A Punjabi adage, ‘haveli ki umra sau saal ’ is being cited for the present state of the political dynasty which traces its roots to Motilal Nehru joining INC in 1919.
Predominance of dynasties in the world’s largest democracy was brought into sharp focus in the past week. Hegemony of the Sonia Gandhi-led remnants of the Nehru-Gandhi family was challenged when Jyotiraditya Scindia “moved on” (a term usually used in corporate parlance when executives quit) to join BJP, a party his grandmother Vijayraje Scindia had nurtured when it was founded in April 1980. His move was immediately hailed by his aunts Vasundhara Raje and Yashodhara Raje and cousin Pradyot Manikya Debbarman, who are BJP luminaries in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Tripura, respectively. Though Rahul Gandhi tried to maintain a brave face, the departure of Jyotiraditya, who was with him in Doon School and St Stephens College and like him had abandoned studies in India to pursue higher education abroad, highlighted the pauperism of Congress.
Fourteenth century Arab historiographer Ibn Khaldun had analysed that dynasties have a natural lifespan of around a hundred odd years, spanning three generations. As a dynasty establishes itself in the centre of power it becomes increasingly lax, less coordinated and more concerned about maintaining its power and lifestyle. Congress in recent years has witnessed the tug of war between the respective advisors of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. This lack of coordination coupled with the unwillingness over past eight months on part of Sonia Gandhi to give up her “interim” status and refusal of Rahul Gandhi to resume his formal role has apparently taken its toll. If a buddy of Rahul Gandhi like Jyotiraditya Scindia says while walking out that dialogue was missing then one tends to believe the talk among senior party functionaries about inaccessibility of the leadership. Apart from Ibn Khaldun’s views on longevity of dynasties a Punjabi adage, “haveli ki umra sau saal (a mansion lasts a hundred years)” is being cited while referring to the present state of the political dynasty which traces its roots to Motilal Nehru joining Indian National Congress in 1919.
Congress and the Nehru family (later Nehru-Gandhi family) have a long association. For 14 years prior to 1947, the All India Congress Committee functioned from Motilal Nehru’s Allahabad home, Anand Bhavan. The Nehru home is now a national memorial museum—it showcases the room where Mahatma Gandhi stayed, the portico where he preferred to sit out and work from and a room which was reserved for the meetings of the Congress Working Committee. Young Indira Gandhi ran an outfit of teenagers, Vanar Sena (monkey brigade), which provided backup for satyagraha from Anand Bhavan. The adjacent family property, Swaraj Bhavan, was the residence of Congress functionaries: post-Independence Opposition stalwarts, Acharya J.B. Kripalani and Dr Ram Manohar Lohia were among the residents of Swaraj Bhavan.
The present generation of the family have little to do with Allahabad and hence Anand Bhavan does not form part of Congress discourse. The centenary of Indira Gandhi did not see any major activity in Allahabad, the place of her birth. Ironically it was Allahabad which caused the beginning of the fall of the dynasty—the victory of Vishwanath Pratap Singh, who had quit Congress on the Bofors issue, in a byelection in June 1988 marked the beginning of a new era in Indian politics. Decline of Congress and the dynasty has been irreversible since.
The departure of Jyotiraditya has hogged headlines but except murmur there is no sign of unease in Congress. Attempts are being made by some partymen to trace the history of the Gwalior family and its association with the British in the 19th century. What is being ignored is that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who approached Maharaja Jiyajirao Scindia, Jyotiraditya’s grandfather, in 1952, the former’s comfort with the Hindu Mahasabha notwithstanding and as a result of which Vijayraje Scindia served two terms as a Congress Lok Sabha MP in the 1950s and the 1960s. She later aligned with the Jan Sangh and was among the stalwarts who founded BJP. Jyotiradiya’s father Madhavrao began his parliamentary career as a Jan Sangh MP and later, at the bidding of Sanjay Gandhi during Emergency (while Vijayraje was in jail) joined Congress. Kunwar Natwar Singh, who is close to both the Nehru and Scindia families, has commented that had Madhavrao not perished in an air crash in 2001, he would have been Sonia Gandhi’s choice for the post which was occupied by Dr Manmohan Singh in 2004.
Rajiv Gandhi was a reluctant politician. After Sanjay Gandhi’s death in 1980 he resisted for almost a year Indira Gandhi’s desire that he assist her in politics. The Lok Sabha vacancy from Amethi had to be filled and Sanjay’s widow, Maneka, who had made a mark for herself with her gutsy aggressive journalism as editor of Surya, a monthly magazine, was expected to get the ticket. The byelection was scheduled in May 1981: Maneka was to turn 25 in August, hence was not eligible. A plot to sabotage an Air India Boeing 707, “Makalu”, which was to fly Indira Gandhi on a foreign tour, was suddenly unveiled in mid-April 1981. The then Home Minister, Giani Zail Singh and Civil Aviation Minister, A.P. Sharma, immediately announced in Parliament that a “foreign hand” was suspected in the sabotage. Air India employees were arrested. Sonia Gandhi’s disapproval of Indian political class notwithstanding, Rajiv Gandhi agreed to contest from Amethi. A year later, the Scindia family was in the limelight when Maneka Gandhi’s Surya was sold to Sangh sympathisers under the watchful eyes of Vijayaraje’s principal aide, Sardar S.C. Angre. Maneka walked out of the family home in the following months and is now a BJP leader.
Dynasties are not anathema in Indian politics. Barring the now almost defunct Communist parties, they seem to be the new normal across ideologies and regional barriers. Ideology by itself is a rarely used word these days (thence, Jyotiraditya perhaps chose to “move on”; Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP find an alliance with Shiv Sena as part of realpolitik). Jammu & Kashmir has the Abdullah and Mufti Sayeed families. Badals dominate the Akali space in Punjab. Among the Mandal inspired outfits, Samajwadi Party in UP is controlled by the Mulayam Yadav clan, Lalu Yadav and his children have Bihar’s RJD. Dalit party BSP has Mayawati with her brother and nephew at the helm. Andhra Pradesh is a tussle between Chandrababu Naidu and YSR-Jagan outfits. Telangana has the KCR clan. Amit Shah’s charge that Mamata Banerjee is nurturing her nephew Abhishek as successor in West Bengal has not been challenged by Trinamool. The Deve Gowda family in Karnataka, Karunanidhi’s sons and daughter in Tamil Nadu, the Soren family in Jharkhand, the Sangma clan in Meghalaya and above all the Thackeray family and the Pawar family in Maharashtra make up the map of the Dynastic Democracy of India. Add to this the mini dynasties which thrive within Congress. Even BJP has dynasts in its ranks, but the party has at its helm leaders who have all come up the hard way sans dynastic support and that perhaps makes it a party with a difference.
While admitting Jyotiraditya into his party, BJP chief J.P. Nadda emphasised the uniqueness of BJP where dialogue and discourse have a place and importance is given to all points of view. While all political outfits, including those of the Communists, have seen splits, neither BJP nor its predecessor Jan Sangh has seen any split. Congress in the past had gained through splits. In the present context, murmur notwithstanding, no one is even willing to ask for a formal election to fill the present interim arrangement in India’s Grand Old Party, which is sans grandeur.