“We are all conditioned not to see beyond ‘the’ family,” a Congressman said embarrassingly after answering
‘Priyanka’ as the person who would lead the party in the 2019 elections. This conversation between the senior Congress figure and the author for the Banyan column in The Economist occurred just before the 2014 elections when the Congress had realised its doom and the inefficiency of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership skills.
The disasters by Rahul were evident through his speeches during the rallies in 2014. His TV interview with Arnab Goswami was a debacle as this man, who carries the legacy of the Nehru family, fumbled in answering questions on crucial issues due to ‘inappropriate briefing’ (as the Congress put it later), which actually happened because he was trying to read the cue cards held by his sister and Jairam Ramesh.
Coming back to where we started, the sentence said at a gloomy time for Congress reflects their deep embedded ideology of Gandhi family, which is also the uniting factor of the party. A little history lesson would help them recall there have been numerous times when Congress had had a non-Nehru president.
Founded in 1885, the Indian National Congress started with Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee as party president, bearing no legacy to the Nehru family. It was after a good 34 years that a Nehru would lead Congress when Motilal Nehru became the president in 1918. Succeeded by Mahatma Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu as chiefs, Jawaharlal Nehru, another from the family took the realm in 1929 which was 44 years after foundation of the Congress. Then came Indira Gandhi’s election as head in 1929. It continued with Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 and was completely established as a private limited firm belonging to the family since Sonia Gandhi’s reign from 1998.
The change of guard happened again in 2017 and to no one’s surprise, Rahul Gandhi became party president after a farcical party presidential election with no opponent. The former is the leading figure now, ready to battle the leviathan, Narendra Modi.
The scion of the Gandhi family received five kinds of Congress in collateral. Motilal Vora belongs to the first kind which came from Indira’s time. The second kind comprises Gulab Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma, Jagdish Tytler and Kamal Nath which came during the Emergency period through Youth Congress and Sanjay Gandhi. These well-fed politicians have barely faced any struggle in their 42 years’ career in the party. Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress makes next type with candidates like Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram, the intellectuals. The next kind is the inheritors of their parents and joined the party having faced minimum adversaries in life. Rahul leads these epitomes of dynastical politics with the likes of Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, Jitin Prasada, Rajdeep Surjewala and Jyotiraditya Scindia. These ‘soft, air-conditioned netas’ lack the fire in their bellies with the inability to conduct mass movements.
For Rahul Gandhi to succeed, he must first get rid of the baggage the party carries, rightly described as “ready to do the family’s bidding, like a well-upholstered Ambassador car always at the front door.” These loyalist netas need to be pushed aside and the party needs to be revitalised with the likes of Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani. These young politicians, often seen disagreeing with each other, are what Rahul needs in every state to connect with the minorities and youth and bring about a change once promised as ‘acche din’ by his arch enemy.
A step in the right direction?
It’s ironic how we can predict that Rahul is inevitably bound to become the prime minister someday in his life, exactly how 14 years ago in 2004, almost everyone knew how he would lead the Congress one day.
Rahul took over as party president in 2017, just two days before the election verdict in Gujarat. His first speech reflected the ideas of a serious leader rather than a shy and hesitant part-time politician forced to carry on family business. He admitted the mistakes made by the party and talked about unemployment, liberalisation of business and the scams which are now a regular affair in the country. His 69 rallies across Gujarat then and now in Karnataka reflect the hard work he put in campaigning to defeat the evil Kauravas, as he once said.
Learning from Narendra Modi himself, Rahul’s recent speeches have had good doses of references drawn from Hindu myths, presenting a starkly different form of Hinduism than BJP’s. His ‘temple run’ did bring criticism of him following ‘soft Hindutva’ as well, but one should also reflect how India in 2018 is far more communally polarised than it was in 2009.
From this perspective, the strategy seems more on the lines of ‘smart secularism’ to curb the fast-spreading Hindutva ideology. He astonished everyone by insisting that though the BJP wanted a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’, he did not want a ‘BJP-mukt Bharat’ since the BJP was an expression of aspirations of the Indian people. Though he did not agree with their politics, his love, he said, extended to BJP supporters. These are shockingly unusual sentiments in the dog-eat-dog world of Indian politics.
Silence will not bear golden fruit for him. He needs to keep this torch of ‘love’ and commonsense lit in the looming darkness prevailing due to BJP’s ridiculous propagandic ideology. Only then will the David be able to beat the Goliath!