There is an interesting remark by Sonia Gandhi in an interview with Vir Sanghvi, the journalist, years ago. Sanghvi asked Sonia why she chose to lead the Congress party in 1998. Sonia was not ready to lead the party when the party faced a leadership vacuum in 1991 in the wake of her husband Rajiv's brutal assassination. She again declined the offer in 1996 when the Rao govt was rejected by the people in the Lok Sabha election. But she changed her stand two years later and Sanghvi was curious to know the reason behind it.
Sonia told Sanghvi that she did so because the Congress seemed to be falling apart and she felt she could not walk past the pictures of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv in her study without feeling that she had let the party down. She was not sure, she said, that she could help the party given her inexperience. But she felt she had a duty to try. Off the record, she later added, she had no desire to become prime minister. We don't know if Sonia is having a restaging of such sentiments at this critical juncture when the party is going through the toughest phase in its history.
But the party was expected to raise some pertinent questions at the Chintan Shivir that was held in Udaipur from May 13th to May 15th. What we gather from the media reports about the Chintan Shivir reminds us of a political cartoon by OV Vijayan in the E & PW in 1972. The cartoon dealt with the political policy of Mao, the Chinese communist leader. ''This is my new thought," says Mao, ''a dialogue is made of two monologues.'' Vijayan's cartoon was a searing take on the duplicity of Mao, who had earlier stood for a hundred flowers of thoughts and later came to practise exactly the opposite. It seems the Chintan Shivir has turned out to be a dialogue made of monologues. The monologues of the Gandhi family have become the dialogue of the Congress. The party has made it crystal clear that Rahul is the present and future of Congress.
The chemistry that Congress must know
The resignation from the party president's post in 2019 was a commendable act by Rahul Gandhi. He held himself accountable for the severe setback in the Lok Sabha elections and quit the topmost post of the party. He told the party then that someone outside of the clan of the Gandhi family must lead the party henceforth. But His mother was not ready to accept that stand. She might have been haunted by the bitter memories of Rao hijacking the party from the family in the 90s. So, she took up the mission to lead the party once again.
And she saw to it that Rahul continued to remain the centre of power within Congress. It meant only one thing, Rahul was entitled to enjoy power without holding any responsibility. It is the consequences of the game that Rahul played wielding this power that the party is suffering in Punjab right now. The move to corner Ramesh Chennithtala in Kerala gifted the left front with the historical win. The dreams of Priyanka in UP remain castles in the air. The hopes of returning to power in Uttarakhand and Goa got shattered terribly.
Congress has been living in a world of myths. Myths were created by the Gandhi family. Modi and BJP are not invincible. RSS has not unleashed any Aswamedha which can't be reined in. Mamata has stopped the BJP juggernaut in Bengal. Naveen Patnaik has done the same in Odisha. Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, Bhoopesh Bhagal in Chhattisgarh, MK Stalin in Delhi and Kejriwal in Delhi have proved that BJP is no Hercules.
Any horse can be tamed if one knows where to clasp it. The game is at the regional level. Modi may be the national leader. But in Bengal it is Mamata and in Tamil Nadu it is Stalin. It is this chemistry that Congress must realise. This game is being enacted outside the territory of the Gandhi family. If Congress wants to return to this game the party must realise that the formula of Rahul vs Modi won't work any longer. It has been rejected by the people in the last two Lok Sabha elections.
Congress must deconstruct this formula. According to Ramachandra Guha and Yogendra Yadav Congress must be freed of the Gandhi family. Those who are still under the hangover of Lohia and Rajaji would say this and more. The deconstruction and reconstruction of Congress cannot take place without the Gandhi family. The family is a reality in Congress. It is a symbiotic existence. Let the family remain at the top of the party. But the parliamentary party leader, who will take on Modi, must be a non-Gandhi family member. To make the long story short, let Rahul return as the president of the party! But, Congress must find a non-Gandhi member as its PM candidate.
Rahul, the man and the leader
To be frank, Rahul is a great human being. Even after eight years in Power BJP and RSS have not been able to level any serious allegations against Rahul. Rahul is a man of principles. He has been raising some pertinent questions including the Chinese aggression along the Indian borders. Modi and Co have not been able to provide any convincing answers to these significant questions.RSS and BJP set out to construct the ' Pappu image' just because they couldn't find any stains in the life of Rahul. And they have succeeded in it. The problem with Rahul is that he is not a self-made leader. Leadership has been imposed upon Rahul. Nehru became a leader on his own even though he had the blessings and support from Gandhi and Motilal. Indira Gandhi too became a national leader on her own. It must be recalled that she survived the Syndicate led by K Kamaraj in the absence of Nehru.
Rajiv Gandhi was an accidental PM. He was out of power for a mere two years. And then tragedy struck him. It was a life gone too soon! Sonia came to the top of Congress with the evergreen stamp of the Nehru family. But she overcame shrewd leaders like PV Narasimha Rao and Pranab Mukherjee in her own inimitable style. She could create history as the longest-serving president of the Congress because she was a self-made leader.
