If exit polls prove true, can the Gandhi Dynasty survive?

Political Dynasties do not usually last as long as the Nehru-Gandhi family has. Accidents of history have given it a long life, and the ecosystem created by the Dynasty will perpetuate it even after defeat in 2014

R Jagannathan May 13, 2014 16:38:28 IST
If exit polls prove true, can the Gandhi Dynasty survive?

With almost all polls predicting the worst drubbing for the Congress party this time, a key question being asked is: can the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty survive this unprecedented political slapdown?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, because the Dynasty stays in power not because the voter wants it, but because it serves the various vested interests which make a living in its name.

No, because the Dynasty has actually lost power - but we are unwilling to see it. What we are seeing is not a real Dynasty, but its empty shell.

If exit polls prove true can the Gandhi Dynasty survive


The real reason why Dynasty survives all defeats is the ecosystem that got created around it. It will not give up its perks that easily. From institutions of patronage in academia to residences in Lutyens’ Delhi to various loud-talking NGOs to people put in positions of power by the Dynasty and to key media personalities, the Dynasty is no longer about a family, but the ecosystem it created. The Dynasty faithful continue to battle on its behalf: witness the haste with which the UPA wants to appoint an Army Chief when the current one retires only on 31 July – two-and-a-half months away.

It is this ecosystem that has been constantly drumming up scare stories about Narendra Modi and the coming disaster. It fears for its future. (To get a glimpse of how this ecosystem works in practice in the limited sphere of media, you could read this piece published by Firstpost about a year ago).

The ecosystem is powerful for the simple reason that it has gathered more beneficiaries over the 67 years we have been a free country. Between 1947 and 2014, we have had only two periods (1977-1980 and 1998-2004) when Dynasty was out of the power equation. (Even when the Congress was not in power in 1989-1991, and in 1996-98), Congress-wallas and Gandhi-family loyalists were very much in government or supporting it from outside.)

The survival and expansion of this ecosystem was more the result of chance than true creativity. Sanjaya Baru called Manmohan Singh an Accidental Prime Minister; but it would be more appropriate to call the Gandhi family inheritors Accidental Dynasts. Each one of them, including Indira Gandhi herself, was created by an accident of history. Indira Gandhi was not the Congress party’s choice for PM after Nehru. It took Lal Bahadur Shastri’s unexpected death in Tashkent after the 1965 war with Pakistan to bring her to power.

As Ramchandra Guha points out in his book Patriots and Partisans, if Shastri had been alive a few more years, the Dynasty may never have gotten a chance to grow. At Shastri’s untimely death, the party’s bosses could not agree on a successor, and thought Indira, the “ghungi gudiya”, would be putty in their hands. But she proved to be a tough nut to crack.

After Indira, accidents, assassinations included, brought Rajiv Gandhi and his spouse to power at various points in Congress history. They came not from merit, but merely because the Congress vested interests saw them as the route to exercising illegitimate power indirectly. Where would the Ahmed Patels, Janardhan Dwivedis and Digvijaya Singhs derive their power from if they didn’t play the Dynasty song?

In the past, the Gandhi family has often gotten back into the picture because the Congress power-broking system tends to neutralise itself and finally brings in the family as the tipping factor for a movement forward. This is what rescued Sonia Gandhi herself from the sidelines Narasimha Rao had banished her to after 1991. After the 1996 defeat, when Sitaram Kesari briefly tried to commandeer the party, the party went back to the Gandhis.

The power-brokers and the couriers are central to this dynastic survival. Just as temple priests jealously play middlemen between deity and devotees and control access, the Gandhi family praetorian guard and their media counter-parts have always drawn protective veils around the Dynasty in order to enhance their own powers.

Put simply: it is not the Dynasty that has power, but the power brokers, a sycophantic media and general hangers-on who keep putting the Dynasty back into the reckoning. The Emperor or Empress may have no clothes, but it is important for the Congress song-writers to sing hosannas to their good taste in clothes and high fashion sense.

