It appears to be burlesque yet it is the political reality. They have failed to get votes. Yet they grab maximum voices and make the most noise about themselves. For the past five decades, the Gandhis have never been out of sight or mind of the Indian electorate. They are in the news not because of any earthshaking political action. The Gandhis are conspicuously omnipresent due to their inaction. They are left with few adversaries but even fewer friends in the party.
They hardly add any political pizzazz to the dwindling fortunes of the 135-year-old Congress party. Despite losing power, the puissant Gandhi Parivar can still make and unmake the Congress and change its ideological and demographic contours. When challenged, they bounce back triumphatically after trampling upon their opponents. Last week, history repeated itself, rather ridiculously. Two dozen odd Congress leaders from various parts of the country decided to shake the Empire. Most of them have been with the GOP longer than the all three Gandhis. Some of them were former chief ministers and union ministers. Others were former and current members of Parliament.
They thought the time had come to wake up the party and its leadership from slumber. They just sought an active introspection and an efficacious leadership, which was both visible and active on the ground as well. In order to prevent a backlash, they also made it clear that Gandhi family would always remain an integral part of the duly elected collective leadership. They were distraught and appalled at the successive electoral humiliations and toppling of their elected state governments. With an inaccessible Sonia and occasionally visible Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leaders were feeling orphaned.
A dark political future was staring at them. But for the Gandhis, it was yet another bad phase which too shall pass. And for them, the concept of collective leadership is an anathema. Ever since Indira Gandhi converted the party into a family-owned political entity after the first split in 1969, every attempt to broad base its dynastic hierarchical architecture has been crushed ruthlessly by purging the dissenters.
Indira was perhaps the most calculated and forward looking parent who wrote and left an organisational algorithm which would always ensure the return of a Gandhi to dominate the affairs of the Congress. For them, political experience wasn’t an essential qualification for holding the highest office in the party or the government.
It was after 20 years that a group of Congress leaders endeavoured to correct the imbalance between family dominance and organisational supremacy. All of them have been co-conspirators in the past in perpetuating dynastic ascendancy. They have also been beneficiaries of the Gandhi munificence. But when they rose against the Gandhi deities, they were branded as Quislings who were egged on by the Bharatiya Janata Party. In fact, none of the letter writers had even a remotest link with the Sangh Parivar.
The Gandhis and their promoters applied the original Mrs G’s formula of first threatening to quit and then using the loyalists to drum up the demand for the Gandhis to remain in office to save not only the party but also the nation. Even the resolutions passed by the Congress Working Committee (CWC) or the All India Congress Committee (AICC) during the past five decades are similar both in spirit and verse. They begin with how the Congress has brought India back from the precipice of destruction and end up with sycophantic adulation of Nehru and the Gandhis.
Last week too, the factional shenanigans ended with laudatory speeches. Surprisingly, the resolution hailing the Gandhi Parivar was moved none other than the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While warning the missive writers that the resolution vowed to “strengthen the hands of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi”, it also added that “No one can be, nor will be, permitted to undermine the Congress at this critical juncture and Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s voices are the strongest voices fighting the BJP government and the assault on democracy”.
Not only were the Gandhis able to further solidify their control over the Congress, they were able to eliminate any immediate threat to their leadership. Though Sonia Gandhi offered to resign, yet stayed on till the next AICC session is held to elect a new president. In the meanwhile, a chorus was orchestrated to anoint Rahul Gandhi as her successor.
It is quite evident that India’s second largest party was destined to be permanently dominated by the Dynasty. Historically, the party hasn’t been at peace with itself whenever it was led by a non-Gandhi during the past 40 years. When Indira Gandhi was tragically assassinated in 1984, her son Rajiv Gandhi was elevated not only as the Prime Minister but also as the Congress president. He had merely less than three years of political experience as one of the general secretaries. Within four years, he faced a big challenge from his own party when a powerful faction led VP Singh revolted against him. He lost the popular mandate but retained his party presidentship.
Unfortunately, he was killed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Once again, a vocal Congress section wanted his widow Sonia Gandhi to take over but she refused. It was perhaps divine intervention that PV Narasimha Rao was retrieved from a veritable retirement home to take over as party president and he became the prime minister later as well. It was during Rao’s tenure that AICC elections were held after a gap of 13 years. Rao survived in office for five years but was always under constant threat from Gandhi loyalists. When he lost the 1996 election, he was unceremoniously removed and was replaced by a nonentity like Sitaram Kesari. Even Kesari wasn’t acceptable to Gandhi faithfuls. He was ejected out of office by using strong arm tactics.
Ironically, it was Kesari who enrolled Sonia as a primary Congress party member in August 1997. Eight months later, she became the Congress president without holding any office earlier. When she faced opposition from Sharad Pawar and others, they were thrown out of the party. And she broke the record for holding the AICC president’s post for the next 19 years. When she decided to quit, she handed over the baton to her son Rahul Gandhi in December 2017. But he also resigned soon after a humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. Expectedly, he was succeeded by his mother Sonia Gandhi again.
In fact, barring the brief period of 1991-98, the middle room of a sprawling 24 Akbar Road Congress office has always been occupied by a Gandhi.
But generational transition in the Congress has also led to death of an ideology-led Indira dispensation
and emergence of the personality cult-driven Gandhis. Anyone who made to minimise the Gandhis has been erased from the history of the Congress. Congress website has a page on “Our Inspiration”. It contains, other than Nehru and the Gandhis, pictures of eight personalities including Jagjivan Ram and Manmohan Singh. The only one missing from it is Rao. It is a stark reminder for those that if anyone ever messes up with the current crop of the Gandhis, he or she wouldn’t find a place even in the footnotes of the party’s history. Gandhis are never shellacked. Only the Congress is clobbered. Despite pretensions, it will always be Gandhi vs another Gandhi. Take it or leave it.