Indian National Congress ka haath- Gandhi ke saath!
For 60 years, Indian National Congress has deftly managed public opinion and managed to cling to power in a cacophonous democracy like India. Shockingly today, it has been reduced to playing the second fiddle to regional parties. The shocking defeat at Modi’s hands seems to have sapped it of its strength. The Indian National Congress of today is a faint shadow of the Indian National Congress of yore that was strong, confident and capable. Today’s generation of Indian National Congress leaders might be loyal followers of their masters, but they are not the astute politicians who inspire the electorate. Therefore, one has a strange situation in India, wherein a dominant party might be challenged by many regional political outfits, but none of these outfits is capable of replacing the party in power on its own. Anyone who has lived through the era of Janata Party, National Front and United Front would know how essential it is for the nation to have at least 2 strong political players who can shape national policies.
While Nehru might have had many flaws, even his staunchest opponents grudgingly agree that he was a true democrat. His dismissal of the Communist government in Kerala not withstanding, Nehru was the pioneer who put in place systems and processes that created the world’s largest democracy. Nehru might have been scared of majority communalism, but he created an alternative that the masses enjoyed- the idea of modern India. Shastri, even though he did not spend enough time as PM, his popularity was universally acknowledged.
Then came Indira Gandhi. Here was a lady who overcame serious challenges from within her party and defied opposition leaders such as Lohia, who had famously mocked her as Goongi Gudia to strengthen her hold on the nation. Her political manoeuvres had the opposition sweating and her political acumen surprised even those who thought they could control her. Indira’s Congress was the first break from the Indian National Congress of the Independence era. It was Indira Amma who brilliantly created and exploited the concept of vote banks to score over the opposition. In doing so, she succeeded in sidelining the opposition within her party. Indira led India’s victory over Pakistan in 1971, created Bangladesh and won acclaim as Goddess Durga incarnate from none other than Vajpayee. Indira, however was no Nehru when it came to tolerating democratic dissent. In fact, Indira’s Indian National Congress was primarily composed of those who would toe her line. The deification of dynasty had begun. Eventually, as good times gave way to bad and voices of dissent began to surface, Indira was taken aback. She had forgotten what being opposed felt like. Thus followed Emergency. Indira and her coterie sacrificed the nation to personal needs. The Janata interregnum that followed was one of chaos that made people reminisce about the stable Indira era and brought her back to power. Indira had originally created the Khalistan movement to control the Akalis and then when it appeared to overwhelm her, crushed it as a proof of her decisiveness.
Following her tragic death, Her son took over reins of the family. Rajiv was a good boy in bad company. He inherited his advisors from her mother’s time. These advisors were adept at toeing the line, but not at reforming the system. Rajiv, in spite of his phenomenal majority in Parliament, stumbled from one crisis to another- Lanka, Shah Bano, Ram Janmabhoomi, Bofors, Kashmir, Punjab etc. Freed of Indira’s domination, Indian National Congress leaders left in droves. One of them, VP Singh, eventually edged Rajiv out in the elections that followed the Bofors scam. VP Singh and Chandrashekhar brought an end to the 80s with weak governments that depended on the BJP, whose star was on the ascendant and the Indian National Congress, who saw this as an opportunity to rule by proxy.
Rajiv’s assassination at the hands of Lankan ultras brought a tragic end to an era of attempted reforms within the Indian National Congress. When PV Narsimha Rao was crowned the premier, he was the first non-Nehru Gandhi PM that Indian National Congress had produced since Shastri’s death. Here was a grassroots leader, who knew the people and their culture. Narsimha Rao was the political genius that helped technocrats like Manmohan Singh flourish. Probably the one grave error that Narsimha Rao committed was that he failed to assess the potential of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Here was a mass movement that Indian National Congress could have exploited to further its political interests. Indian National Congress could have recovered from the perceived minority-bias tag that it had earned during the Shah Bano case. Narsimha Rao, however chose to vacillate and as the domes of Babri Masjid came crashing down, Indian National Congress lost the support of people across the political spectrum-liberals, leftists and right wingers all slammed the Indian National Congress.
It was at this time that Indian National Congress began losing its touch with the masses. Instead of giving a philosophical alternative to a party that blatantly espoused majority communalism, Indian National Congress chose to chant secularism. Instead of keeping nation first, Indian National Congress chose Vote banks first and in some cases, Power first. Indian National Congress rushed into alliances with regional leaders of doubtful credibility, this only did more long term harm.
Sonia Gandhi emerged as a tentative leader initially, but was able to spread her political connections rapidly and build alliances that gave Indian National Congress another 10 years of lease. During the 2 terms of the UPA, Indian National Congress, Indian National Congress sank from intellectual to moral bankruptcy and was embroiled in one scam after the other. Manmohan Singh showed some spine when he stood up to the Leftists and pushed the nuclear deal that was in national interest, but in general, national interest took the back seat when it came to scams and petty politicking.
So, today you have Indian National Congress that is lacking leaders that have genuine grassroots appeal. Think of Indian National Congress and probably you will think of a Gandhi. However, RaGa is universally mocked, M/s Pilot & Scindia Jr.s are yet to fully establish their political credentials and you have senile leaders such as Kapil Sibal and Mani Shankar Aiyer who believe that before there was God, there was a Nehru or a Gandhi who had created the world. It is sad to see the Grand Old Party of India discredit and destroy itself. Sadly, the only chance for Indian National Congress to revive itself is if Priyanka Gandhi enters the electoral fray. Well, that speaks volumes of the rut the party is in.
In the interest of India, there is a strong need for a centrist/ center-left alternative that provides the right balance between the radical right wing and left wing elements. This can be the party of sanity, a party that puts the modern idea of India first. Like a European liberal party, Indian National Congress can espouse inclusiveness, modernity and nationalism as an alternative to rabid nationalist fervor. Unfortunately that seems to be an impossibility for Indian National Congress today.