How Cong ‘chamchagiri’ made Sonia India’s No 1 politician

Vivek Kaul
The closest English word for the desi word chamchagiri is sycophancy. But sycophancy doesn’t have the same depth as chamchagiri does. Sycophancy doesn’t make my tongue twirl in the same way as chamchagiri.
So let me take this opportunity to explain 
chamchagiri in some more detail through a song from the late Jaspal Bhatti’s superhit television serial Flop Show. For those who don’t know or don’t remember, each episode of the serial highlighted corruption from a different facet of life.
One particular episode dealt with the travails of a PhD candidate and his attempts to get a PhD. The PhD candidate (played brilliantly by Vivek Shaque who died a few years back in a plastic surgery gone wrong) carriers out various household chores including buying vegetables for his guide (played by Bhatti) in the hope of getting his PhD.
Towards the end of every episode 
Flop Show had a parody of a hit Hindi film song. This particular episode had a spoof of the song jo tumko ho pasand wohi baat kahenge, tum din ko agar raat kaho raat kahenge.
The lines of the parody were different and went like this:
Jo tumko ho pasand wohi baat kahenge,
beaker ko agar jar kaho to jar kahenge.
You can listen to the complete parody here)
This is the level of commitment required of a 
chamcha, something that the word sycophant simply does not convey.
Now before you start to wonder, dear reader, as to why have I gone into so much detail in trying to define or rather differentiate between 
chamchas and sycophants, allow me to explain.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you if I tell you that most Indian political parties are full of leaders who are essentially 
chamchas who have risen to the top or full of leaders who have become chamchas after being brought in at the top.
Some of the cadre based parties like the Left Parties and Bhartiya Janta Party (to some extent) are exceptions to this.
But India’s number one party when it comes to 
chamchas is the Congress. Most recently the chamchagiri was in full show when top leaders of the party like P Chidambaram, Veerapa Moily, Jayanthy Natarajan, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and Rashid Alvi (all lawyers to boot) spoke out to vociferously defend the shenanigans of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, their supreme leader.
But Congress was not always a party of 
chamchas and chamchagiri. At least not till 1969. Historian and writer  Ramachandra Guha explains this in an essay titled A Short History of Congress Chamchagiri which is a part of his recently released book Patriots and Partisans.
Most Indians are too young to know this, but the truth is that until about 1969 the Congress was more or less a democratic party,” writes Guha.
Sometime before Jawahar Lal Nehru died, Indira Gandhi had been planning to settle in Great Britain. After Nehru died in May 1964, she was invited to join the cabinet as the minister of information and broadcasting by Lal Bahadur Shastri who took over as the next prime minister.
When Shastri died in January 1966, Mrs Gandhi was, to her own surprise, catapulted into the post of the prime minister. There were other and better candidates for the job, but the Congress bosses (notably K Kamraj) thought that they could more easily control a lady they thought to be a gungi gudiya (dumb doll),” writes Guha.
But instead of being a 
gungi gudia she turned out to be a control freak who split the party in 1969 and what was a essentially a decentralised and democratic party till that point of time became an extension of the whims, fancies and insecurities of a single individual.
Thus started an era of 
chamchas and chamchagiri in the Congress. Dev Kant Baruah who was the President of the Congress Party between 1975 and 1977 went to the extent of saying Indira is India and India is Indira“. What was loyalty to the party earlier became loyalty to the individual and the family.
Also Indira Gandhi had total control over the system effectively overriding democracy and imposing emergency on June 26, 1975.
famous cartoon made by Abu showed President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed in his bath during the emergency signing ordinances and saying “if there are any more ordinances just ask them to wait.” Other than this, Indira Gandhi also took to firing both chief ministers and governments at will.
While she was building her own career, Mrs Gandhi’s two sons Sanjay and Rajiv were trying out their own careers as well. As Guha writes “The elder boy, Rajiv, after having followed his mother in having failed to complete a degree, took a pilot’s license and joined Indian Airlines. The younger boy, Sanjay, prudently chose not to go to university at all. He apprenticed at Rolls Royce(in Great Britain), where his lack of discipline provoked a flood of anguished correspondence between his mother and the Indian high commission.”
