(I had written the blog Who will make India Congress-mukt? originally in May 2016. Link: https://www.devendranarain.dev/2016/08/recalling-gandhis-deadly-deal-with.html. I am reproducing it because it is very relevant today.)
Congress will whither away
The disintegration of Congress seems inevitable, with or without the control of the dynasty. The question is: what will cause disintegration faster thereby eliminate the danger of return of Congress rule?
This is the burning topic of discussion in the political circles of India today. From time to time, Narendra Modi and his supporters have been promising to make India ‘Congress-mukt’. To what extent credit should be given to them for rapid decline of the Congress since 2014 general election could be a matter of debate but the fact remains that the Congress is on decline.
Personally, I do not think that the BJP, with or without, its allies, or for that matter any other political party, can wipe the Congress out of India’s political scene. That can be done only by the Congress. In my opinion, there are only two scenarios which need to be considered:
(1) Will the Congress disintegrate faster when it is owned and controlled by the dynasty?
(2) Will the rate of disintegration be faster when the Congress is without the dynasty?
There are two alternative routes to the second scenario also: one, the Congress drops the dynasty and two, the dynasty bids goodbye to the Congress. Some readers may say that the second scenario is highly unlikely because ‘Congress is dynasty and dynasty is Congress’. (Does it ring any bell? Let me remind you. In 1974, an Indira Gandhi crony had given a great ‘historical’ slogan to the country: ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’)
Before I venture to share my own assessment, let me give present brief account of how the Congress, once the only all India political party, has come to the present stage when everybody is asking whether it is going to survive.
The party was a political force even before the arrival of the original Gandhi, the Mahatma, on the political scene. The Mahatma, who had become patriarch of the Congress, made two great contributions to the party. One, he made it a mass political party so much so that once Dr. Ambedkar had described it as a dharamshala (inn) where everybody was welcome and two, he handed over the control of the Congress to his favourite Jawaharlal Nehru and that too without anyone realising that he had done so.
It is his second contribution that prevented the Indian national Congress from evolving into a modern political party of a democratic country as the Conservative Party and the Labour Party evolved in England and the Democratic Party and the Republican Party evolved in the USA. None of these parties’ political fortune is tied to any family. There leaders come and go but the party remains.
In 1930s, there were three power powerful personalities in the Congress who had potential to reach the top of the party hierarchy on their own and, naturally, were threat to the Mahatma’s favourite, Nehru. Two of them had to go because the Mahatma did not like them. The first was Mohammed Ali Jinnah. For a long time Jinnah was member of the Congress as well as the League. (It was permissible when political parties were taking shape in the country.) Due to serious differences with Gandhi (there is no need to go into the details here), he severed his connections with the Congress, left politics and resumed his legal practice in England. Subsequently he came back to lead the Muslim League. Subhash Chandra Bose too had to bow out. He floated his own party, the All India Forward Bloc, before seeking the help of the enemies of the enemy.
With the departure of two stalwarts, Sardar Patel remained the only potential threat to Nehru. The Mahatma solved the problem in 1946. The Congress Working had decided that the new Congress president would be No. 2 (the senior most Indian member) in the Interim Government, the Viceroy’s Executive Council. There were three persons in the fray: J.B. Kriplani, Sardar Patel and Nehru. When the preferences sent by 18 provincial Congress committees (PCCs) were presented to the Congress Working Committee in the presence of the Mahatma (who was in and out of Congress at his convenience), it was found that while one PCC was in favour of Kriplani, two were in favour of Nehru, 15 wanted Patel. Kriplani withdrew from the contest immediately. The Mahatma wrote something on a piece of paper – no one knows the exact words – which was handed over to Sardar Patel. After reading the message, Patel announced his withdrawal and destroyed that piece of paper. Nehru was declared Congress President. On September 2, 1946 he became Vice President of the Executive Council and by virtue of that position, was sworn in as independent India’s first Prime Minister on August 15, 1947. Shortly after joining the Executive Council, Nehru resigned as Congress president.
No doubt, with his charming personality, Nehru became darling of the majority of Indians. However, as a Congress leader he was much less powerful than his daughter years later and his hold over the party was nothing compared to what his daughter’s daughter-in-law is enjoying today.
Nehru started his prime ministership under several constraints. He had little control over the Chief Ministers who were powerful regional leaders in their own right: B.C. Roy in West Bengal, SK Sinha in Bihar, Ravi Shankar Sinha, in MP, C. Rajgopalachari in Madras, to name a few. B.C. Roy used to address Nehru by his first name. During most of the time Nehru was PM, the state had strong Chief Ministers. Even in his own Cabinet, there were strong leaders who would listen to Nehru only because of old relationship or when they agreed with him. The differences with Patel were well-known.
