An interesting synopsis of the running dynastic politics in India. Is it time to look beyond the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to bring forth stronger leaders for a better tomorrow?

The famed historian and author  Ramachandra Guha once lamented that the most charismatic and oldest Indian political organization and the party which won freedom for India , the Indian National Congress has today been trivialized to a group around the Gandhi family , his diagnosis of the situation could not be more apt.

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Nehru, Gandhi and Sardar Patel

The  Congress Party of Gandhi and Nehru was so different from the present Congress of the Nehru-Gandhis. Jawaharlal Nehru , despite his human mistakes did nurture and develop the institutions of democratic India. When many in India feared the idea of giving everyone the right to vote since the majority of the people were illiterate during the 1950s , however Nehru insisted on granting universal adult franchise. He made it a point to attend Parliament as often as possible , and encouraged opposition leaders to question the Government by personally replying to daily questions , which he could have easily assigned to junior Ministers.

His comrade Sardar Patel helped build the strong organization , the party had provincial congress heads , each democratically elected through a mechanism of internal elections. Nehru gave the Chief Ministers their autonomy , but frequently wrote letters to them on issues of governance , a glimpse of these letters explain the building of a nascent democracy. Nehru’s loyalist and successor Lal Bahadur Shastri was also a man of integrity , in 1966 when the Congress Chief Minister Of Orissa , Biju Patnaik was accused of corruption (He later left the party in 1969 to form the BJD) , Shastri quickly demanded an independent probe by a sitting Supreme Court Judge. His message was stern and clear that corruption could not be tolerated.

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Indira Gandhi with Jacqueline Kennedy

After Shastri’s death , the power brokers within the Congress placed Mrs Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister , hoping to control her because they considered her a shy and timid “gungi gudiya” or dumb doll. In 1969 she turned the tables and got rid of these older green eyed congressmen like Morarji Desai and earned the title of being a strong leader. Even though she had her share of achievements , she dismantled the once well oiled Congress organization by suspending internal elections , Chief Ministers were rarely given any autonomy and were changed like a pack of cards. She dismissed democratically elected state governments with absolute impunity and lack of consideration for the consequences in her bid to show that she tolerated no dissent. She demanded results and didn’t believe in doing things in the right manner , which was the hall mark of Nehru. Indira was the institution destroyer unlike her father who helped build institutions. Mrs Gandhi herself once remarked “My father was a saint , I am not.”

She interfered with the judiciary by superseding judges like A.N Ray over his seniors to the post of Chief Justice of India. She demanded a “committed bureaucracy” and promoted sycophants and acolytes. Her son Sanjay Gandhi ruthless committee excesses his cohorts like Bansi Lal , Jagmohan and V.C Shukla during the Emergency. Despite all this she had a larger than life figure and ensured Congress’s success in elections , with the single exception of 1977. For all her faults , Mrs Gandhi knew how to manage the masses , Tavleen Singh in her book “The Durbar” recounts how she covered  Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s meeting with aggrieved people at his residence in Luyten’s Delhi. One old woman approached him and said “ Pradhan Mantriji, my husband died in the 1965 war and they’ve stopped the pension I was getting since last year. Please , sir, it’s the only money I have to live on , please help me.” The Prime Minister replied “ How can I help you? I am the PM , not God.” The old lady pleaded “The pension sir , if you could just instruct them to restore the pension I was getting. Its only Rs.100 a month.” “It’s not my business. Go to the defence Minister ” he replied.

Morarji Desai did not know that the journalist Tavleen Singh was recording this meeting , and when the Statesman published it , the PMO summoned the journalist for a haughty sermon. This was in stark contrast to her recording of the “meeting of the people” with Indira Gandhi who was then the leader of opposition. Tavleen Singh met the same old lady turned away by the PM , she was far more optimistic after meeting Mrs Gandhi. The slogan was loud and clear “Desh ka neta kaisa ho, Indira Gandhi jaisa ho.”

Despite all her Himalayan blunders , Mrs Gandhi knew how to handle the masses. Tavleen Singh ( who is a well known critique of the first family) wrote “ After an hour at Mrs Gandhi’s durbar I knew with terrible certainty that it would not be long before she became Prime Minister again.”  As she predicted , Indira Gandhi the person the people throw out in 1977 came back with a thumping majority in 1980 after the chaotic Janata Rule.  She remained Prime Minister till she was assassinated in 1984.

