The other day, Amitabh Bachchan was making an interesting observation about the 'political structure' in the country when he spoke about the kings, queens and the circles --- inner and outer. The megastar, who was talking in an interview, made his observation after the anchor asked him about the relations between the Gandhis and the Bachchans. Mr Bachchan was very true in his observation.
What or who was responsible for the sharp differences that surfaced between the Gandhis and Bachchans is for the investigators to find out. But one suspects that the Gandhis today have become increasingly confined behind the innumerable circles of loyalists that they themselves have created over the generations. This has not only made the first family of Indian politics lose its grip on the ground but has dealt a severe blow to the Congress party's fate as well.
Congress missed chances to get rid of the family twice but couldn't
Congress had two opportunities in the past to distance itself from dynastic politics. First, in the mid-1960s when Lal Bahadur Shashtri had become the Prime Minister after Nehru's death but the sudden death of Shastri and the internal squabble made the family an indispensable part of the party's politics.
The second opportunity had come in the post-Rajiv Gandhi years and the advent of PV Narasimha Rao as the top Congress leader. Narasimha Rao's minority government had scripted changes which even Rajiv's super-majoritarian government could not do but still Rao remained a forlorn figure in the party. Sitaram Kesri thereafter became the Congress president but was removed from the post by a coup by the loyalists to pave way for Sonia Gandhi, yet another member of the first family.
Parties come to power today only through negative votes: Cong in 2004 was no different
But the Gandhi leadership under Sonia was never an equivalent to what Indira or even a Rajiv had provided to the party. The anti-incumbency mood against the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government gave a chance to Congress to win back power in 2004 and the initial years saw the Sonia-Manmohan Singh duo flourishing. Lack of a creditable opposition in BJP and the Left Front's pathetic politics devoid of realistic sense made the UPA-I government a success story for the Congress. The people of India had no doubt in electing the same party again in 2009.
But the UPA fumbled in its second innings and at this moment, chances look dim that it will survive till 2014. But how did the script change so wrong?
Inherent weaknesses did Congress in
There are some precise reasons. First, the party never had a clear demarcation of role between its frontline leaders. It had perhaps thought that like in the past, the charisma factor will do it alone. But Indira Gandhi did not succeed only because of the charisma factor while her son, although not as skilled in politics as his mother, yet was a charismatic leader who had shown a political inclination. The Mumbai rally of 1985 where he vowed to take the country forward was a high point although the naivete in subsequent years did Rajiv Gandhi in.
During the Sonia years, it has not been clear what the leadership was aiming at in terms of economic ideology. Sonia, it is said, always preferred social welfare to liberalisation but leaders like the Prime Minister and Finance Minister thought otherwise. This showed if the power structure is not a well-streamed one, then confusion and lack of clarity is bound to harm the state's progress. The Congress ultimately decided to follow the liberalisation route, but one suspects it is a bit too late to force things now. The same was the reason why the party struggled horribly to find a way out of scam messes.
The second problem is again a family-centric one. Since the supreme leader and the Prime Minister are not the same person, the legitimacy base of the government's top leadership was bound to erode very fast.
In case of Manmohan Singh, we saw his legitimacy has been seriously undermined in eight years time and perhaps he has outlived his tenure. Had Singh preferred to seek a popular mandate soon after he became the PM first in 2004 and entered the Parliament through the Lok Sabha, the situation today might not have been so poor.
But since Congress is a party where loyalism reigns supreme, neither the confined supreme leadership nor the office-holder could predict the ill-effects. Manmohan Singh remained just another follower of the dynasty among many others and hence never could find an authority to rule. He is just messing up things more and more today in a bid to control the damage.
But the mother of all problem has been poor communication
But even a bigger problem that has worsened the situation is the Congress leadership's lack of media management skills. While everybody knows that the party's brain lies at 10 Janpath, but yet we find incompetent chatter-boxes making futile attempts to defend or justify the party on every single issue. We see Digvijay Singh, Manish Tewari and every Tom, Dick and Harry making statements but the first family is never seen appearing before the media.
Perhaps it is arrogance of power but whatever it is, the real power-holders can not just go on using their aides to manage all affairs on ground. Democracy can not be elitist, certainly not in today's India. It was surprising to see that no top leader came forward to clear the Robert Vadra issue and allowed Arvind Kejriwal to go on with his onslaught. The Vadragate, in a way, has given a fatal blow to the Gandhis, for it has not only reduced the first family's stature, but also ensured that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's 'active political career' will be born crippled, if it ever does. The arrogance of the Congress is also seen in its forced ignorance of coalition politics, which made it lose ground in several key states of the country.
Congress is perhaps paying the heaviest price today for clinging on to the dynasty, irrespective of the latter's shrinking political capacity. The party could have been developed on a democratic lines in the post-Rajiv era but was not. A bunch of opportunist individuals went on pursuing their respective interests and many of them even perished in due course without successfully challenging the Gandhis. The Congress tried to show that it was a party which stressed youth but in reality, it only chose to rope in successors of the old guards. It was the dynastic politics of the Congress that had got democratised but not the party.
The deafening silence, coupled with lack of political self-sufficiency among the party's rank and file, has left the Congress in the ruins. Khurshid is only a scapegoat of a short-circuited Congress system. Even when in dire straits, the Congress party has been following the 'Gandhis first' mantra for it did not defend Khurshid as it did to shield a political non-entity Vadra. It is a poetic justice that a member of the successors of the great Nehru ended up calling India a 'Banana republic'.