The debilitated Congress seems blind to the real dilemma facing it today. Hence the two streams of advice from its members, one saying Sonia Gandhi should continue, and the other asking her son to take over. These run parallel with a third idea seemingly forthcoming as the ‘solution’ that Rahul Gandhi will set up an advisory committee of elders while inducting his age group into more important positions. The sine qua non, of course, is the belief that the Grand Old Party cannot survive without a member of the Nehru family heading it. This is the refrain of all good Congressmen and women. This belief is in their DNA, but let us begin at the beginning, when the real problem started. Rajiv Gandhi was cruelly assassinated. The party was headless and so would have been a prospective government without him. At that time Sonia Gandhi was probably too shattered and lacking in confidence to accept the offer of heading the party. Narasimha Rao was exhumed and soon Sita Ram Kesri was made party president. For better or for worse, this was a radical change in its body politic, so antibodies formed and unceremoniously ejected what they believed was the foreign element in the party president’s seat and ensconced foreign-born Sonia Gandhi in his place. Narasimha Rao had far more important things to do that spend time checkmating her on minor matters and knew his own mind about major matters. They continued with their unhappy relationship and Congress courtiers were content fussing over her and finding immense satisfaction in heads of state calling on her, a mere party president, when visiting India, and, anyway, she had an important role to cultivate as the good Indian bahu and widow. This helped her slip easily from a quietly grieving party president to chief campaigner, “for the sake of the family’s legacy and the country” in the 1998 elections. On campaign platforms she was deliberately flanked only by her son and daughter, which made George Fernandes retort publicly, if rather impolitely, whether the attribute of producing two children for the dynasty was enough to merit the nation’s support. Despite her twice not making it to the Prime Minister’s chair for many known and unknown reasons, Congress courtiers milled around Ms Gandhi. Her nominee Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was content to play second/third fiddle in government, in policy making, and even in visibility when mother and son shared space in a party poster with him. This situation has been deeply embedded in the party’s psyche and leaves no way out for anyone to dare suggest another name.
When Rahul Gandhi was pinned down by an ambitious mother who ordered him to drink from the poisoned chalice of political responsibility, it double sealed the dynastic principle. He took over with an incorrigible sense of entitlement tempered with reluctance. He spoke of ridding politics of dynasty and bringing in merit, not realising the irony of saying it from an exalted position not earned through merit, which no one could dare contradict, guide, or correct for fear of a frown from the mother. All along, the mother has had a formal political secretary, apart from Ahmad Patel and a host of seen and unseen advisors. She has never had the knowledge, experience or confidence to take any decision on her own for the benefit of the country. She has never made an extempore speech in English or Hindi, and has never given anything other than orchestrated interviews. However, she has been firm and stubborn on matters that suit her personal interest like the handling of the Quattrocchi saga. Rahul Gandhi has his own backroom coterie, who, like his father’s Doon School clan, has a reflected sense of entitlement. There is no senior Congressman who does not offer advice when summoned, yet, with all the advice in the world available to them for all these years, in 2014 and after, the twosome have failed to deliver what matters the most to a political party—power.
The belief that the Grand Old Party cannot survive without a member of the Nehru family heading it is the refrain of all good Congressmen and women.
Returning to the parallel streams of advice that begins this story, the mother and son have been spoiled with advice. If a strategy succeeded they were credited with wisdom. If it failed, the advice was faulted. The concept of leaders having a superior vision or being able to lead, transformed into their capacity to heed advice. In truth, neither was ever qualified to know anything first hand. Having courted Prime Minister Nehru’s grandson, Sonia Gandhi entered India as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s daughter in law, and became Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s wife without ever having to engage with sweaty, grubby, dusty, shade-less India, let alone its chaotic and complicated macro-organism known as the political party structure. Rahul Gandhi wandered about abroad for years, dabbling in whatever he fancied, clueless and unconcerned of what politics in India was all about. Neither of them ever had the education, street experience or wisdom to understand the criss-crossing maze of India’s political, social, cultural or economic systems to offer leadership that truly took India forward and made it proud.
In a nutshell, they have always functioned upon advice from the very same crowd that will now be part of an advisory committee along with a close younger group whose advice will be heard as usual. All the advice upon which they have based their “leadership” role so far has not worked to the advantage of the party. As for the young group of leaders, what have they been whispering into Rahul Gandhi’s ear in the back benches of Parliament all this time?
For a twosome who do not meet, nor listen, nor respond to the serious problems raised by leaders of their party, and since no advice dare be given which calls for the Nehru dynasty to relinquish its leadership role, the only re-jigging being considered may indeed fail.