Sanjay Gandhi came back to India with the idea of manufacturing what he called the people’s car. “Despite the gift of cheap land (from a sycophantic chief minister of Haryana) and soft loans from public sector banks, the project failed to deliver on its promises. Another of Sanjay’s chamchas Khushwant Singh, then the editor of the 
Illustrated Weekly of India, claimed that his factory would roll out 50,000 cars a year,” writes Guha. But nothing of that sort happened.
Sanjay Gandhi got out of cars and gradually got into politics effectively becoming number two to his mother Indira. Rajiv Gandhi on the other hand wasn’t interested in politics. “His greatest professional  ambition was to graduate from flying Avros on the Delhi-Lucknow run to flying Boeings between Calcutta and Bombay. By June 1980 he had been flying for twelve years, but his record did not yet merit the promotion he so ardently desired,” Guha points out.
In June 1980 Sanjay Gandhi died in an plane crash and Rajiv had to enter politics to support his mother. And in politics he was luckier than he was as a pilot. As Guha writes “He was rather luckier in politics. Once he had answered Mummy’s call, and changed his career, the rewards were swift. Within five years of joining the Congress he had become prime minister of India.”
And the Congress party had effectively become a family run concern. As Guha writes in the essay 
Verdicts on Nehru “Mrs Gandhi converted the Indian National Congress into a family business. She first bought in her son Sanjay, and after his death, his brother Rajiv. In each case, it was made clear that the son would succeed Mrs Gandhi as head of Congress and head of government.”
Once Indira Gandhi had placed her family at the helm of the Congress it was time for other parties across the country to follow suit. “Indira Gandhi’s embrace of the dynastic principle for the Congress served as a ready model for other parties to emulate…The DMK was once the proud party of Dravidian nationalism and social reform; it is now the private property of M Karunanidhi and his children…Likewise, for all his professed commitment to Maharashtrian pride and Hindu nationalism Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackeray could look no further than his son. The Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janta Dal claimed to stand for ‘social justice’, but the leadership of Mulayam’s party passed onto his son and in Lalu’s party to his wife,” writes Guha.
There are other examples as well. Sharad Pawar is grooming his daughter to take over the reins of his party. Dr Farooq Abdullah passed on the leadership of his family party the National Conference to his son Omar. And this is deeply inimical to the practise of democracy in India, feels Guha.
He gives the example of once travelling through Tamil Nadu a few years back. “I was met at every turn by ever-larger cut-outs of the chief minister’s son and heir apparent – cut-outs of MK Stalin smiling, Stalin writing, Staling speaking into a cell phone. The only other place where I have felt so stifled by a single face was in Syria of Bashar Assad.”
And all this has happened because Lal Bahadur Shashtri died rather suddenly and Indira Gandhi was catapulted into a position of immense power. So the question is what would have happened if the Shastri had lived for another five years?
“Had Shastri lived, Indira Gandhi may or may not have migrated to London. But even had she stayed in India, it is highly unlikely that she would have become prime minister. And it is certain that her son would have never have occupied or aspired to that office…Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi would almost certainly still be alive, and in private life. The former would be a (failed) entrepreneur, the latter a recently retired airline pilot with a passion for photography. Finally, had Shastri lived longer, Sonia Gandhi would still be a devoted and loving housewife, and Rahul Gandhi perhaps a middle-level manager in a private sector company,” writes Guha.
In short, the world that we live in would have been a very different and probably a better place. 
But as the great Mirza Ghalib, who had a couplet for almost every situation in life, once said “hui muddat ke ghalib mar gaya par yaad aata hai wo har ek baat par kehna ke yun hota to kya hota?
The article originally appeared on on November 27,2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected]

Why Sachin won’t go; he’ll just have to be pushed

Vivek Kaul

Every time an Indian team for one day internationals is announced, loud cries are made for Sachin Tendulkar to retire from this form of the game. Tendulkar being Tendulkar has to come out and clarify that he is in no hurry to retire and it is he who will decide when he wants to retire.
