ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday April 27, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 48

Dynastic politics: A sycophantic search for Congress leader

Human Resources Minister Arjun Singh spoke out of turn or at a wrong time when he projected Rahul Gandhi as India's Prime Minister. There was an element of sycophancy which is nothing new; it has helped Arjun Singh all his life. But since when the Congress has been above sycophancy, the environment of which is to the dislike of party president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi?

Leave the stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri apart. Indira Gandhi converted the Congress into a party of yes men. It is another matter that Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has eaten humble pie for the sake of power. The reason he had given to leave the Congress was that he objected to Sonia Gandhi becoming the Prime Minister because she had an Italian background.

Sonia Gandhi herself allowed the drama of sycophancy to be staged in the central hall of parliament when, after the last elections, the Congress was on the eve of forming the government. Throwing all norms to the wind, Doordarshan disseminated live the unending praises of Sonia Gandhi and her capability to become India's Prime Minister. The drama was taken to a new pitch when some lady members of the Congress broke down, wiping their tears to convince Sonia Gandhi of their sincerity.

What is the Congress today if it is not a party dominated by courtiers and sycophants? Beginning with Indira Gandhi, there has been a coterie around the Congress president who was also the Prime Minister. K. Kamaraj from Tamil Nadu was the last Congress president who was not the Prime Minister. Indira Gandhi hounded him out although he was instrumental in her election as head of the parliamentary party.

Unlike Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi does not have a "kitchen cabinet" but her small coterie pulls all the wires that she wants to be pulled in the government and the Congress. She has been described as the most powerful person in the world with no accountability.

Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Singh, left, returns after delivering his speech as Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi applauds at the National Convention of Chairpersons of District and Intermediate Panchayats, in New Delhi, India, Thursday, April 24, 2008. AP

In the entire drama, what I have not been able to make out is Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's endorsement of Arjun Singh's proposal about Rahul Gandhi. Karunanidhi is an old horse who should not have forgotten his government's dismissal by Indira Gandhi during the emergency. But he feels indebted to Sonia Gandhi after she had rewarded him for his support to the Manmohan Singh government by giving the DMK some 12-odd ministries at the centre.

Probably, his calculation is that he would need the Congress at the next polls to face his rival, J. Jayalalithaa who, according to the past traditions of the state, would return since she is in the opposition today.

Still taking Arjun Singh's proposal at its face value, the mystery is why Rahul Gandhi's projection has begun at a time when the Manmohan Singh government is at its lowest ebb? Is it an effort to divert attention from the failure of the Congress-headed government? Even if this is not the purpose, it would have embarrassed Manmohan Singh.

Whatever his limitations as a politician, he has given his best in the fields of economics and administration. Pawar himself said some weeks ago that Manmohan Singh should be projected for the second term. Now Pawar and his Man Friday, Praful Patel, have suggested Rahul's name. They do not have to explain their overnight volte face, as the politics of theirs is. Manmohan Singh himself is so indebted to the dynasty that when Rahul's name was floated before the UP assembly election, the Prime Minister said that Rahul was the future of India.

The problem with the Congress leadership is that it does not give any chance to a young person during the period between the two elections. When the polls approach, there is none on the scene except the one from the dynasty. Indira Gandhi did not allow any young Congressman to come up and raised her son from aviation to Prime Ministership.

Sonia Gandhi has done the same. She did not induct into the government any young person for four years after the elections. After making Rahul Gandhi the party's general secretary, she appointed popular Jyotiraditya Scindia as minister and that too only a minister of state.

"Tell us who else is there?" a top leader asked me when Rahul was projected. Come to think of it, the party has none in the young category. Manmohan Singh is already 75. If the Congress were to take up the issue of passing on the baton to the youth, it has an advantage because Rahul is only 40.

The BJP has L.K. Advani as the Prime Minister designate but he is 80. Leaders of regional parties are around 70. In a country, where an 18-year-old is a voter, picking up some one young is not a bad strategy. The problem with the Congress is its search for the youth begins and ends with the dynasty.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, would have liked Indira Gandhi to be his successor. He got her to be the Congress president. But he was too democratic to play with members in the Lok Sabha. He had her in mind. Lal Bahadur Shastri, with whom I worked as Press Secretary, told me many a time that "in Panditji's mind is her daughter".

Nehru could not nominate Indira Gandhi on another count. Top state leaders were there. He could not afford to ignore their opinion. He cut many ministers, including Morarji Desai, down to size when he ousted some ministers from the central cabinet and a few Congress Chief Ministers under the Kamaraj plan. This only alienated them. They could not have confronted Nehru during his lifetime but would have killed the proposal to make Indira Gandhi the Prime Minister after his death.

The dynasty lost at that time because those were the formative years of post-independence Congress. Most of them had a halo of sacrifice around them. Of course, these leaders brought her only when they were themselves divided. Sonia Gandhi did well to nip the "draft Rahul Gandhi" campaign in the bud. Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, another leader who wanted to be the Prime Minister in place of Manmohan Singh, lent his voice to Arjun Singh.

Rahul did so badly both in UP and Gujarat during the state elections that he was left alone for a while. But then he evoked attention in Karnataka. So he was brought back with a vengeance. However objective one could be, he or she would feel revolted after seeing Satish Sharma as his shadow.

Satish Sharma, close to the dynasty, had to leave the Rajiv Gandhi government because he distributed licences for petrol pumps for a consideration. Justice Kuldip Singh made some personal observations against him when the case was heard by the Supreme Court. But then Sonia Gandhi is not bothered about what falls in the ethical field.

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