For a healthy democracy, we need to have strong Opposition is a statement which has become commonplace these days. However, the Congress party is still not psychologically ready to occupy that space for another term it seems. It also doesn’t seem to be psychologically ready to occupy the treasury benches anytime soon. The reason: the party has consistently refused to carry out a mass purge and its party leaders can be best described as delusional. Take for example the curious case of Salman Khurshid. At a recent book launch organised by Cambridge University Press, releasing the tantalisingly titled Democratic Dynasties by Kanchan Chandra, professor at New York University, Mr Khurshid said the unthinkable. In response to the moderator’s query regarding what he thought of dynasty and dynastic politics, Mr Khurshid forcefully argued that Indians had refused to let go of the feudal mindset and it is they who wanted dynasties because they identified with it. This statement, which came as a shock to the audience of eminent writers, academics and students, demonstrated what the Congress thought of this country. Salman Khurshid is not alone here; there are many Congressmen who think like him, especially the leaders well placed in Delhi.
Whether the Narendra Modi-led BJP is fit to form government in 2019 will be decided by the voter, but Congress leaders refuse to believe that their world, where people wanted dynasties, is long gone. In fact, dynasties are thrust upon us for decades across the political spectrum. Congressmen today are quite similar to the maharajas, rajmatas and the princes of erstwhile royal families, who refuse to let go of their titles even though the titles were long abolished by Indira Gandhi. It is not very difficult to understand their affection for royal pageantry, as it helps them get a sense of importance, especially in Delhi’s social circles, expanding their role in the political sphere. Retaining titles is also a means of setting themselves apart from the other candidates in the political sphere and appealing to a constituency which may have emotive ties with the family. Or maybe this is not the case. Dynasties are convenient tools that deny any space to talent, since birth alone becomes the marker for talent, aptitude and the will to serve the people. This is not to say that all second generation politicians are successful dynasts. The recent upsurge against the Congress is primarily due to the fact that partymen at the top are in denial, and control the path that leads to 10 Janpath. How else would one explain the Congress’ tolerance for leaders who have shown neither the aptitude nor the will to serve the people? The party continues to back a leader who refused to contest an election because he knew he was going to lose. How else would you explain the party’s tolerance for many leaders who have not contested a Lok Sabha election even once, yet you see them vociferously defending the party in the Rajya Sabha? How else would you explain the antics of a party which refuses to accept that it has entered a period of crisis both at the state level and at the top? It is not difficult for people to ignore these self styled “senior Congress leaders”, especially when statements they make can be unforgiving statements like the one Renuka Choudhary made on rape recently.
The party’s interest is at stake, because well-heeled politicos in Delhi are not ready to leave Delhi and move into the battle zones. The party has so few of a variety ready to sweat it out that it should view this as a cause for concern. The Congress does not need strategists, they have plenty of them; what it needs are mass leaders. In the 1950s Uttar Pradesh, the Congress boasted of a range of leaders who commanded a mass base. P.D. Tandon, C.B. Gupta, N.D. Tiwari, Sampurnanand and Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, apart from Jawaharlal Nehru’s towering personality. Despite Tandon’s and Sampurnanand’s views on Nehru and secularism, they were Congressmen with a mass base and commanded a constituency of their own. State Chief Ministers in the 1960s and early 1970s were powerful figures who maintained the delicate caste balance of the state. It is these leaders that the party lacks; the need to kowtow to the top has compromised their position at the state level.
Moreover, the factionalism that the party bosses encouraged at the state level has come back to haunt the Congress in states such as Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. It was the Congress top brass that cultivated these factions to retain their dominance and have their say in Delhi. The Congress also encouraged dynasts more than any other party, after which it has remained central to the Congress system for decades. Dynasties have also been propelled more by the concept of loyalty to the Gandhis than to the party and out of complete disregard for merit, aptitude and the changing dynamics of Indian politics.
While Salman Khurshid remains adamant in his belief that it is the people who want dynasts, this actually reflects the failure of the party to adapt to the changes in Indian politics in the last two decades. With an overactive fifth estate, people have begun to question their leaders and our Prime Ministers’ win in May 2014 has shattered myths associated with the longevity of political dynasties and their worth. It is time to wake up.