In a blunt and outspoken interview that will shake the Congress party whilst surprising the BJP, well-known historian and political commentator Ramachandra Guha has says “the Gandhis must go now”.
“In the interests of their party, and of their country, they should go not merely from the top leadership of the Congress, but from the party entirely,” he says.
He says the continuation of the three Gandhis – Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka – is enabling not just the consolidation, but also the strengthening of the Narendra Modi regime. On the other hand, their immediate departure will create an opening for a more credible opposition leader, not necessarily from within the Congress but, perhaps, from the wider opposition. “They must go so we can rescue the country from Modi,” Guha adds.
Guha says that if the Gandhis do not take such a decision immediately, it would “soon be too late to rescue even the rubble of our democracy and republic. Modi will have an easy ride so long as the Gandhis continue and the damage he’s doing to our social fabric, economy, institutions, our standing in the world and our relations with our neighbours will only get worse”. Guha suggested that the continuation of the Gandhis in politics is acting like a safety net or insurance policy for Modi’s “authoritarian, sectarian and incompetent regime”.
Talking about Sonia Gandhi’s attitude, Guha says she is “like the Mughals with a divine right to rule. Perhaps she sees Modi like Sher Shah Suri, an interloper who will go away.”
In a 34-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Guha spelt out in detail why he believes the Gandhis are both weakening Congress whilst strengthening the Modi government. First, he says, the Gandhis don’t have a consistent ideology. “Sonia and Rahul claim to be principled secularists one day and promote soft Hindutva the next. They take credit for the free-market reforms promoted by past Congress governments one day but pour scorn on entrepreneurs the next.”
He adds: “They only believe in family control of the party. Rahul and Priyanka have never known otherwise.”
“The Gandhis have no coherent ideology,” he says.
Guha’s second criticism of the Gandhis is their lack of hard work. Citing Rahul Gandhi’s behaviour during the Bihar campaign, when he suddenly took a holiday in Himachal Pradesh, Ramachandra Guha says, “Rahul lacks dedication and commitment.”
Referring to Rahul Gandhi’s behaviour during the lockdown, Ramachandra Guha says other than “one photo -op” Rahul effectively disappeared. Guha says he’s only “active on Twitter” and that “it’s his sole area of activity”.
Guha claims that even Jamia Millia Islamia students and farmers have either lost trust in the Gandhis or see them as a liability. During the Jamia protests of December 2019, “Congress was invisible”, he says. At the moment, when farmers are protesting outside Delhi, they have “told Congress not to come”. Guha added that the farmers are worried that associating with Congress will mean they will be seen as “stooges of a discredited party”.
Guha compared Congress under the Gandhis to the BJP. He said the three most important people in the BJP are Modi, Shah and Nadda. They’re unrelated to each other, self-made and have risen to the top by their own efforts. In contrast, the top three people in Congress are Sonia Gandhi and her children. They’re related, they only entered politics because another family member facilitated their entry and far from being self-made they epitomise entitlement and privilege. He said “Congress under the Gandhis can never challenge BJP”.
Equally importantly, he adds, is that “the Gandhis are impeding the rise of other Congressmen”.
Guha asked: “Why have good leaders of Congress left?” His answer was “because their path to political advancement had been blocked by Rahul Gandhi”. At one point in the interview he says, “Why are the Gandhi children still in politics? They know they are incompetent.”
Guha also told The Wire that the continuation of the Gandhis at the top of the Congress provides a credible cover-up or excuse for the Modi government’s failures. “So long as descendants of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi lead Congress, the ruling regime can deflect criticisms of its policies in the present by pointing to the mistakes of Congress governments in the past,” he says. Guha elaborated that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have not apologised for the Emergency. He said the present problems with China in Ladakh are countered by referring to Nehru’s lapses in 1962. The problem in Kashmir is excused on the grounds that Nehru created it. There are innumerable instances where the Modi government’s lapses or failures are countered by referring to what happened under Nehru or Indira Gandhi.
Speaking specifically about Rahul Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha says: “Here is a man who could not retain Amethi, his pocket borough. How can he revive Congress, win elections and return to power?”
Guha describes Rahul Gandhi as “a well-intentioned dilettante”. He calls Rahul Gandhi “completely mediocre … (with) no original ideas”. Seven and a half year earlier, Guha had said very similar things. At the time, he had also said Rahul Gandhi “should find another profession.” In the interview to The Wire, Guha said not only does he fully stand by his earlier assessment but time has proven him right. He adds Rahul Gandhi is “incapable of hard work”.
Questioned by The Wire whether it was possible Congress’s electoral fortunes would soar if the Gandhis were removed or part company or whether Congress had become like the Liberal Party in Britain, an institution with a great and glorious history but now a rump with no future, Guha says it was “quite likely” Congress could end up like the Liberal Party.
Guha repeatedly emphasises that he is not speaking out of any animosity or prejudice for the Gandhis but out of concern for India’s democracy and future and because he realises that if the Modi government is to be defeated we need a new and credible face other than the Gandhis. “Unless we have a credible opposition we cannot have change. The Gandhis cannot provide such an opposition,” he says, adding that even “in the interests of their party electorally they should go”.
The above is a paraphrased precis of Ramachandra Guha’s interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire. Please see the full interview for a proper appreciation of Ramachandra Guha’s points and arguments.