The world’s most powerful dynasty needs to relinquish its power or today’s victory for the reactionary BJP will not be reversed in the foreseeable future
In India’s first general election in 1952, the Congress Party which had lead India to its independence won 364 out of the 489 seats in the new parliament. Its leader Jawaharlal Nehru became the country’s first democratically elected Prime Minister.
He was undeniably one of the great statesmen of the twentieth century. He was second only to Gandhi in his significance in India’s struggle for independence. His record as Prime Minister was far from unblemished: his socialist policies damaged India’s growth and he lost a war with China. However, he laid the foundation for a secular, democratic and broadly stable country.
Compare that situation with today. In India’s latest election: Congress and its allies look set to win fewer than a hundred seats. It now looks like the Hindu nationalist BJP will win an outright majority: the first party to achieve this in more than two decades. It’s leader the alarmingly sectarian Narendra Modi is set to become PM.
One of the few points of continuity is man Congress was putting forward for Prime Minister: Rahul Gandhi. He’s Nehru’s great grandson.
The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has now produced three Indian PMs: Nehru himself, Indira Gandhi his daughter and her son Rahul Gandhi.* Rahul’s wife Sonia has been Congress’ party president since 1998 and several other members of the family are prominent players in Indian politics. And some in Congress are now suggesting replacing Rahul with his sister Priyanka.
The creation of this situation for the Congress is the party’s own dynastic structure. A party which itself is plagued by lack of democratic structures within its workings, trying to govern the world’s largest democracy, was always going to be an ardent task. This situation of the Congress and Gandhi family’s control was specifically brought into public debate as whether the party under their leadership was even letting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh do his job.
Evidently Sonia Gandhi was able to control India’s fortunes and misfortunes without being in a public position to be held accountable for. During the press conference held by Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi to congratulate the new government today, Sonia Gandhi said that the party’s “parampara” (traditions) was one of its biggest assets, and this perhaps indicated that the Gandhi family is still in no mood to dilute their grasp and commit to a more democratic structure in order to pull out the best political leaders from their own talent pool.
And the Congress in fact, does not have a shortage of able leaders; it is whether they are allowed to perform their duties without being bound to the family’s definition and interpretations of their paramparas. For example, a person like Narendra Modi would have probably never been able to reach the top echelons of the Congress party’s leadership as he did in the BJP.
A political party which has decided to remain dynastic and where talent cannot be nurtured unless it was hand-in-hand with whatever the ruling family wants will find it hard to sustain itself in today’s environment. The Congress, despite doing well in its first tenure, needs internal introspection more than anything else. The ills and mishits that have deluged the party since 2009-10 have mostly come from within the party and its ideals than any other external factors.
Congress’s failure has come from the Gandhi family, and it remains to be seen how the party’s other members, loyalists, careerists and dissenters, will deal with such a massive loss and whether they will demand Rahul Gandhi to step away from taking any centric political roles in the future.By the looks of Rahul Gandhi’s body-language and expression during the press conference with Sonia Gandhi, the young scion may just happily abdicate his political responsibilities that his surname automatically gave him upon his birth.
*The name Gandhi comes from Indira’s husband and has nothing to do with Mahatma Gandhi.