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Rajiv Gandhi

Her death left a huge vacuum , her apolitical son and a Member Of Parliament with barely 4 years of experience , Rajiv Gandhi was made Prime Minister on the insistence of President Zail Singh , overlooking far more competent and experienced leaders like Pranab Mukherjee. Rajiv Gandhi in the 1985 Centenary Celebration of the Congress Party in Mumbai gave a speech , which even BJP leaders called “inspiring and passionate.He promised to fight against the power brokers which has marred the party which had won India it’s freedom.  Unfortunately , the power brokers won and his “Mr Clean” image was terribly  tarnished by the Bofors scandal. He also allowed the state to bend backwards to placate the orthodox Muslims in the Shah Bano case and this gave fodder to the communal agenda of certain right wing groups.
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Rajiv Gandhi’s 2/3rd majority evaporated in 1989 , but by 1991 there was a popular demand for his return after turbulent Mandir and Mandal politics of the V.P Singh Government. However fate had other plans and he was assassinated.The next Gandhi to reluctantly take the plunge was Sonia Gandhi in 1998. To her credit , she overcame the tag of being a “foreigner” and won the 2004 general elections for the Congress , ( the battle the BJP referred to Ram vs Rome , in reference to her Catholic Background.)  Mrs Gandhi earned a lot of goodwill through personal projects such as NREGA , Bharat Nirman and RTI spearheaded by the NAC , and this reaped benefits in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. However , the image of the alleged corrupt activities of her son-in-law Robert Vadra clashed with the “Lady Bountiful” image and has tarnished the Gandhi family , perhaps even more than the Bofors incident. In Bofors , the trail stopped at Quattorochi and the Courts held that Rajiv Gandhi was not involved , but in the case of Robert Vadra , the trail leads straight  up to  the drawing room of the Gandhi household.
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Who is next in line? Rahul Gandhi. The newly appointed Vice President of the Congress,  he  never gave a single interview to any media channel for a decade after joining politics , he only speaks at rallies ( convenient because at a rally the people cannot ask back , unlike in an interview). What is his ideology, his vision, his view on critical issues? It’s as good as the next one’s guess. He has restricted himself to the Youth Congress and NSIU and has not helped in the reformation of the parent party in these past 10 years. His speech at the AICC session in Jaipur is strikingly similar to the unfulfilled promises made by his father in 1985 Bombay session.  His hyped campaigns in Bihar and UP ended in utter disaster. He has rarely debated in Parliament  and comes across as a reluctant person without any fire in his belly.  Rahul Gandhi was nowhere to be seen  during the IAC movement , the protests against the Delhi Gang rape nor during the turbulent telangana tangle , worst of all he has not said anything about the gloomy picture of the Indian economy hurt by the recession and lack of structural reforms (except supporting FDI-in-Retail).

Rajiv Gandhi despite all his flaws , had a vision for a 21st India and gave all assistance to Sam Pitroda’s IT revolution.  Rahul Gandhi’s sphinx like silence is not in congruence with Young India which is demanding answers from its leaders. Rahul in fact took Sam Pitroda to a village in UP and said that his father helped a lower caste like Pitroda to reach high levels of success, thus he will do the same for the people in the village , forgetful of the fact that Pitroda rose by himself and Rajiv only noticed him once he became an entrepreneur in the US.  Rahul Gandhi spoke about all the ills facing the country in Jaipur , but what has his party done in the last 10 years to remedy those ills? And why do they deserve another 5 years in power after squandering the historic mandate given to them in 2009? These questions are answered with a deafening and contemptuous silence by the Gandhi scion.

The Congress has failed to nurture and allow the growth of leaders at the centre , even at regional levels. The once well oiled robust organization has now become the sycophantic coterie of the High Command. Why cannot a far more efficient leader like Jairam Ramesh or Shashi Tharoor ever aspire to the top post in the Congress party?.  It is high time the Congress implements its own Uma Dixit report which recommended re-establishing  internal elections within the Party instead of Gandhis’ nominating. More importantly the Congress of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty must reform itself as the party it once was, otherwise it will sink further into destruction , destruction of itself and the destruction of democratic value.

The Congress of Nehru-Gandhi must learn to go beyond the dynasty and return to the stature of the Congress of Nehru and Gandhi.

By Arvind Abraham

Also See:
The Perils of Dynastic Rule: Reader’s Voice
Dynastic Parties Demean Our Democracy
The Debilitating Effect of the Gandhis on the Congress

image Source: By Kulwant Roy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, By U.S. Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, By Bart Molendijk / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, By Hibi Eden. [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, By United States Information Service (India); photograph JK-000256 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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