While there is no dearth of secular-liberal friends who see in the ‘letter-bomb’ a potential to destroy the Congress, especially the prospect of Rahul Gandhi, the truth is that there is scope for revival of the party in what had happened on August 24 Congress Working Committee meeting, as the heated discussions at the highest platform of any political party across the world is normal. At the end of the day the top leaders usually patch their differences and the party starts functioning as usual.
So it is quite natural if the interim president of the Congress, Sonia Gandhi and the outgoing chief Rahul Gandhi expressed their strong displeasure over the letter written by 23 senior party leaders and then later climbed down. Kapil Sibal too removed his tweet and Ghulam Nabi Azad clarified his position as well. These developments may not be normal yet not unusual.
What could not be properly examined in the media is the position of Rahul Gandhi, who is often criticised not only by the rival Bharatiya Janata Party, but also by the liberals sitting in the television studios. The problem with the latter is that though they sound secular they ridicule and mock at Rahul to maintain balance as they are critical of PM Narendra Modi as well. In the process they fail to do justice and sometimes end up making uncharitable comments at him.
The biggest problem with the so-called objective public opinion-makers is that they hardly applauded Rahul’s May 25, 2019 decision to resign as the Congress president owing full responsibility for the defeat in the Lok Sabha poll. Not only that he had then asked the partymen and women to chose a president from outside the Gandhi family. Instead he was derided and dubbed as escapist. It is not the problem with Gandhis alone, but the Congress party’s top echelon who failed to elect any one as the leader compelling Sonia Gandhi once again on August 10, 2019 to take over as the interim president.
An analysis of the post-Nehru Congress would reveal that very often journalists have gone overboard in criticising Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and even the present members of the family, so far encouraging dynasty rule is concerned.
One need not shy away from praising and criticising Indira and Rajiv for their deeds and misdeeds as the prime ministers of India. Similarly, one has every right to judge the performance of Sonia and Rahul in the last two decades.
Yet it would be wrong and unjust to charge that Indira and Rajiv snatched powers and became PMs in 1966 and 1984 respectively.
Over-blaming Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajeev Gandhi for bringing in the dynasty rule would amount to over-simplification of history.
Similarly, it is an established fact that Sonia and later Rahul never wanted to wear the mantle of the Congress party. In May 2004 Sonia flatly refused to become the Prime Minister notwithstanding enormous pressure and let Manmohan Singh, a Sikh, fill in the gap.
It is a well-documented fact that after the death of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri at Tashkent in the then Soviet Union (now in Uzbekistan) on Jan 11, 1966 the Congress leadership fell into crisis. The stalwarts known as Syndicate, and led by four senior faces–Morarji Desai, K Kamaraj, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy and S Nijalingappa–failed to elect a PM from among them. They found in Indira Gandhi the best person to lead.
Initially, they thought that they would hold the rein of power as they used to call Indira as ‘Gungi Gudia’ (dumb doll). It is other thing that within a couple of years Indira started asserting as nobody would like to dance to other’s tune.
One can hold Nehru responsible for introducing Indira to politics–and that too even before independence–but it would be sheer exaggeration to suggest that he groomed her as his successor.
By 1969 the Congress got split. So it would be inappropriate to put all the blames on Indira for forcibly taking over as the Prime Minister.
In the same way when Indira Gandhi was assassinated on Oct 31, 1984 it was the then President Zail Singh, who immediately administered oath to Rajiv Gandhi after his arrival to Delhi later on the same day. True Indira may be faulted for bringing in her youngest son, Sanjay Gandhi, into politics as she was feeling somewhat lonely and strongly needed emotional support from someone very close to her after the 1969 split. She might have been grooming Sanjay, but the sudden death of the latter on June 23, 1980 in a plane crash turned everything upside down. The heart broken Indira then ushered in to politics the eldest son Rajiv, a pilot who was not at all interested in joining it.
After Indira’s assassination it is a known fact that Sonia asked Rajiv in AIIMS itself where he had rushed to see his mother, not to take oath. But Zail Singh was in more hurry because of another reason. As he was a Sikh and the assassins too belonged to this faith, he deemed it fit to take this decision then and there.
At the same time it is also true that Rajiv later pushed aside Pranab Mukherjee, then a senior minister, as he thought that the latter may emerge as a potential challenger.
After Rajiv’s assassination on May 21, 1991 Sonia flatly refused to take over the command. She and her family withdrew and the matter was now left at the hand of Narasimha Rao. The latter as the Prime Minister might have brought in the Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation but as the Congress president he failed to revive its fortune. The party was voted out of power after 1996 Lok Sabha election winning just 140 seats against 244 in 1991.
Rao left the scene and Sitaram Kesari became the president. By 1998 the tally of the party fell further paving the way for the NDA to come to power under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
It was only after that senior Congressmen and women decided to once again approach Sonia Gandhi. Among those who wanted Sonia to take up the leadership was Mamata Banerjee.
However, the trio of Sharad Pawar, Tariq Anwar and P A Sangma walked away from the party and on May 25, 1999 split from the party to form the Nationalist Congress Party. They raised the issue of foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi to part ways. This issue was dear to the BJP.
Sonia did not become the PM after the 2004 UPA victory and did not let anyone from the family to take this post. Even after the 2009 victory of UPA, in which Rahul Gandhi did play an important role, Manmohan Singh continued in the office.
But the allegations of remote-controlling the government continued to be levelled against Sonia and Rahul.
So when the Congress was routed in 2014 Gandhis were held more responsible than Manmohan Singh by many secular-liberal public opinion makers. Historians like Ramachandra Guha would quote Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun to prove that the dynasty starts crumbling by the fourth generation.
As many within his party too started seeing Rahul’s stand on economy, secularism and politics as too uncompromising they started suspecting him.
They might have their point. Rahul may be too obstinate, but how can one expect him to accept the stand of former Madhya Pradesh CMs–Kamalnath and Digvijay Singh–that Rajiv Gandhi too wanted Ram Temple built in Ayodhya and thus donated silver bricks for its construction.
Yes, Rajiv Gandhi was in favour of Ram Temple but never supported its construction after the demolition of Babri Masjid. Herein lies the big difference.
The truth is that blaming Nehru and Gandhis alone for the ‘dynasty rule’ would be wrong. The Congress got several chances to elect and install other leaders but it failed: be it between 1964 and 1966, between 1991 and 1998 and even now. After all, several columnists and anchors have called Rahul as part-time politician, reluctant politician etc. If it is really so, let him go.
And if accept him, one will have to accept his views too–even if they sound unacceptable to many within the party.
(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views are personal.)