The Congress party recently faced a shocker after the USA's Time magazine termed the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, an 'underachiever'. The party is so much rattled by the endless agony it has undergone in the recent past that a new assault on its leadership was set to hurt it more. But the problem does not end there.
With the PM's 'clean image' taking a pounding and the Gandhi-in-the-waiting, Rahul, still to gain a political maturity to command wide respect, the party is in danger of losing its face, and that too ahead of some crucial electoral battles. The other recognisable face of the party, Pranab Mukherjee, is already headed for the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Problem with succession
The Congress party has a great problem with the issue of succession. The reason could be attributed to the fact that the party, from an all-inclusive forum bent to fight foreigners, was subsequently transformed into a 'family business' where a group of sycophants proudly kept the banner of dynasticism high. Ever since the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, the party became more and more subordinate to elitist rule by a family, even at times when it did not have the acumen to undertake tough political missions.
It was seen with Indira Gandhi, who was initially promoted to the top post by motivated quarters in the party thinking she would be just another voiceless incumbent but later took control of what was at her disposal: the reins of power. It was Indira who, in a zeal to concentrate all power in her hands, harmed the very democratic foundation of the party and encouraged a culture of sycophancy. By the time of her death, it became clear that only a Gandhi could aspire to become the party's chief.
A politically-immature Rajiv Gandhi was promoted and he was more and more enmeshed in the opportunistic and corrupt powerplay that went on around him. After his assassination, the party saw non-Gandhis like PV Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri taking guard for sometime. But these people were just stop-overs for there was no ready-made Gandhi to take over at that point of time. Even PV's good work as the PM was not given its due importance and Kesri was ousted in a humiliating manner once Sonia Gandhi agreed to take up the party's responsibility in 1998.
But Sonia's refusal to become PM in 2004 and the uncertainty over Priyanka Gandhi to enter politics meant that the issue of succession would again haunt the party in future. Manmohan Singh became a 'viable choice' to become the PM eight years ago but now with enough baggage of failure chasing the 80-year-old man and Pranab too ready to depart from active politics, the Congress will be in a spot of bother to look for a successor in whom it can invest for a long time to come.
The story takes us to the only man left in the line, Rahul Gandhi. But the latest fiasco over Salman Khurshid's 'directionless' comment has clearly indicated that not Singh but it is the Congress itself which can be labelled as the actual 'underachiever'.
Politics can not be run like a royal family business. Each time a Gandhi crumbled a new Gandhi was installed, whether or not the latter had any proper grounding. From the days since Nehru, the electoral base of the party has only been eroded, thanks to ruthless and reckless power politics and the results could be easily soon.
Senior leaders in the party can visualise that if the party's ways are not mended soon, the future will be a very dark one. The Congress's monopoly got clearly over long ago. The Indian reality today is not what it was during the days of Nehru or Indira.
Several forces have deepened their roots in Indian democracy in the last 25 years or so, most at the expense of a collapsing Congress, but the party leadership has failed to understand the pulse. The top rung of the party is filled with technocrats serving as ministers and advisors and they are working under a Gandhi who have had little grounding in the political realities of the country. Rahul's plights are similar.
Concerns may be genuine but not much maturity
He might harbour genuine concerns like his father did, but until and unless his party regains its lost basic foundation which was deliberately ruined by his predecessors, no effort is likely to succeed, again as his father had experienced. Rajiv Gandhi could do little to give wings to his lofty ambition despite enjoying a mandate that not even his grandfather did not have.