Congress sees systemic change from Indira to Rahul
Systematic stifling of young leaders in the Congress party has, in the course of time, made the party leaderless at the district and state levels. The leadership at the centre grew stronger but at the state and lower levels, it became rudderless. The Congress system, particularly from the time of Indira Gandhi onwards, discouraged strong state leaders from emerging and replacing the old guards.
The result was that there is now a vacuum at the state level and it is difficult to find a leader of stature to lead the party in elections.
Jawaharlal Nehru always encouraged state leaders to grow and, as a consequence, leaders like Charan Singh, C B Gupta, H N Bahuguna emerged in Uttar Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu it was K. Kamaraj, in Orissa Biju Patnaik came up, in Maharashtra Y B Chavan and V P Naik dominated the scene and in Rajasthan Mohan Lal Sukhadia and Hardev Joshi led the party. It was, indeed, golden period of the Congress party.
Having been disillusioned with the Congress party, the state leaders, already sidelined, quit and joined other parties; some thrived and some perished. Leaders like Charan Singh, became staunch critic of Indira Gandhi, floated his own party, merged his outfit with the Janata party and became Home Minister in Morarji Desai’s Government. He became Prime Minister, a life-time ambition, with the outside support of Mrs Gandhi but she pulled down Charan Singh at the time of her choosing and this paved the way for her return to power.
Chandra Shekhar, once a staunch follower of Mrs. Gandhi, too became disillusioned with her authoritarian style of functioning. She even imprisoned him during emergency. Chandra Shekhar became powerful President of the Janata party and that was his peak in politics. Turned from an admirer into a bitter critic, he never personally attacked Indiraji.
An up and coming leader of the Congress from Uttar Pradesh, Bahuguna, who was once successful Chief Minister of the state, was downgraded and sidelined. He floated his own party, which merged with the Janata party and Bahuguna became a central leader. With the fall of the Janata party, he returned to the Congress but tricked by Sanjay Gandhi. He subsequently perished. If leaders like Bahuguna were allowed to thrive in the Congress, the party would have never faced leadership crisis in the most populist state of the union.
Top-level Harijan leader, Jagjivan Ram, too met the same fate and subsequently perished. Maharashtra leader Y B Chavan, who had attacked Mrs. Gandhi publicly, apologised to her, and after undergoing humiliation returned to the Congress fold.
In truth, Nehru never encouraged dynastic politics. He had no desire to make Indira Gandhi the Prime Minister. It was Indira Gandhi who converted the Congress into a family business, stifled the growth of leaders so that no one was able to pose a challenge to her. She became strong but the party became weak. Gradually, the Congress became a private political organization of the “supreme leader”. Loyalty to Indira Gandhi became the order of the day.
What could be reasons for Mrs. Gandhi to act in this fashion? Had she not acted tough, the powerful state ‘satraps’ would have ousted her. She was already sidelined; the powerful ‘syndicate’ leaders had expelled her, a Prime Minister, from the party for defying the central parliament board’s decision on the issue of Presidential candidate.
She was outvoted at the Bangalore meeting of the Parliamentary Board. She tried hard to find a meeting ground with the Syndicate. Contrary to the reputation for being incorrigibly combative and confrontationist that she was soon to become, she seemed genuinely reluctant to the parting of ways with the Syndicate and thus bring about a split in the Congress.
She was in Tokyo when she got word that Syndicate’s purpose in putting Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy in the Presidential office was to remove her from her post and elect Morarji Desai instead. The fear, so deeply ingrained in her personality since early childhood, was now at its peak. Even so, on returning home she remained silent and open to all ideas. She knew that she could not get a person of her own choice accepted by the Parliamentary Board because the Syndicate had a majority in it. A defeat at the Board would make her vulnerable. She, therefore, chose silence and delay, hoping that a last-minute compromise with the Syndicate might yet be possible. But the Syndicate was on a show-down course and she had to pick up the gauntlet.
Just before the delegates started assembling in Bangalore, she was advised by P N Haksar, her principal counselor, that the best way to vanquish the Syndicate would be to convert the struggle for personal power into an ideological one. The advice was sound and timely; she acted on it at once and the rest is history.
Now that Rahul Gandhi has taken over the reign of the Congress party, he is trying hard to undo the harm done by his grandmother to the party by stifling the young leadership for her survival. He has started building a new leadership comprising up and coming leaders, both at the central and state levels. But to find and groom new leadership takes time. Till now he will have to manage with whatever talent is left in the Congress party. IPA