought to be a gungi gudiya (dumb doll),“ writes Guha.
But she was not a gungi gudia and made all the right moves to consolidate her power and finally split the Congress party in 1969 and what was a essentially a decentralised and democratic party till that point of time became an extension of the whims, fancies and insecurities of a single individual.
Thus started an era of chamchas and chamchagiri in the Congress. Dev Kant Baruah who was the President of the Congress Party between 1975 and 1977 went to the extent of saying “Indira is India and India is Indira”. What was loyalty to the party earlier became loyalty to the individual and the family.
Also, Indira Gandhi took total control over the system effectively overriding democracy and imposing emergency on June 26, 1975. During this period she also formed a mini government within the government. This effort was led by her PN Haksar, her civil service secretary.
As veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar recounts in Emergency Retold “Haksar…organised the system in such a way that everything would revolve around the prime minister’s secretariat. Not even a deputy secretary was appointed without its concurrence. He set up a mini government…Haksar’s main contribution was that he politicized the setup, in the sense that for the first time in the country’s post independence history, government machinery came to be used for political purposes, if need be for Congress party purposes.”
The prime minister’s office is currently run by Pulok Chatterjee, who was earlier the officer on special duty to Sonia Gandhi.
Getting back to the emergency, Indira’s mini government had total control over how the system worked. A famous cartoon made by Abu showed President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed in his bath during the emergency signing ordinances and saying “if there are any more ordinances just ask them to wait.”
Indira Gandhi also ensured that the Congress party effectively became a family run concern. As Guha writes in the essay Verdicts on Nehru “Mrs Gandhi converted the Indian National Congress into a family business. She first bought in her son Sanjay, and after his death, his brother Rajiv. In each case, it was made clear that the son would succeed Mrs Gandhi as head of Congress and head of government.”
Once the model was established firmly in the Congress party, it spread to most other political parties. “Indira Gandhi’s embrace of the dynastic principle for the Congress served as a ready model for other parties to emulate…The DMK was once the proud party of Dravidian nationalism and social reform; it is now the private property of M Karunanidhi and his children…Likewise, for all his professed commitment to Maharashtrian pride and Hindu nationalism Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackeray could look no further than his son. The Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janta Dal claimed to stand for ‘social justice’, but the leadership of Mulayam’s party passed onto his son and in Lalu’s party to his wife,” writes Guha.
In doing what she did Indira Gandhi basically destroyed Indian democracy. Indeed, if she had not done what she did, Rahul Gandhi would not be the vice-president of the Congress party. He would at best be a middle level manager of a private sector company (as Guha puts it). Rahul Gandhi is honest enough to realise this. In October 2008, while addressing girl students at a resort near Jim Corbett National Park, Rahul Gandhi referred to “politics” as a closed system in India. “If I had not come from my family, I wouldn’t be here. You can enter the system either through family or friends or money. Without family, friends or money, you cannot enter the system. My father was in politics. My grandmother and great grandfather were in politics. So, it was easy for me to enter politics. This is a problem. I am a symptom of this problem.”
Hence, it is not surprising Rahul is inspired by what his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, told him. If it was not for her, he would be largely irrelevant today. He would pop up in the media once in a while, as a subject of stories on what are the descendants of Indira Gandhi doing today. Meanwhile, Rahul’s “bigger” joke, I talked about initially, is really on us, the citizens of this country.
(Vivek Kaul is the author of Easy Money. He tweets @kaul_vivek)
What media missed out on in Rahul Gandhi's “escape-velocity” speech