The logic behind Tendulkar retiring is simple. Unless he retires youngsters like Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tiwary can’t hope to play regularly for the Indian cricket team. Fair point.
The situation is a tad like it was with Kapil Dev in the early 1990s. Because he wouldn’t retire the likes of Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad had to wait longer before they became regular in the Indian cricket team. Srinath did not play his first test in India till he was 26. Prasad made his test debut in England at the age of 27.
Like Dev took his time to retire, even though he was way beyond his best, so will Tendulkar. And the answer for this is a little more complicated than is normally made out to be. Money and fame are the usual reasons offered for the inability of cricketers to retire when they are at their peak. Sunil Gavaskar retired from all forms of cricket when he was at his peak in 1988. But at that point of time the money in cricket wasn’t huge to keep a cricketer going just for the money. Gavaskar probably made more money from commentating over the years than he made from cricket.
But now things have changed. There is a lot of money to be made by playing cricket as well as being a brand ambassador for products. And companies will be interested in having a cricketer as their brand ambassador for their products as long as he is playing cricket. After a cricketer retires his potential to make money from advertisements does come down considerably.
Hence money is a genuine reason for a cricketer like Sachin Tendulkar looking to prolong his career, but there is more to it than just that.
Cricketers, especially the good ones, are performers who have honed their skills over the years. Also at some level they are obsessed with the game and have never really had a life beyond it. So it’s natural to expect them to continue as long as their body allows them to.
Imran Khan, who has asked Sachin to retire several times by now, played the game till the age of 40, leading Pakistan to a world cup victory. Geoff Boycott, Bobby Simpson and Lance Gibbs played cricket even in their forties, though modern cricket has rarely seen anyone playing after they have touched forty.
There are examples from other sports as well. Martina Navratilova played and won the mixed doubles titles at the Australian as well as Wimbledon at the age of 46 years and eight months, in 2003. This made her the oldest Grand Slam champion ever. Her partner in both the wins was Leander Paes.
Paes who is now nearing 40 is still very active on the doubles circuit. He told Times of India last year that Navratilova’s inspiring words “age is no barrier”, kept him going. Jimmy Connors, another tennis great, kept going till he was 40.
There are examples from other aspects of life where people who have been brilliant and successful at what they do, want to continue as long as possible. Take the case of former editor, writer and India’s most famous columnist Khushwant Singh. Every time he comes out with a new book he says this is his last one and then comes out with another one. Singh is 97 and still going strong with his writing. Another excellent example is that of R K Laxman who regularly drew cartoons for The Times of India till a couple of years back, even though he was in his late 80s.
Lata Mangeshkar lent her voice to heroines in their 20s even though she was well into her 70s. This despite the fact that she has sounded out of sync since the songs of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun came out in 1994. The same is true about her sister Asha Bhonsle.
These are people who are obsessed with what they do and hence expecting them to retire from doing the only thing they are good at, is not possible. Tendulkar is in the same category of people.
So where does that lead us to? Cricket Australia.
Cricket Australia is the Australian Cricket Board and is known to crack the whip when cricketers who it feels are beyond their best, do not want to retire. It has done that in the past to Steve Waugh and Matthew Hayden. Waugh, the greatest rescue act that test cricket has ever seen, was first dropped from the ODIs and then made to retire from tests as well. Recently Ricky Ponting was made to retire from ODIs, when the board felt that Ponting did not deserve a place in the team.
Given this, the ball is in the court of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. If they feel Sachin Tendulkar no longer deserves a place in the Indian ODI team then they have to either ask him to retire from the game or drop him. But then that’s easier said than done. Such is the greatness of the man it is impossible to expect any selection committee to drop him and risk facing the ire of crores of Sachin fans.
In the meanwhile the circus will continue. ODI teams will be announced. Calls will be made for Tendulkar to be dropped. And Tendulkar will come out and clarify that he is the best judge of when he should retire from the game.
But this is simply untrue. Tendulkar won’t go by himself; he will have to be pushed.
(The article originally appeared on on July 7,2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])