Rahul Gandhi is angry again. Yesterday, he barged into a press conference being addressed by Congress general secretary Ajay Maken and announced that the ordinance passed by the Union Cabinet to protect convicted legislators from complete disqualification as “complete nonsense”.
The Supreme Court had ruled on July 10, that an MP or an MLA, if convicted by a court in a criminal offence with a jail sentence of two years or more, would be immediately disqualified. On September 24, the Union Cabinet cleared the the Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2013 to negate the Supreme Court ruling.
This ordinance allows convicted MPs and MLAs to continue in office to the condition that their appeal is admitted by a higher court within a period of 90 days and their conviction is stayed.
Rahul Gandhi felt that this was incorrect and said “I’ll tell you what my opinion on the ordinance is. It’s complete nonsense. It should be torn up and thrown away. That is my personal opinion.”
“I am interested in what the Congress is doing and what our government is doing. That is why what our government has done as far as this ordinance is concerned is wrong,” he went on to add, embarrassing the Prime Minister and his cabinet of ministers, which had cleared the ordinance only a few days back, in the process.
A lot of analysis has happened since yesterday afternoon, when the Gandhi family scion said what he did. Some people have suggested that “Rahul has his heart in the right place”. Some others have said “what is wrong with calling rubbish, rubbish”. A television anchor known for his loud and aggressive ways called it the “victory of the people”. And still some others have asked the obvious question “how could the government have cleared the ordinance without the consent of Rahul or his mother Sonia Gandhi?”
On the whole, Rahul’s decision to call the ordinance “nonsense” and something that should be “torn and thrown away” is being projected as a surprise. While nobody could have predicted what Rahul Gandhi did yesterday, at the same time this can’t be termed as a surprise.
Rahul Gandhi over the last few years has made a habit of raking up issues to embarrass the government and his party, by saying something controversial and then disappearing. In July 2008, Rahul visited the house of Kalavati Bandurkar, in the village Jalka in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Her husband had committed suicide in December 2005, hit by crop failure and debt. He left her with a debt of Rs 1 lakh. After visiting her, Rahul highlighted her plight in Parliament and then quickly forgot about her. It was an embarrassment for the Congress Party given that it ruled the state of Maharashtra. Since bringing her into the limelight, Kalavati’s daughter and a son in law have also committed suicide.
In October 2008, while addressing girl students at a resort near Jim Corbett National Park, Rahul Gandhi referred to “politics” as a closed system in India. “If I had not come from my family, I wouldn’t be here. You can enter the system either through family or friends or money. Without family, friends or money, you cannot enter the system. My father was in politics. My grandmother and great grandfather were in politics. So, it was easy for me to enter politics. This is a problem. I am a symptom of this problem. I want to change it.,” he said. Where is the change? When was the last time the Congress party had an election for the post of its president? If the top post of the party is not democratic, how can the party be expected to be democratic?
On February 5, 2010, Rahul came to Mumbai and travelled in a local train both on the western line (From Andheri to Dadar) and the central line (from Dadar to Ghatkopar). A lot of song and dance was made about him defying the Shiv Sena, but nothing constructive came out of it. The local trains continue to burst to the seems.
On May 11, 2011, Rahul riding pillion on a bike managed to enter the Bhatta-Parsaul villages in Uttar Pradesh, giving the district administration a slip, and challenging the might of Mayawati, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
The villagers in Bhatta-Parsaul were protesting against the acquisition of land by the state government and the protests had turned violent. A few days later Rahul went to meet the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appraise him of the situation.
After coming out of the meeting he told reporters “The issue here is a more fundamental one with regard to these villages in particular and a large number of villages in UP down the Agra highway, where state repression is being used, where people are being murdered…quite severe atrocities are taking place there….There is a set of 74 (mounds of) ashes there with dead bodies inside. Everybody in the village knows it. We can give you pictures. Women have been raped, people have been thrashed. Houses have been destroyed.” These were serious allegations, but nothing ever came out of them.
On August 26, 2011, Rahul gave a speech in favour of Lok Pal in the Lok Sabha, where he said “why not elevate the debate and fortify the Lok Pal by making it a Constitutional body accountable to Parliament like the Election Commission of India?” That was the last we heard of Lok Pal. Meanwhile, Anna Hazare, continues to threaten to go on another hunger strike if the bill is not passed by the Parliament soon.