Yet, Nehru had one advantage. All those who realised that they had no future in the party led by him, went out. The first major group to go out was the Congress Socialist Party (CSP), a left-wing of the Congress formed in 1937. The CSP had prominent members such as Jai Prakash Narain (JP) and Ram Manohar Lohia. The group left the Congress in 1948. The members proceeded to form their socialist outfits, without much success though. Important cabinet ministers like Dr Ambedkar and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee (under whose leadership the Jan Sangh was formed in 1951) also left.
Nehru faced a major challenge to his leadership of the Congress in 1950 when his candidate, JB Kriplani, lost the Congress presidential election to Patel’s candidate, Purushottam Das Tandon. A disillusioned Kriplani left the Congress to form his own party, again without much success. To strengthen his hold over the party, Nehru himself assumed party presidentship for three years, followed by a lightweight nominee, U.N. Dhebar for five years. In 1960 Indira Gandhi became Congress President for the first time.
Gradually, Nehru’s domination over the party and government increased and there was none to challenge him. Once S.K. Patil had famously remarked that ‘Nehru was like a banyan tree under which nothing grows.’ The only person whose personality grew under Nehru was his own daughter. Her election as Congress President in 1960 was a clear indication that Nehru was grooming her. She could not have become Congress President without his consent and support.
The brief regime of Lal Bahadur Shastri could be considered only as an interregnum. As a Cabinet Minister Indira Gandhi never gave Shastri the respect a Prime Minister deserved. In January 1966, she easily defeated Morarji Desai in the first and the last official contest for the prime ministership. Enamoured of the Nehru family, most of the Indians cheered her, though initially she was considered a weak PM. Ram Manohar Lohia had infamously called her ‘goongi-gudia’ (dumb doll). The senior Congress leaders, popularly known as the Syndicate, believed that she would be a puppet in their hands. But they did not know that she was waiting for the right moment to strike. That moment came in 1969.
In the 1969 election of Indian President, much against Indira Gandhi’s wishes, the Congress selected Neelam Sanjiva Reddy as its candidate. The then Vice-President, V. V. Giri, resigned and entered the fray as an independent candidate. Indira Gandhi openly supported him and called upon the Congress to support him in the name of “vote of conscience”. V.V. Giri got elected. On November 12, 1969 she was expelled from the Congress for violating party discipline. She retaliated by forming her own party, Congress (R) – R for Requisitionists. 446 of the 705 members of the AICC (All India Congress Committee) joined her. The Syndicate controlled truncated Congress was known as the Congress (Organisation). The “Indicate” had liberated itself from the control of the “Syndicate”. In the 1971 general election to the Lok Sabha held a year in advance, Indira Gandhi gave the slogan: “They say ‘Indira Hatao’; I say ‘Garibi Hatao’ ”. Her Congress (R) got 44% of votes and 352 seats as against 10% votes and only 16 seats secured by the rival Congress (O). The split was complete. Indira Gandhi had established her full control over the party.
Having established her grip over the party, her next mission was to ensure that no one in the party became powerful enough to challenge her. She was behaving like her name sake ‘Indra’, the King of Gods in the Indian mythology. (I have deliberately not used the word ‘Hindu’ because the term did not exist in ancient India. It was derived from ‘Hind’, a term coined by the Arab invaders to describe the sub-continent and its inhabitants.) Lord Indra is portrayed as one who is always afraid that that he might be dethroned by someone becoming more powerful than him and adopts all strategies to checkmate the potential rival. Indira Gandhi would not tolerate anyone who could become Chief Minister in his own right. No one with independent ambition had any place in her party. She was grooming her younger son Sanjay because the elder son Rajeev did not show any political ambition. After Sanjay’s death she dragged Rajeev Gandhi in politics as General Secretary of Congress.
When her position was threatened by a mass movement led by JP and she was unseated by the adverse judgment of the Allahabad High Court, she assumed dictatorial powers under the Emergency provisions in the Constitution, thanks to the support of a completely pliable President of India. To ensure reversal of the High Court order, she appointed a favourite as the Chief Justice of India.
The Congress had remained the only large party since independence. No opposition party with all-India presence had evolved which could replace Congress when Indira Gandhi lost her popularity. The hurriedly formed Janata Party that defeated her in 1977 general election was another dharamshala. The politicians of all hues – left, right and centre – joined hands only to dethrone her. It was bound to collapse due to its inner contradictions: incompatible ideological difference and personal ambition of all those who considered themselves potential prime minister. Three years later, Indira Gandhi returned to power. Meanwhile, in 1978, she had assumed president ship of the party which she retained till her death.
