It is now more or less official. The Congress Party is virtually defunct. The Grand Old Party, whose stalwarts fought for India’s independence, laid the foundation of genuine democracy in a region that had never experienced it, ensured equal representation for all minorities in a complicated and diverse nation, experimented with and then discarded Nehruvian socialism; and put India on the path of economic liberalization in 1991, is now a diaphanous shell of its former self.
Badly Losing Control
Almost on a regular basis, political events highlight the Congress leadership’s impotence and growing irrelevance. The latest is the turmoil in the Gujarat wing of the party, where its members are deserting in droves – to the extent that the remainder has to be confined in a glorified prison to make sure that they do not defect.
Before that, that wily old political master, Nitish Kumar, merrily skipped out of the “Grand Alliance” in Bihar; and there was not a damn thing the Congress could do about. Indeed, the Congress’s claim to be a national party is looking increasingly dubious, since it only controls a handful of states – and after 2019, it probably won’t control any.
Narendra Modi is well on his way to being anointed the unchallenged emperor of India, where he can implement his and the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh’s (RSS) agenda without any need to assuage or bother about a withering Opposition, or the increasingly powerless minority communities.
The Dynasty Rule
The real dilemma of the Congress is that it was never designed as a dynastic party. In the case of Nehru, the people were so grateful to him for freeing them from the Imperialist British yoke – and overawed by his towering presence – that they happily allowed him to rule unchallenged for almost two decades. After his death, Indira Gandhi took up his mantle – and although she was authoritarian and ruthless in dealing with opposition – she had been groomed for leadership for decades previously. That is where the dynasty should have ended, in a political sense. Indira’s progeny was not groomed for leadership.
True, Sanjay Gandhi fancied himself as a shrewd political operator, but his power derived more from being Indira’s son than any achievements of his own. Moreover, he alienated the people with his forced sterilization drive – something Indira was careful not to do, in spite of her authoritarian nature.
After Indira’s assassination and Sanjay’s sudden death in an accident, there was no one of comparable stature left. Rajiv Gandhi was thrust into a leadership role he did not desire, nor was he suited for. After Rajiv’s assassination, the Congress went into a decline which is now near terminal. Sonia Gandhi, for all the Congress’s attempts to build her up as a canny politician, was at heart a housewife with no grounding or experience in politics.
The True Essence of Politics
Politics is not a profession you can suddenly take up and expect to make a success of. It requires decades of experience and coming up through the ranks. That is why Narendra Modi is so successful. As for Rahul Gandhi, his hit and miss style of politics has baffled his supporters and opponents alike. No one is sure what is on his mind, or whether he is even interested in the job. A party led by a part-time politician is virtually doomed to fade into irrelevance.
Of course, dynastic politics is hardly unique to the Congress. However, as virtually the only national party during Indira’s reign, the Congress had a special responsibility to think of what was best for the party and the nation. The irony is that both Nehru and Indira genuinely believed in democracy and yet, they saw no conflict in emulating the kind of royal succession of the British they had fought so hard to overthrow.
If Indira had had the vision to put country before family, it is quite probable that the Congress would have remained the dominant party to this day; and the BJP would still be a minor regional party. In all probability, Narendra Modi would not have risen to the heights he has achieved today. Remember it was a non-Gandhi Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, that put India on the path to economic liberalization; and replaced obsolete Ambassadors and Fiats on the country’s roads with modern Toyotas and Hondas. So, the experiment has been tried; and succeeded. It needs to be repeated. If the Congress finds itself in the doldrums these days, it has no one but itself to blame for its decline.
Mr. Firoze Hirjikaka is a retired civil engineer and freelance writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org