This is a true story. The year is 2018. The Rajasthan election campaign is in full swing. In an erstwhile princely state, the descendant of the former ruler can deliver at least 14 MLAs for the Congress party. But he is in full panic mode. The reason, party president Rahul Gandhi is coming to campaign. The last time Mr Gandhi came, he got the local icons wrong. He mispronounced the Lok Sabha candidate’s name.
This time, the ex-raja had all the names written down on pocket-friendly scraps of paper. Alas, Mr Gandhi got them mixed up. As a result, a collaborator became a freedom fighter. A raja became something else. Fortunately voters only laughed at RG, and voted for their patron.
Story over. No lesson learnt.
In other parts of India, local satraps who can deliver MLAs or votes for the Congress have either died, defected or been crushed by the High Command that demands the same fealty from people who respected Indira Gandhi. Rahul or Priyanka command no respect from mass leaders. The G23’s criticism of the leadership is a last-ditch attempt to save the Congress from extinction. The family hit back; party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi counselled the rebels to campaign for the party.
It is amusing advice since Singhvi has never stood for elections. Most G23 members have contested and won. Even if they went on the stump in West Bengal and Assam, RG’s campaign would maim the party. His one hand push-ups and fitness advice to students in Tamil Nadu show that he would make a stellar PT teacher. But being fit does not mean he is fit to be in politics or to lead a party.
G23 is not the first time the Congress has witnessed an anti-Nehru-Gandhi revolt. In November 1969, the party split when Indira Gandhi was challenged by the Syndicate led by K Kamaraj and Moraji Desai. Mrs G won. If Rahul and Priyanka are logging into Indira’s legacy, they have not received the OTP. Narendra Modi promised a Congress-mukt Bharat. It’s not going to happen, even after the Gujarat washout—the Congress swept the Punjab civic polls. Its core vote base of around 20 percent is likely to remain loyal, or at the worst, take time to erode.
The BJP’s strategy is to continue to respond to Mr Gandhi, as if he is still the Congress face, and never quit as the party boss. He is falling into the trap by being the party’s voice. G23 may not produce a party president. Ghulam Nabi Azad, being a Muslim and Kashmiri, is at a double disadvantage. Kapil Sibal and Manish Tewari are not popular enough for the post. P Chidambaram has corruption cases against him. But there is a host of young leaders such as Sachin Pilot, Deepender Hooda, Sushmita Dev and others who are clean enough to get the job.
It is unfair to blame the Congress of being a lousy opposition party. It has a great legacy as India’s greatest Opposition party ever, which defeated British colonialism and won India its freedom. It is not Nehru or Gandhi the Congress needs to channel now. It has to reclaim its soul from the dynasty’s clutches. Oliver Cromwell raged against the Rump Parliament supporting King Charles I of the House of the Tudor—‘Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.
‘In the name of God, go!’
The shining bauble of the Congress is the House of Gandhi and the venal slaves are its servitors. ‘In the name of the party, go!’ Let the Congress not waste this good crisis.
Ravi Shankar email@example.com