After her assassination on October 31, 1984, her loyal party leaders could not think of anyone other than Rajiv Gandhi, the Congress General Secretary, as her successor. For the first time in the Indian history, a man was sworn in as Prime Minister even before he was formally elected leader of the parliamentary party. Rajiv was not even a member of the Parliament. The same year he became Congress President, a position he held till his assassination in 1991. The sympathy wave in the December 1984 general election gave the Rajiv led Congress unprecedented mandate which was dissipated by Rajiv’s incompetence as Prime Minister coupled with Bofors scandal. Two years of political instability ended when the Congress returned to power in 1991. By that time Sonia Gandhi had not established herself in politics and the 21 year old Rahul was not even eligible to be MP. The power slipped to an outsider, P.V. Narasimha Rao, who became Prime Minister as well as Congress President for 5 years.
The defeat of Congress in 1996 general election followed by a brief period of political instability followed by the victory of the BJP led alliance forced the Congressmen to look back to the family. Sitaram Kesri, Narasimha Rao’s controversial and weak successor as Congress President, was unceremoniously thrown out after the party’s defeat in 1998 and Sonia Gandhi was made Congress President, a position she is holding since 1998.
Within 6 years as party president she had established herself firmly because there was no other leader in the party and led the party back to power in 2004. When President A.P.J. Kalam asked her for a date on which she would like to be sworn in as Prime Minister, she surprised everyone by pushing forward a political lightweight, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Perhaps, she lacked confidence because of her foreign origin.
From the day one, no one had any doubt that the real power was in her hands and she was waiting for Rahul, only 34 in 2004, to be mature enough to replace Manmohan Singh. Her hope that the opportunity would come in 2014 was killed by charismatic Narendra Modi.
All dynasties have one thing in common: they do not rule for a long period. After three-four generations decline starts. (In the UK it is a different story because the real power is not with the monarch). When a political party assumes the form of a dynasty, it has one more drawback. As a dynasty it is almost impossible to be rule over the entire country. The support base remains restricted to the region of influence. Barring BJP and left parties, all political parties that matter in India were either founded as dynasty or captured by dynasties. (The Aam Aadmi Party may not be a dynasty but is controlled by one individual.) The Congress as dynasty reached its zenith in 1984 election. Thereafter, its decline started. Whenever it came back to power at the Centre, it was with outside support.
After independence, Gandhi the Mahatma had advised that since the role of the Congress was over, it should be disbanded. His worldly-wise disciples ignored the saintly advice and rightly so as it would have led to anarchy followed by military rule. But unconsciously he had modified the party DNA to programme its rise, fall and self-destruction. His disciples followed his policy that the party leader should not be elected; he should be appointed by a patriarch or by chosen few; election of a party leader may be alright for the western democracies but not in India, the ancient land of kings and queens.
At one time we had Congress as the only big party; all others were regional parties. Today, we have BJP as the only big party; all others were regional parties.
The biggest advantage of Sonia and Rahul is that there is no competitor in the party. All those who felt that they deserved elevation in a party hierarchy but had no chance in the Congress are out, on one pretext or the other. Sharad Pawar chose the excuse of her foreign origin, though he had no hesitation in holding a cabinet position under a Prime Minister who was controlled by her. Now the same Pawar thinks that Rahul has matured to lead Congress. Those who have remained in the party are just local leaders whose maximum strength is that they can somehow retain their own seats. Sonia Gandhi remains the only crowd puller in the party.
The biggest disadvantage is that while Rahul is growing in biological age, he remains an adolescent mentally. The party is losing state after state in elections but the loyalists who have nowhere to go and who depend heavily on Sonia led party for their political stature are unanimous that next to Sonia, Rahul is the only other leader. It is another matter that no one outside the coterie believes that Rahul is capable of reviving the Congress
Under these circumstances, if Sonia and Rahul are out of the Congress (a hypothetical scenario, though), the party will disintegrate in no time because there will be no leader acceptable to all in the party. Moreover, there will be several rival claimants to the leadership. They will seek to divided the party – as if it is a family property – among themselves. Kamal Nath will not work under Digvijay Singh and Chidambaram will not work under Kamal Nath. You can have your own list of clashing personalities. No faction will be large enough to claim 10, Janpath.
With Sonia and Rahul in command, the decline is inevitable but the process will take time. After Sonia, Rahul may occupy 10 Janpath. But after him?
To conclude, it is in the interest of the Congressmen that the mother-son continue to lead (read ‘mislead’) as long as the nature allows them.
In either case, the Congress will wither away.
Will Priyanka Vadra as successor to Sonia-Rahul will be able to delay the process? Too early to say but she is unlikely to be successful. She is neither another Indira Gandhi nor another Sonia Gandhi.
Wait, the Gandhis of today will fulfill the desire of Gandhi, the Mahatma, who after independence had suggested that the party should be disbanded.
May 27, 2016
The Congress Working Committee has nominated Rahul Gandhi as the next Congress President. Madam has to take the final call. Soon the process of making India Congress-Mukt will gain momentum.
November 7, 2016
(All photos downloaded from internet)
PS May 25 2019
Pl;ease also read my tweets @narain41 minutes 50
#Congress, #SoniaGandhi, #RahulGandhi, #Gandhi