On Friday, the ruling BJP’s members in both houses of parliament disrupted the proceedings, demanding an apology for some kind of habitually asinine remarks Rahul Gandhi had made a day earlier in Jharkhand; as could be expected, the Congress benches felt obliged to defend their wayward prince.
The ruling party’s day was made.
Rahul Gandhi as the Congress mascot — and leader — suits the Sangh Parivar rather well.
A day later, on Saturday, at a Congress rally organised to highlight the Modi government’s mismanagement of the economy, the Prodigal Son was back at the centre-stage. And, he played perfectly straight into the BJP’s hands. Whatever view one may have of V.D.Savarkar, he foolishly, and undeservedly, sought to elevate himself to his level.
But the Congress ‘cadres’ and ‘leaders’ alike are ecstatic over his aggression. The official-AICC inspired narrative says this belligerence is the proof — if proof at all was needed — of his uncompromising commitment to defend secularism.
Let us face the irony: the only point on which Sonia Gandhi and the BJP leadership can agree is that both want Rahul Gandhi back at the helm of the Congress party.
It was not all that long ago that he had churlishly walked away from the job after the Congress suffered a second successive humiliating defeat under his leadership. He had dared the Congress to find another leader from outside the ‘Family’.
And, then, the reins were handed back to the Mother. And now, backroom machinations and intrigue are in full swing to ensure the Son is back.
Rahul’s claim is based on a simple and singular fact that he is Sonia Gandhi’s son and that his father, as his grandmother and before her his great-grandfather were all prime ministers of India.
This assertion of entitlement goes against the grain of time and age, and in unpalatable to a changed India.
The Gandhis’ pretences and claims of charisma have been abandoned; 20 years in the political limelight are more than enough to drain away mystique and mystery. The ‘they make the Congress win votes’ conceit has long been disrupted by the voters themselves.
And, then, there is this fraudulent argument that the Congress would disintegrate without a Nehru-Gandhi helmsman steering the ship.
Facts tell a different tale.
The entire Andhra/Telangana leadership had walked out en masse, that too when Sonia Gandhi was presiding over the ruling UPA; and, in the last six years, senior Congress leaders all over the country have abandoned the party, most recently in Maharashtra and Haryana.
Except for one odd Navjot Singh Sidhu here and a Hardik Patel there, no fresh blood has been attracted to the Rahul Congress.
Then we had the unbecoming sight of ‘Rahul’s Man’, Ashok Tanwar demonstrating outside the AICC a day after the party decided to have a new pradesh chief in Haryana.
So much for the ‘disintegration’ argument.
Yet the Congress has trapped itself into what historian Ian Buruma calls “the late-imperial dilemma.” As he put it, “imperial powers in the middle of the twentieth century used to argue that they could not withdraw as long as their colonial subjects were not ready to rule themselves.”
The Congress has been so deeply de-institutionalised in the last two decades that it has depleted its collective capacity to think outside the Gandhi box. There is a praetorian guard – Anand Sharma, Ghulam Nabi Azad, P. Chidamabaram, A.K. Antony. And, these are all men of the yesteryear who will not countenance any challenge to the Family.
Whether anybody likes it or not, the stage has been set for Rahul Gandhi’s return. Saturday’s rally was, many suspect, in fact, conceptualised so as to showcase Rahul’s indispensability. What is more galling is that he is coming back on his failed and flawed terms; and, that means nobody in the party is permitted to question his manners and morals.
No one dare question whether this not-so-young man has the stamina or steadfastness to stay in the fight for the next four years. No one has the courage to suggest that the leadership subject itself to institutionalised protocols and procedures.
Narendra Modi has regularly accused the Congress of being reduced to a maa-beta party; it has now evolved as a maa-beta-beti party, with the honourable Robert Vadra threatening to heed the citizens’ presumably frantic entreaties that he should enter the political arena as well
There are political ramifications to this leadership format.
With the Gandhis’ around — asserting their claims of entitlement because of a lineage — Modi and other BJP demagogues are able to rustle up memories of injuries and injustices that once fuelled anti-Congressism; whereas the need of the hour ought to be to create an anti-BJP sentiment which would compel NDA allies to re-examine their ties with the saffron party.
Hence, the most painful dilemma before liberals: just when the republic desperately needs to mobilise a new imagination and tap a new energy in defence of established constitutional values and principles, a democratic India finds itself hostage to the old, tired and tarnished leadership choice in the Congress party.
And, given the Gandhis’ stranglehold over the party’s personnel and resources, no internal voice can be expected to be raised against Rahul’s second coronation.
Can voices and sentiments outside the Congress intervene? In recent years, a large number of liberals and democratic voices have vigorously expressed and asserted their fundamental right to dissent against the Modi government’s mauling of our institutions.
They have vigorously and bravely challenged the moral pretensions of the “Naya Bharat.”
Why can’t these very individuals and groups bring themselves to demand that the Congress be allowed to make a transition to a democratic party? Political parties are public institutions; and, all said and done, a robust Congress has to be at the core of any regrouping of democratic forces and parties.
Hence, democratic India has a legitimate interest and stake in the Congress’s organisational affairs; but the liberal intelligentsia is strangely reluctant to exercise its agency and demand a voice in how the Congress rearranges its leadership matrix.
This omerta, or code of silence, must end.
Harish Khare is a journalist who lives and works in Delhi. He was, until recently, editor-in-chief of The Tribune.