There is a delightful story from the repertoire of a leading Indian newspaper that began life during the British occupation of India. Its British editor wanted to establish as much of a connect with Indians as possible and was very sensitive to Indian sensibilities. Which meant, given the gamut of festivals in the Indian calendar, he would never deny leave to any Indian staffer to celebrate Holi, Diwali or even as routine an occurrence as poornima or amavasya.
However, if ever you asked leave to see your mother-in-law off at the station or look after your ailing wife, this bachelor editor would lose his temper and your job could be in jeopardy. The staff at that newspaper thus evolved a way out of the dilemma after bribing and taking his Indian secretary into confidence. The editor would always check with his secretary to make sure that the leave was merited by the person applying for it. So, as is the propensity with us Indians to circumvent the rules, the staff began applying for leave on the grounds that they wanted to celebrate Somvar (which was simply Monday) or Guruvar (Thursday), etc. The editor would ask his secretary, “Is tomorrow really Shukravar?” In all honesty, the secretary would reply with a straight face, “Yes, sir.
Tomorrow is indeed Shukravar (Friday).” And the leave would be granted. All good things come to an end, however. And so did this arrangement when one day a panicked secretary came charging into the newsroom with his bag and baggage and said he was quitting his job before he got sacked by the editor. For, the British gentlemen had received an Indian visitor that day and just in the course of small talk, he had asked the Indian, “So are you celebrating Guruvar tomorrow?”
One of the staffers had been granted leave for the occasion but the question confused the Indian visitor who said, “What is there to celebrate in Guruvar? It comes every week and it is the middle of the week, as every Thursday is. It is no festival.” Whereupon the British editor realised how he was being had by his Indian staffers and his British sense of humour quite deserted him. The man who had wanted to celebrate Thursdays also hastily packed his bags and left the building before he could be publicly reprimanded by his editor. I have related the above story because it has always reminded me of how the Indian National Congress was run over the past two decades under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi.
Her western sensibilities got in the way of proper decision making; she was very correct, stuck to the rules, abhorred manipulation and hated deception. So far so good. But where Sonia proved vulnerable was when a gamut of seniors within her party emotionally blackmailed her into taking decisions that suited themselves rather than the nation or the party. For example, all the senior leaders in the party would frequently drop Indira Gandhi’s name telling Sonia that is how her mother-in-law would have done any particular thing.
Or if her decision didn’t suit them, they would say it would offend people’s cultural sensibilities. The biggest example of this is the issue of a separate Telangana—she wanted to keep the promise made in the Congress manifesto, unlike the BJP which went back on its word for a separate Vidarbha as they realised it was not really the people’s desire.
Senior leaders in the Congress threatened by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy told her that people would not like him accommodated in the government after the death of his father, who was the sitting chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. As a result, Congress lost Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and a charismatic leader. The party is unlikely to make a comeback there in a long time.
Thus, more than 30 years after one generation of old Congressmen set out to look for a ‘goongi gudiya’ (dumb doll) in Mrs Indira Gandhi, who decimated them in months, another set of old Congressmen had better success with Sonia. This ‘syndicate’ has continued to be prominent in the party into Rahul Gandhi’s tenure as party president and he was unable to overcome them either, as evidenced from his outburst against the self-centred attitudes of senior party leaders during the Congress Working Committee meeting after the poll results.
So, if Congress now wants to resurrect itself, it must retire all these party elders and review the utility of their sons and daughters. Across the board and around the nation most of these children of illustrious fathers have bitten the dust and it might now be high time that the party put more trust in its common workers who are more connected with the people and rooted to the ground. If Rahul continues as president of the Congress, he must deal with these two sections in the party ruthlessly.
It is not as though other parties have not had their share of ambitious elders and their equally privileged children making it to elected bodies. However, those parties are less feudalistic and neither the older leaders nor their children can take their privileges for granted. Senior Congressmen have played the Nehru-Gandhis to their selfish tunes for too long. Rahul cannot afford to be a puppet on their strings any longer.