Congress introspection must be real
The Congress has a number of admirable qualities. For one, its stoicism in the face of repeated defeats borders on the heroic. For another, the devotion of its foot soldiers towards the feudal overlords of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty can be the envy of a monastic order. And finally, the discipline which the rank and file display in the face of a situation which is progressively becoming worse is worthy of a resolute army.
Notwithstanding the promise of introspection after every defeat, it becomes obvious a few weeks later that the exercise was carried out for form’s sake and no major shake-up was intended. It is customary in a democratic system for the leaders of a defeated party to step down after a loss. But the Congress shies away from emulating this example.
The reason is that its feudal traditions have become so entrenched that they have stifled the standard responses of a normal party. Philosopher-king Jawaharlal Nehru’s 17 years at the helm, authoritarian-cynic Indira Gandhi’s 15 years, and bumbling inheritor of the mantle Rajiv Gandhi’s five years appear to have choked the party’s internal democracy. As a result, its members have become robotic, ceaselessly bowing and scraping before the First Family even if it is suspected of intellectual vacuity and political ineptitude.
To the automatons in the Congress, the dynasty has become the be-all and end-all of their existence. Their programmed mindsets cannot conceive of the world sans the Nehru-Gandhi family. The latter, too, has come to accept the unquestioning obedience of the serfs as their due and an endorsement of their right to remain at the head of the Congress for the foreseeable future. They are so secure in their own sense of entitlement to the top positions in the organisation that the series of defeats do not seem to matter.
To the dynasty, the setbacks are seemingly a passing phenomenon – “failure is not permanent” as Congress president Sonia Gandhi has said. They can be ascribed to the accidental attributes of its opponents like Narendra Modi’s “gift of the gab”, to quote Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh. As such, the defeats can be ignored as the First Family continues to lead the flock – even towards the precipice.
However, there is a fly in the ointment. The Congress’s feudalism has been complicated by the internal tensions which mark all zamindar families, which live in a cocoon. The party’s internal equations have led to a curious situation where perhaps the most charismatic and articulate of its members, who revives the memories of another charismatic personality, Indira Gandhi, has been kept behind a purdah, so to say.
Although occasional demands are made by restive Congressmen, especially after an electoral setback, to let Priyanka Gandhi play a leading role, she is kept out of sight, except for occasional forays in the Family’s pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli, lest she should overshadow her elder brother, Rahul. Since the latter is Sonia’s favourite, her politics centres on promoting him although it has long been obvious that he is not a “political animal” like Priyanka. Even if the party suffers because of the impression which Rahul gives of being a dilettante in politics, his mother backs him in the best traditions of feudalism which place great emphasis on the son continuing the family line.
This isn’t the only example of Sonia’s partiality. Her extravagant welfare measures in the twilight years of the Manmohan Singh government were intended to take the focus away from the fastest ever reduction in poverty that took place between 2005-6 and 2011-12, as the present chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian has said, lest the “accidental Prime Minister” earned all the kudos, leaving Rahul in the lurch. As a result, the country’s interests were sacrificed at the altar of the Family.
It is obvious that the dynasty is the albatross around not only the Congress’s neck but also the country’s. Unless the 131-year-old party shakes itself free of the Nehru-Gandhi family, it will continue to go down. It was a pathetic cry in the wilderness by Digvijay Singh when he urged former stalwarts of the Congress like Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee to return to the “mother” party (no pun intended). And what will be their first task if and when they do so? Pay obeisance to Sonia Gandhi ?
What the latter’s cheer leaders have forgotten is that the reason why Pawar and Mamata Banerjee left was the glass ceiling in the Congress which prevented those not belonging to the dynasty from rising beyond a certain subservient level. It is only the out-and-out sycophants who can survive in the Congress, forever kowtowing to the Family. It is an attitude reminiscent of a medieval monarchy or a communist dictatorship, except that India is neither.
The regular elections ensure that those who regard themselves as larger-than-life will be cut down to size by the voters. Neither family lineage nor slumming in Dalit homes – which has now been abandoned – will impress the electorate unless the putative leaders are seen as intelligent, in tune with the norms of an open society and willing to give everyone in the party a chance to rise to the top via internal elections. The dynasty has none of these attributes.
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)