Time to bid goodbye to congress party?
Events in the Indian political scene over recent years encourage me to ask this question, and to answer it as best as I can.
Students of Indian Political History and all living Indians over 70 years will wax eloquent on the significance of the Congress Party and the gigantic role it played in driving out the British rulers, peacefully and unceremoniously. There was no opposition to the party from Indians or their sympathizers outside. The only exceptions were among the Bureaucrats, the Zamindars, the local chieftains and the play-boy rulers, who never liked the idea of the British abandoning India. My father used to tell us how Gandhiji and Nehru were the only top leaders of the country, all others like Sardar Patel, Rajaji, Rajendra Prasad etc. coming next. The Gandhi-Nehru writ ran parallel to that of the British. The Congres derived its strength from almost every Indian, while the British depended on their police -military strength. The Congressmen could be hounded, jailed and tormented in many other ways, but they could not be diverted from their course.
In this situation, when India gained Independence in 1947, and Nehru offered to govern the Country, the people saw only the Congress Party that could be trusted with power. The result was a massive win by the Congress in the first few elections to the Parliament and to the states. Mostly, the party had more than two-thirds majority. Even those opposition leaders who won were allowed to win by the Congress which set up no candidate or weak ones. There were seats won unopposed! It must be said to the credit of Nehru, that he was large hearted enough to want in the Parliament, and even in the Government, patriotic and brilliant professionals, who would enrich the proceedings by their intellectual participation. He even invited opposition leaders to join his Government (Dr.Shyam Prasad Mukherjee is an example)and sometimes, surprised Bureaucrats and independent professionals to join him in governance. Dr.Johan Mathai (Director of Tatas), Dr. C.D.Deshmukh, I.C.S., who had retired as Governor of the Reserve Bank, Dr. K.L. Rao (the internationally famous Civil Engineer who created many of our irrigation-power projects, (Prof.)Dr.S.Radhakrishnan Vice Chancellor of the Benares Hindu University , Justice M.C.Chagla (who was Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court and who had given an embarrassing judgment against Nehru’s pet minister T.T.Krishnamachari, in the LIC corruption case) are some of the other names that come to mind.The only wrong selection Nehru made was of V.K.Krishna Menon, who was responsible to diminish the Nehru reputation and even his life-expectancy, by mis-handling the India-China War of 1962.
Everything was well for the Congress until Indira Gandhi arrived on the scene, and demanded Nehru’s position without deserving it or proving her mettle. She demanded it by dynastic right, and doled out favours to those who supported her. She even went to the extent of splitting the Congres Party, vertically. To hold the balance, she resorted to subterfuge, favours, threats etc. This did benefit her in the short term, but destroyed the sanctity of the Party. Loyalty to the country was replaced with loyalty to Indira and her family. She deliberately nurtured this concept because it benefited her and her family, even though it would destroy the party in the long term. Rajiv Gandhi, who was a Pilot with the Indian Airlines, and a total stranger to politics and to governance was catapulted to Prime Ministership, the same day that Indira was killed. To perpetuate his hold, Rajiv was advised to dissolve Parliament and go for elections. He was advised that there would be a sympathetic wave, and this did happen. He got more seats in Parliament – the largest ever by any Party – but his Government faltered on many fronts and the Bofors scandal chewed him up. He also blundered on the Lankan issue and had to pay a heavy price.
While Indira ruled with an iron hand – Kushwant Singh said, she was the only man in her Cabinet! – Rajiv was pleasant-looking and good-mannered. But , both were accused of corruption and encouraging personal loyalty in preference to party-loyalty or , patriotism. All discretionary appointments in Government went to family loyalists and favourites, and this encouraged the exhibition of such loyalty. In a recorded case in Andhra, the Chief Minister of the state was asked to carry the shoes of Rajiv, and this resulted in N.T.Rama Rao eclipsing the Congress there by invoking the Telugu sense of pride.
A grave error Nehru made was in reorganizing the Indian states on linguistic basis. The intenion was good, to better regional planning and development. The result, of course, has been far different. Many such states still lag behind, in some cases they are worse off, comparatively. Not only that, linguistic chauvinism has replaced such good intentions, and some states like Maharashtra are behaving as if they are independent countries! The current situation is that, without the support of the regional parties, no national party can hope to win a reasonable number of seats, either in Paliament or in the Assemblies. Tamilnadu, Andhra, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal are instances in point. The Congress can as well forget coming to power in these states. U.P has driven the last nail on the Congress coffin. It now boils down to the situation that to be able to rule in Delhi, any National Party has to lick the feet of the regional parties, who hold the balance. They are able to kick the Congress left.right and centre and land it in very embarrassing situations. The 2G scandal, the mining scam etc. are classic examples. The Congress is unable to defend itself. Like innocent Adam, who decided to sink with Eve just out of love for her, the Congress has to own up the many instances of misgovernance or non-governance, and sink with the culprits.To my mind, it is clear that, the Congress has no future as a National Party and, by corollary, will have increasingly less and less role in national affairs. If you factor into this the fact that our country is to-day manned overwhelmingly by people who neither saw Nehru or Indira and owe no respect to them, and who are literate and know what is good for them, it will be realized that there can be no more relevance or justification for dynastic politics. UP rejected outright the entire Gandhi family, even in their home-turfs of Amethi and Rai Bareilli, indicating that the mother-son duo will have to find safer constituencies to be able to win. More seriously, the Congress is on the run, and no one can , or is , willing to save it.