Priyanka and Rahul are the creations and byproducts of power. Both of them were born at a time when India was termed, Indira. The emergency and the fall of Indira might not have had its impact on both of them since they were too young to experience these events. But the brutal murders of Indira and Rajiv must have left the marks on both of them. It is quite unnerving that there could be an enemy everywhere and anywhere. The family becomes a cocoon and the society appears terribly alien where one is no longer safe. That makes two satellites that orbit around Sonia, the matriarch. The party becomes family and family becomes party. It is a trap and temptation. Rahul and Priyanka have not been able to come out of this cocoon so far.
Modi, the man of the middle class
It was during this period that the middle class became the decisive force in Indian democracy. The middle class is led by infinite desires and ambitions. The Ambanis and Adanis represent the middle class in the business world. All the leaders who have succeeded in the Indian political arena in the recent past are the torch bearers of this middle-class phenomenon. Modi, Mamata, Kejriwal, Naveen, Yogi, Stalin, Jagan Mohan Reddy and Chandrashekar Rao are all representatives of this middle class. Pinarayi Vijayan, who has made history by retaining power for a consecutive second term for the left front, also puts forth the political projects of the middle class. Rahul and Priyanka do not have this middle class in their DNA. This is why the siblings find it tough to take on a political party like BJP.
RSS could realise the arrival of the middle class pretty early. The horoscope of future India was already written at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, when Modi was sent to Gujarat in 2001, to be anointed as the CM. The Anna Hazare movement against corruption followed the 2G spectrum scandal exposed by Vinod Rai, the then CAG. These were the two critical movements that turned the middle class against Congress. When 44-year-old Rahul and 64-year-old Modi came face to face in 2014, most of the young voters stood by the Gujarat CM. This was mainly because they were enamoured by the middle-class magic of Gujarat that Modi held aloft.
Modi gave up the Gujarat model in 2019. He evolved into the patriarch of Hindutva that could be used anytime and anywhere in the communally fertile soil of the land. It was an evolution planned and executed brilliantly by the RSS. The multinational Indian Corporates nurtured by the neo-liberal economic policies guarded Modi in this evolution. That was the cosmic enactment of power. When RSS and BJP were laying the foundation for a majoritarian state with money, muscle and ideological backup, Congress was waiting for yet another saviour from the Gandhi clan, struggling in vain to get out of the trap created by itself.
2019 put a full stop to this waiting. The last five assembly election results have once again proved the might of the Hindutva. BJP knows that Congress is still its main opponent in and around 300 seats out of the 543 seats in the Lok sabha. It is the spectacular performance in these constituencies that play a crucial role in putting the BJP at the centre of power in Indraprastha. It is here that Congress has to concentrate and work hard. Congress should leave it to the dominant regional forces to counter BJP in states like Bengal and Tamilnadu. The party must deploy its resources efficiently and brilliantly in the 300 hundred seats where it takes on BJP directly. If Congress could unsettle BJP at least in half of these seats that will pave the way for a new formation of power at the centre.
2024 not far away
RSS will be celebrating its centenary in 2025. The Sangh Parivar won't have any compromise on their plan to retain the BJP Govt at the centre in that significant year. That will ensure the toughest battle in the history of Congress since independence. And the question of course will be who the alternative to Modi is. If the Congress really intends to tackle this trump card of RSS and BJP, then the party will have to field someone who can capture the mind and imagination of the Indian people while keeping cordial relations with leaders like Pawar and Stalin. The relevance of a leader like Shashi Tharoor arises here. Sonia could overcome the temptation of the pm post in 2014. She should be ready now to give up the undue claims of her family to the post of the pm.
It is not the family but the party that should capture power at the centre. Let a non-Gandhi family member from the party be assigned this mission. Time and history demand this realization from Sonia. Because, of the great idea that India is, still needs a party like Congress. Secularism and pluralism are the cornerstones of Indian democracy. The resurrection of Congress is a must to protect these two fundamental features of Indian democracy.
But the signals that emanate from the Chintan Shivir are not at all encouraging. Will Congress miss the 2024 bus? It is a fact that despite all the turmoil and chaos the party could garner 20% votes in the last Lok Sabha elections. It is still the only party besides BJP to have a pan Indian presence. But extraordinary situations demand extraordinary reactions. And the Chintan Shivir has not shown any inclination in this direction. The party has nothing new to offer. The Chintan Shivir has reiterated the party's faith and trust in the Gandhi family. Rahul is all set to come back as the president of the party. He will lead a padayatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. That simply means Rahul will be the party's face once again vis a vis Modi in 2024. It seems Congress has not learnt any lessons from the past. Mohan Bhagawat and Amit Shah should be much less worried right now!