So, after the 2014 defeat, the Dynasty and its supporters will lie low for a while before coming out with this discovery: Priyanka is the new saviour. With Rahul Gandhi having proven his utter incompetence as a leader, he will be eulogised as a saint and his sister the new Joan of Arc, the one invested with god-given political savvy. Already, comparisons are being drawn between her and Indira Gandhi, and her off-the-cuff remarks on the Amethi campaign trail are being extolled as evidence of great political spirit and insight.

Headlines Today’s star anchor Karan Thapar, who normally does not suffer fools on his show, nevertheless managed to bring up this mushy piece on Priyanka. He wrote in the Hindustan Times: “It’s probably too late to turn the tide in this election. But Priyanka’s performance has, unintendedly, suggested an alternative for the future when - and I’m not saying if - the Congress crashes to defeat. Priyanka stepped in to provide a safety net, break the free fall and ensure the final result was not as bad as some feared. She’s done it so successfully that many might prefer her as a permanent alternative rather than an emergency measure…. I think we’re going to see a lot more of Priyanka and I, for one, welcome it.”

One wonders what Thapar saw in Priyanka in those few brief moments of TV soundbyte occasions that he has already declared her a success in this election.

What has Priyanka really said that has been of note in this election? That her father has been “insulted” by Modi, that BJP people are like “rats” who ran away when they sighted her (when did that happen, one wonders?), and how her hubby Robert Vadra is being attacked for no reason at all (Oh, really?), and how the more she is attacked the stronger she will get. She claims to have taken this line from Indira Gandhi, but Modi has been saying much the same thing about being targeted and getting stronger from it.

Priyanka may be a gutsy person, but one cannot spot any signs of any kind of political ideology beyond the family-patented line of being on the side of the aam aadmi, and bringing the family’s martyrdom into focus whenever she is attacked. But the point is this: when Congressmen and the media want it, they will invent a Priyanka halo. My prediction is that in future all good political moves by the Congress – whenever that happens – will be attributed to her acute political mind. The Dynasty will be reinvented. This is how Sonia Gandhi’s own mystique was created – by the media attributing things to her that she never formally ever said.

What is really surprising is the level of media forbearance the Dynasty has received. Till UPA-2 started falling apart, one heard only about the Dynasty’s concerns for the poor and soft-hearted nature. All scams were meticulously diverted to other actors, and nothing ever touched the core family itself.

The Vadra land-grab proves this point. Around the time the media was talking about Robert Vadra’s ability to buy huge properties in Haryana and Rajasthan with almost nothing in the bank, the Congress party gave free takeover financing for a property worth Rs 1,600 crore to a private trust of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi – but the media has strangely gone silent on that even while Vadra rages on.

As we noted in a 2012 story, Sonia and Rahul took over all the properties of Associated Journals Ltd, publisher of the defunct National Herald, through a private non-profit. The deal was entirely financed by a Congress party loan to the mother-and-son duo, and it was originally exposed by the irrepressible Subramanian Swamy. Even though the media has chosen to bury the scandal, the fact is Sonia and Rahul, through a Section 25 company called Young Indian, now own a controlling 76 percent interest in Associated Journals which owns at least Rs 1,600 crore worth of property.

But now, the media is maintaining complete radio silence on this.

Clearly, even after the 2014 electoral performance, the media is likely to remain coy about talking negatively about the Dynasty.

The reality is that the ecosystem created by decades of dynastic rule – the chamchas, the party hacks, the media faithful, the business cronies, the Congress-Left political patronage system in educational and other institutions –will not allow the Dynasty to die a quite death. They have too much invested in Dynasty to allow it walk off into the sunset. The Dynasty may have created them, but now they own the Dynasty.

It may take years – maybe 10-15 years – of Dynasty-mukt Bharat to really start consigning the Dynastic support system to the flames. But we can’t see the Dynasty disappearing anytime soon.

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