CONGRESS .. Nehru family in its sunset years … Congress leadership may pass on to outsiders


By Prem Chandran

The Congress party’s working committee meets on Monday in the shadow of a mild rebellion by over 20 leaders seeking urgent steps for revitalization of the party that’s virtually rudderless after the last parliament polls in mid-2019. What’s abundantly clear now is that the Congress cannot go on and on, sailing like an aimless ship in the deep sea; and almost without a captain. This is time to face the situations squarely and inject fresh life to the ageing party apparatus; or perish. Indecisiveness at this juncture could cost the grand old party heavily. It held on so far due to its past aura, which keeps ebbing by the day. Even a brand value can have an expiry date.

Sonia Gandhi took charge of the party as interim president after son Rahul Gandhi quit the party president post shortly after the huge loss of seats the party suffered at the LS hustings. She has completed her one-year term earlier this month. Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, 73, has made it clear to senior leaders that she was not in a position to continue in the post; this, also due to health reasons. The working committee is to take up the matter of having a new president in her place.

Clearly, Sonia Gandhi has been progressively ineffective in leading the party, unlike in the UPA terms when she was a tower of strength.

There are some indications that the party might go for a president from outside the Nehru family, but those who crowd around the Family will still try and scuttle such moves. For them, their personal interests matter most. Sonia Gandhi had crafted a leadership structure wherein loyalty to her was a matter of first priority. Self-seekers and incompetent bums created a ring around her.

Rahul Gandhi had suggested that someone from outside the family take charge of the party. This, when he quit the president post and accepted blame for the drubbing the party got under his leadership. Several of his strategies had failed, like raising the theme of “Modi Chor Hai” slogan against the PM, and harping on the Rafale jet deal as an instance of Modi’s corruption. This did not click with the masses.

The present frenzy on the part of the Modi government to build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya is likely to further strengthen the base of the saffron party in the Hindi belt where adulation for the Lord is high and cuts across the usual casteist barriers. In the next UP assembly polls, in the minimum, this could turn into a vote-fetcher for the BJP. Congressmen are deeply upset that, on the other side, the Congress party is virtually rudderless, running without a full-time president for a full year.

This past week, Priyanka Gandhi has endorsed Rahul’s view about an outsider being made the party president. Sonia Gandhi too will be left with little option other than agreeing for this, But, even today, a sizeable number of leaders want Rahul Gandhi to lead the party, as they say no one outside of it can give a strong leadership to it. Party spokesman Sanjay Jha openly demanded a change in leadership style, while former law minister Kapil Sibal called for reforms in the party, and former minister Shashi Tharoor MP proposed an elected leader for the party. Some 20 leaders reportedly sent a letter to Sonia Gandhi seeking urgent steps to revitalize the party and installation of a full-time president.

If the Family trio agrees for a leader from outside its fold, chances are that they will propose some faceless leader, so that the control will effectively remain with it. In the past, during Indira Gandhi’s time, she had put an Assamese, Devakant Baruah as party chief, and he kept saying “Indira is India, India is Indira”; and Sonia Gandhi installed Sitaram Kesri for a period and then dumped him. These two had however failed to lead the party in a strong manner.

There are hardly any leader with a strong image outside of the family in the Congress enterprise. Among the lot of unprincipled leaders, each one would be more than willing to undercut the rest as a matter of first priority. 

No ideology guides the party and its leaders today, after Indira Gandhi split the Indian National Congress and formed her Congress (Indira), which is now the Congress party. It mouths secularism as a means to keep a vote bank out of Muslims and other minorities; and it mouths socialism to get the votes of the poor. Yet, in sum and substance, the Congress rule has been the most elitist for over seven decades of Indian history after Independence. It has also crafted an elitist bureaucracy where ordinary man’s plights are not attended to by a set of bookworms-turned insensitive babus, fashioned on British Raj, drawn mostly from elitist backgrounds, and who mugged up general knowledge and won ranks in Civil Service tests. Patronage in final level interviews for recruitments were allegedly rampant for long years. 

The entire administrative service as also other arms of the establishment, topped by politicos, are deeply corrupt due to a lack of commitment on the part of those who are running or leading the bureaucracy at the top levels. The Congress fashioned such a hopeless system due to rule by inept leaders with little of experience, drawn from the Family, like Rajiv Gandhi and later his wife Sonia Gandhi, straight out of family interiors with no direct connect with the public life. Over the years, all these formed the backdrop for the people’s disenchantment against the Congress rule. Most states in India today are run by regional parties, and some by the BJP, with Congress having governments in only a few.

The Congress is on a losing spree. It lost Maharashtra, which remained pro-Congress for long years; and is now part of a ruling establishment in which it stooped down to being the third partner, below two regional entities, the Shiv Sena and the NCP of Sharad Pawar. The Congress lost Madhya Pradesh too — in the backdrop of alleged wholesale corruption by the Kamal Nath-led government there; and it was on the verge of losing Rajasthan with a young leader like Sachin Pilot raising a banner of revolt, but the party there has saved its government for now. 

In this backdrop, Congressmen are unsure of their future if they remained with a party on a losing spree. For the wider public today, not just Sonia Gandhi but both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi are unacceptable. Likely, the Nehru family which schemed its way forward and held the reins of power for many decades is in its sunset years.  IHN-NN


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