Millennium Post

A family tied to apron strings

Had Congress been a normal political party in the sense that it wasn’t so dependent on the Nehru-Gandhi family, then it would have been expected to engage in an extensive search for the next possible prime minister before the general election. If it is not doing so, the reason is that the party or, rather, Sonia Gandhi has decided that it will be Rahul Gandhi. Even if there are a few in the organisation who believe that Rahul is not yet ready or that he does not measure up to the challenge, they are likely to maintain a deafening silence.

This is the primary negative feature of a party tied to the apron-strings of a family. For the all the claims that the succession process is not dynastic since the family members have to get elected, the fact that the country’s most important position is virtually reserved for the party makes a mockery of its democratic pretensions. Manmohan Singh’s nomination by Sonia does not negate this argument since his lack of a political base and timid nature make him a person who is expected to keep the seat warm for the heir apparent. Ironically, Rahul himself is not unaware of the crucial role of his family, for he has said that many of the parties, including his own, are run by a few people – the Samajwadi Party by Mulayam Singh Yadav, the RJD by Lalu Prasad Yadav, the BSP by Mayawati, the DMK by Karunanidhi, the AIADMK by Jayalalithaa, the Trinamool Congress by Mamata Banerjee, the Biju Janata Dal by Naveen Patnaik, the Akali Dal by Prakash Singh Badal, and so on. Only the cadre-based BJP and the communist parties can be said to be different although it has been said about the CPI(M) that its decisions are taken by sahib, bibi aur ghulam, viz. Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat and Ramachandra Pillai, all polit bureau members. If the regimented communist parties generally manage to keep their internal dissensions secret, the BJP is perhaps the only major party whose infighting is well-known, as L K Advani’s caveats about Narendra Modi showed.

The Congress, too, was known at one time for its internal squabbles. Indira Gandhi is believed to have even encouraged them to dissipate the ambitions of regional leaders. But, now, it is all peace and quiet with its leaders only competing among themselves to shower praise on Rahul. How badly such feudalism is hurting the Congress will only be known later, but if Rahul is genuinely interested in ‘reinventing’ the party, as Jairam Ramesh claims, or is not really interested in becoming PM, as his Ivy League friends say, then he will be doing the organisation a service if he decides to step aside. Arguably, such a step will make the Congressmen behave like orphans initially, lacking in self-confidence and unable to decide for themselves. But, it can be expected to start a process of growing up. In any case, it will be an unavoidable process later if not now, for who will the still unmarried Rahul pass the baton to? ‘If I get married and have children,’ he said earlier in the year, ‘then I will become a status-quoist and will be concerned about bequeathing my position to my children’.

If Rahul declines to be PM, who will the Congress turn to? Manmohan Singh may have ruled himself out of contention not only because of his age, but also because he is too mealy-mouthed to hold the post which requires the country to look up to it with hope. His inability to deliver even in the field of his expertise, economics, is another minus point. Among other contenders, The Economist and Time magazines have suggested P Chidambaram’s name evidently because of his economic credentials at a time of stagflation. These pro-capitalist publications also favour him because he is expected to tone down the ‘socialism’ of Sonia’s kitchen cabinet. But, the finance minister himself has been evasive. On being asked the question, he said that his preference is to travel, read and write as well as Arundhati Roy although he does not agree with her views.

Among others, A K Antony’s name has been mentioned and ruled out in the same breath. He is believed to have the potential because of his clean image. But, his Christian background is considered a disadvantage in a party which has a Christian president in Sonia. It is a pity that there is no one in the younger generation who has the gravitas to hold the top post. Rahul at least has the ingrained aristocracy of his lineage, but not the others – Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot and Jitin Prasada.

Unfortunately, the Congress has suffered because of the untimely deaths of promising personalities like Madhavrao Scindia, Rajesh Pilot and Y S Rajasekhara Reddy. Of them, Madhavrao had the best potential. However, the party’s biggest disadvantage is that Sonia thought of grooming no one except her son.

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