The Gandhi dynasty’s dominance over Indian politics has to end some day and what we are witnessing today is perhaps a turning point in history.
No matter how hard the Congress defends Robert Vadra in order to insulate his DLF deals from impacting his mother-in-law and party president Sonia Gandhi, the fact is that the Congress has already lost the battle of perception in the mango orchard. The aam admi- “mango people” in Robert Vadra’s words - are more than convinced that the Vadra-DLF deal is not as innocent a business deal as made out by the Congress. This perception has been further reinforced by reportage in the national press - across print, broadcast and the internet.
It was just a matter of time before a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Vadra-DLF case. That is precisely what happened on Thursday with the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court asking the Union government why Kejriwal's allegations against Vadra should not be investigated. The next hearing in the PIL by an activist has been fixed for November 21.
Congressmen will have to accept - howsoever grudgingly - that the anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal’s assault on a member of the Gandhi family has had a devastating impact. This impact has been greater than what was achieved at the peak of the Jan Lokpal movement last year. Kejriwal has been able to achieve what no opposition party could in contemporary times. The last time that the Dynasty came under fierce attack, raising questions over its legitimacy to power, was when the late VP Singh resigned from the Congress in 1987 and took on Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi over kickbacks in the Bofors deal. Such was the public response to his leadership that Rajiv lost the 1989 polls catapulting Singh to prime ministership.
Sonia Gandhi faced a threat to her leadership from the then senior Congressman Sharad Pawar in 1999 when his revolt over her foreign origins failed to result in a vertical split in the Congress. The Dynasty survived and over the years, Sonia Gandhi gained confidence in controlling the reins of power.
In the last few days of the alleged Vadra-DLF-Haryana Government scam, the Gandhi family has been forced to descend many steps from its lofty pedestal. Always ensconced in a class of its own, this family is now no different from the other political families in India with strong and dubious links to business houses which have received undue favours from the government through political influence.
The common man in India is deeply troubled by corruption which, in the absence of communal clashes, has taken centre-stage today. The Vadra-DLF story has discredited the Sonia Gandhi family, not on the issue of corruption as yet but on that of propriety, probity and conflict of interest.
The senior-most Congress functionaries also stand discredited with the way in which they went about defending Vadra. “Why don’t they go to the courts?”; “Where is the evidence?” was their common refrain.
Party spokesperson Rashid Alvi described Kejriwal’s charges as part of a conspiracy “against the Congress and its leadership," while Finance Minister P Chidambaram proclaimed that "private transactions cannot and ought not to be allowed to be questioned on the basis of insinuations." Law Minister Salman Khurshid described the allegations as "baseless".
There was no attempt by these senior ministers to even examine the merits of the case as presented by Kejriwal. That job was done by a section of the media. The Congress ministers looked foolish- as part of a phalanx that rushed out to defend Vadra, almost in an instinctive act of self-preservation because the citadel had been attacked.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister AK Antony who are presented as paragons of honesty by the Congress preferred to remain silent and let the crisis pass by. Singh’s silence on critical issues often brings to mind Thomas Jefferson's words: "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent." His sage advice to the nation on Wednesday to shun the "mindless atmosphere of negativity and pessimism that is sought to be created over the issue of corruption" could not have been more ill-timed.
How will history look back at the Manmohan Singhs, Antonys, Chidambarams and Sibals of the day once the Dynasty has passed by? Will they be seen as patriots or lesser men who showed greater loyalty to the Dynasty than to the nation?
With the general elections round the corner, Sonia Gandhi is at her most vulnerable today. Son Rahul has failed to inspire confidence and show results while daughter Priyanka will now have to worry about her husband’s tainted image. Sonia’s own stock has eroded with her party’s inept handling of the Vadra-DLF controversy.
From time to time, the Dynasty and the Congress reminds India about its Nehruvian legacy and the supreme sacrifices by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi for the nation. That legacy has been sullied by the Vadra-DLF deal and has punctured the family’s charisma. The Congress will cling to the Dynasty because it has no option. But it’s now just a matter of time before a new chapter opens up in Indian history.