However, one election whose outcome was a foregone conclusion even before the filing of a single nomination, and whose uncontested winner was finally installed on Saturday, was that of the Congress president. Forty-seven-year-old Rahul Gandhi took over from mother Sonia Gandhi as the head of the 132-year-old party founded by Allan Octavian Hume. The Italian-born Sonia controlled the party for 19 years before passing on the baton to her son.
The well-being of the family firm is now in his hands. That the Gandhis are united in keeping the party firmly in their grip came through at the formal installation ceremony of the new boss. Sister Priyanka and husband Robert Vadra were on hand, as they went through the formalities of installing the fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty at the head of the party. She and her husband may not hold any formal position in the firm, but the hierarchy ought to be clear to the minions who people this once great party.
Leading the fulsome eulogies to the qualities of head and heart of his old-new boss was none other than the durbari no. 1, Manmohan Singh. He had ensured for himself an extraordinary career promotion throughout, beginning with as an assistant professor in the Delhi School of Economics back in the early 1970s to the prime ministership of India for a full decade by being a faceless durbari. He was willing to play second, third or “nth” fiddle to whoever it might be, so long as it guaranteed sarkari bangla and gaadi.
For the subservient careerist, any sense of self-respect and dignity he might have had has all along been trumped by his need to be “employed”. Remember how he pocketed the public insult from the man who formally became the Congress boss on Saturday, when the latter tore up the ordinance passed by the Manmohan Singh Cabinet and called it “nonsense”. Manmohan Singh carried on as if nothing had happened. Why, while he was the head of the Planning Commission, Rajiv Gandhi had called him and fellow Planning Commission members “a bunch of jokers”, but true to type, Singh had carried on as if nothing had happened.
Of course, this column is not about Singh. But it was necessary to mention Singh’s craven jee hazoori, to point out that his obsequiousness towards the son and mother at Saturday’s orchestrated show for the generational change in the family-held firm set the tone for others to follow. Despite entertaining serious misgivings and doubts about his capabilities to establish a connect with the voters, speaker after speaker vied with one another to lay it on thick. Given that the rise in the Grand Old Party now depends on chamchagiri of the Gandhis, and not merit, as long as they are in the party, they have to per force sing paeans of high praise to the new chief.
Though the official results in Gujarat and Himachal will be out only on Monday, 18 December, should they conform broadly to the exit polls, it would be a dampener for the newly-minted Congress president. In Hindi, they have a rather colourful phrase to describe such an early blow to one’s hopes and pride: Sar mundatey hi olley pade. Rahul Gandhi may have mended his social media projection by hiring a couple of smart-alecky tweet-writers, but he will be mistaken if he were to believe that, that by itself would be enough to help him graduate from his earlier public persona of “Pappu” to a mature and serious politician with proven gravitas.
However, he can make a beginning. By not being obstructionist in Parliament. By not opposing for the sake of opposing. By offering issue-based constructive cooperation to government. By setting out the party position on social, economic and political issues, without pandering to the lowest common denominator. Enunciating clearly the party policy on matters of great public concern, for instance, the triple talaq initiative of the government, or the mandir-masjid dispute, might seem to be traversing through minefields of potential trouble, but a courageous leader would earn respect if he were to take an unambiguous position, without resorting to the fudgy wobble of yes, no, maybe, both, etc.
Try and display the courage of convictions, run counter to the popular passions if you are convinced that what you believe in is the correct course for the country to follow. And, for god’s sake, shun the old politics of rank opportunism, which fools nobody, such as the nixing of the Shah Bano judgement and then opening the doors of the Ram Mandir in Ayodyha or permitting shilanayas from the disputed site.
Making the Congress relevant again is a huge task. Not many people believe that Rahul has got what it takes to revive the fast-dying party, whose best is long behind it. How he does it will be known in the coming weeks and months. How he constitutes his inner team, who he appoints as functionaries of the Congress Party, how he discards the deadweight in the upper echelons which has managed to retain its perch through sycophancy, indeed, how he stamps out the ingrained durbari culture from 24, Akbar Road, will all signpost to the Congress’ future under the new Gandhi. People do not expect much from him or the Congress. His challenge is to prove them wrong.
RAE BARELI 2019
Sonia Gandhi has retired formally, fully handing over the family firm to Rahul Gandhi. What he does with it will be known in the coming days, but the question is as to who will inherit her Rae Bareli seat, which has been in the family for decades, at the end of the current Lok Sabha term in 2019. That is a million dollar question. And right now we can only speculate.
The obvious choice would be to get daughter Priyanka Gandhi to contest from Rae Bareli. That way the family heirloom stays within the family. Given the vastly diminished pull of the Gandhi-Nehru family with the voters even in what till recently were considered its pocket-boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli, fielding Priyanka in place of her mother can help stem the growing opposition challenge in these two constituencies.
More importantly, it can satiate the ambitions of Sonia Gandhi’s controversial son-in-law Robert Vadra, who has often threatened to join politics at “the right time”. However, getting his wife to contest can have its own downside. It is bound to encourage the non-Congress groups to yet again recycle all the charges of racketeering that have been levied against Vadra. In short, the decision to frontally and formally inject Priyanka into active politics is fraught.
Besides, should she decide to contest from her mother’s Lok Sabha seat, there will always be the fear in quarters close to the newly-minted Congress boss of her becoming a parallel power centre in the party, especially given Vadra’s ambitions and diverse dealings and linkages.
Clearly, it is not getting any easier for the first family of Indian politics. It has lost its sheen and, worse, is now made to slog hard for the barest baubles, which had once signified the riches of the political aristocracy, to wit, their parliamentary seats.
There is this suggestion on social media that all public roads and bridges must display prominently the name, address and phone numbers of the contractor so that the harassed users of shoddy works can take their angry spleen against them since they are the real culprits. Not a bad idea, we say. Is Hardeep Singh Puri, the new minister for CPWD, listening?