Can the Congress succeed with Rahul Gandhi continuing as its president?
No. He has had his chance for eight years as general secretary, vice-president and president, and failed to deliver.
Can the Congress succeed with a non-Gandhi family president?
No. The Gandhis will still do backseat driving. The president will be the high command. And the family will be the higher command. In other words, keeping the Gandhis in control of the Congress or throwing them out of it is not a solution to the party’s existential crisis. Part of the answer to this conundrum lies in the third question.
Will the Congress succeed if the Gandhi family retires into political oblivion and leaves the party to its fate?
No, again. Then without the glue of the family, the different pieces of the Congress will simply fall apart.
The Congress had several non-family presidents before, only to be replaced by a member of the clan in due course. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi together have been presidents of the party for only 38 of the 72 years since Independence.
After Rajiv’s assassination in 1991, the party was led by PV Narasimha Rao and, after him, Sitaram Kesari. The latter turned the party into such a dreadful mess that finally the unabashed sycophants of the dynasty prostrated before Sonia, begging her to take over, which she did in 1998. She continued in the post for 19 years — the longest stint by anyone — till Rahul took the mantle in December 2017.
Rahul can’t complain he hasn’t had enough chance to sanitise the Congress. Three years after his first election to the Lok Sabha, he was made the party’s general secretary in 2007. He was appointed vice-president in 2013. He led the campaign in the 2014 election, which saw the party’s worst-ever defeat. But, of course, he was promoted as president in 2017.
After the second disastrous defeat in a row in the latest election, Rahul apparently wants to hang up his boots, and doesn’t even want sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to be made the president, preferring instead an outsider in his place.
Those who know Rahul vouch for his gentlemanly and humble traits, if not his intellect. If he is indeed serious about making way for a non-family president for the party, he will set a new laudable standard in political accountability. He must make a graceful exit without letting himself be persuaded to stay on by self-serving cronies.
If the party wants to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix, it needs to do much more than getting rid of the dynasty. It needs a leader who, besides being able to keep the flock together, must give the party an ideological raison d'être. That’s a tall order, if not an impossible task, considering that the party has for far too long depended on the Gandhi family because there is nothing else that keeps it united.
Hindutva (whether you agree with it or not) keeps the BJP together. Marxism (even if it’s a perverted and junked ideology) keeps the Marxists together. The motto of Dalit welfare (sham or real) keeps the BSP alive, if not kicking right now. And so on. There is no knowing what the Congress stands for, except that it is a movable and immovable property of one family. And we are none the wiser as to what this family stands for.
After the death of Nehru in 1964 and the anointing of Indira Gandhi as prime minister two years later, the Nehru-Gandhi family stopped making an ideological sense. If there is talk of Moditva replacing Nehruvianism today, that’s because there was never Indiraism or Rajivism to talk of. The hallmarks of the Indira era were that she institutionalised corruption, destroyed democratic institutions, concentrated power in herself, introduced appeasement politics, and made noises at the same time about a fake socialism that may have got her votes but which took the country nowhere. All this was bad enough even without her infamous Emergency.
'Brokers of power'
A year after he stepped in, Rajiv famously spoke of "brokers of power" and "self-perpetuating cliques" in the Congress Centenary speech in 1985 and vowed to kick them out. Three months after he became president, Rahul waxed eloquent on what ailed India and the Congress at the 84th plenary in Delhi. But Rajiv and Rahul effected no more than superficial changes, replacing in some cases, old “self-perpetuating cliques” with new ones. And Rajiv took his mother’s appeasement politics to a new level by meddling with the Shah Bano verdict and by opening the locks of Ram Temple, thereby heralding communal politics in contemporary India, exploited fully later by Hindutva elements in the BJP.
With his soft-Hindutva claptrap, Rahul further confounded the confusion of the Congress’ traditional voters and minorities about the party’s dubious brand of secularism. And there is even less clarity on where the party stands on foreign affairs, national security and economy.
If the cowering and grovelling power mongers within Congress instilled in Rahul a false sense of confidence, any doubts he had about his success were removed by his buddies outside the party. The visceral hatred for Modi turned the bhakts of Marx and the admirers of dynasty into fawning fans of Rahul, giving him a delusion of impending success.
Forget 150 years of the party’s history, today, it’s just a crass commercial enterprise for most of its leaders and workers — a political platform with sham ideology meant to help them grab power and make fast bucks.
It’s this state of affairs that a new president of the Congress, if there will be one, must change. Kicking out "brokers of power" is only a start. The new chief must convince the country that it’s a serious political party and spell out unambiguously what it stands for.
The author tweets @sprasadindia
Updated Date: May 27, 2019 20:07:54 IST