Lethal Charm of the Feudal Lords

The defeat of the Congress is not the end of its woes; it’s the party’s persistent sycophancy to its leadership that threatens to unravel its future
Harish Khare Delhi

The first ten days, the secular, progressive and moderate voices were flabbergasted at the devastating drubbing the electorate administered to the Congress Party in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But once Narendra Modi took oath of office as prime minister of India in that grand ceremony, in the forecourt of the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan, the reality began to sink in that the saffron man is here to stay, at least for the next five years.

The Congress’ leaders, its friends and well-wishers have started talking and arguing among themselves as to whether the grand old party has been dealt a mortal blow or whether it still has the internal élan to rise from the ashes.

Those who had hoped that the worst ever electoral rebuff would persuade Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi to vacate the leadership ramparts stand chastened and isolated. Fifteen years of the Sonia regime has inculcated among party leaders some debilitating working preference: political timidity, distrust of fellow-Congressmen, and a wonderful indifference to their own collective interests.

The shouting and shrieking in the television studios notwithstanding, there is no escape from the “dynasty” and all that it implies; including the dynasty’s decreasing assets as the electoral mascot, as a competent and capable ‘high command’ and as a source-spring of ideas and imagination.

The Congress finds itself in a particularly unfortunate position. The ten years of power at the Centre has been seen as not only a personal endorsement of the Sonia leadership, it has also been uncritically accepted as the ideal way of running a country-wide political organization. The result is a very, very unhealthy concentration of decision-making in Delhi; a comfort level among the general-secretaries with this Delhi-knows-the-best mindset; a general preference for factionalism, caste lobbies, cliques and a pronounced disdain for the “worker” as also for the general public.

Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s reliance on her close aides to attend to routine and basic organizational chores became an excuse for the AICC brass to get mesmerized by its own dysfunctional ways. Not only did the UPA government have no political incentive to communicate its policies and programmes to the masses, the Congress had no organizational zest to relate or reach out to the people. The Congress, as a collective entity, lost sight of the fundamental democratic truth:  the rulers remain rulers only if they are able to convince the masses of their sincerity and service. Instead, the average Congressman came to internalize this arrogance that as long as the party had a Nehru-Gandhi on its masthead, he had a license to short-change the citizens, in every way possible. The voters have now returned the compliment. Contemptuous rejection on a scale the party had never known.

So, the immediate issue is not the inevitability of the dynasty; rather, the primary challenge before the party is whether it is possible to rediscover the efficacy of the high command as a competent, neutral, and involved arbiter of the intra-party disagreements and differences and as a promoter of talent.

It is true that the “dynasty factor” has become rather complicated because Rahul Gandhi has yet to exhibit the one trait that entitles a dynasty to behave like a dynasty—ability to win votes for the Congressmen. The Congressmen, or for that matter members of any other political outfit, will be happy to abjectly surrender before any leader if he or she is able to make them win elections. Mr. Gandhi’s dynastic mystique has been getting eroded—first in Bihar assembly elections, then in UP Vidhan Sabha poll, and now in the Lok Sabha. The relationship between Mr. Gandhi and the party will come under severe strain over the next few months, especially after the expected defeats in Maharashtra and Haryana assembly polls.

The unvarnished reality is that the Congressmen will find it extremely problematic, almost impossible, to show the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty the door. What the Congressmen can and must do is to demand and insist that the young Gandhi de-feudalize himself. He can save himself, his family and his party—and  indeed the entire polity—a whole range of problems and headaches if he gets persuaded to learn to love and respect the very party in whose name he feels a sense of entitlement to lord over the country.

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JUNE 2014