More recently, on April 4, 2013, Rahul addressed the Confederation of Indian Industries. It was a 75 minute speech, and one of the things he recounted about was about a journey he made a few years back on the Lokmanya Tilak express from Gorakhpur to Mumbai (Lokmanya Tilak is a station in Mumbai at which many long distance trains coming from the Eastern part of the country terminate). “I spent a large part of the Thirty Six hour journey moving across the train and talking to travellers – youngsters, weary families, and migrants moving from the dust of Gorakhpur to the glitter of Mumbai. Took us Thirty Six hours. It is called an Express!”
Some time later in the speech he said: “I am a pilot. I learnt to fly in the United States, I came back. I wanted to convert my license. So I went to the DGCA and I asked what do I have to do. They gave me the curriculum, I opened the book. A large section in the book talks about how to drop mail from aero-planes. How many of you are getting your mail dropped from airplanes in the sky?…And it’s not only in pilot training, it’s everywhere. Look at our text books, open them out. Most of the stuff is not really relevant to what they are going to do.”
The things that Rahul said were not only an embarrassment for the current government. The fact that Indian Railways takes so much time or our education system is not up to the mark, has not happened overnight. The degeneration has happened over a period of time, meaning Rahul’s great-grandfather(Jawahar Lal Nehru), his grandmother (Indira Gandhi), his uncle (Sanjay Gandhi), his father(Rajiv Gandhi) and his mother(Sonia Gandhi), who have been de-facto heads of government at various points of time since India’s independence, are responsible for it.
But then we all know that? How does just pointing out the obvious help anybody? Where are the solutions? As The Economist wrote after Rahul’s CII speech “Gandhi could have spelled out two or three specific measures, ideally in some detail, that he would support—for example, getting an Indian-wide goods-and-services tax accepted; promoting investment in retail or other industries; or devising a means by which infrastructure could be built much quicker. If he were really brave, he might have set out thoughts on ending bureaucratic uncertainty over corruption, or on land reform.”
But all Rahul seems to do is hit and run. He says something on an issue, embarrasses his party, his government or his ancestors and moves on. Rahul Gandhi is not a serious politician. He is in politics because he cannot do anything else or is expected to continue the family tradition and keep the flag flying.
One can only speculate on the reasons for his lack of interest, given his reclusive nature. From his father and grandmother being assassinated to the fact that the future generations are no longer interested in what their forefathers built, be it business or politics.
I am more tempted to go with the latter reason. Rasheed Kidwai, makes this point in the new edition of his book 24 Akbar Road. As he writes “It is said that the conqueror Taimur the ‘Lame’ once spoke to the famous historian and sociologist Ibn Khuldun about the fate of dynasties. Khuldun said that the glory of a dynasty seldom lasted beyond four generations. The first generation inclined towards conquest; the second towards administration; the third, freed of the necessity to conquer or administer, was left with the pleasurable task of spending the wealth of its ancestors on cultural pursuits. Consequently, by the fourth generation, a dynasty had usually spent its wealth as well as human energy. Hence, the downfall of each dynasty is embedded in the very process of its rise. According to Khuldun, it was a natural phenomenon and could not be avoided.”
Hence, evolution is at work. As historian and author Ramachandra Guha told me in an interview I did for Firstpost in December 2012 “I think this dynasty is now on its last legs. Its charisma is fading with every generation. And Rahul Gandhi is completely mediocre.”
That to a large extent explains Rahul’s hit and run mentality and his reluctance to take a more active role in government. After his yesterday’s statement, the least that Rahul Gandhi can do is take on more responsibility either by advancing the Lok Sabha elections or becoming a part of the government in some form.
But neither of these things is going to happen because Rahul Gandhi has said what he wanted to and disappeared again. His attitude is best reflected in an interview he gave to the Tehalka magazine in September 2005, in which he is supposed to have remarked “I could have been prime minister at the age of twenty-five if I wanted to.”
The statement created an uproar. The Congress party immediately jumped to the defence of its princling. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, specifically mentioned that Rahul had not said ‘I could have been prime minister at the age of twenty-five if I wanted to’.
(Tehakla initially stood by its story but backed down later. “This seems to be a clear case of misunderstanding. Mr Gandhi thought he was having a casual chat whereas our reporter took it to be a proper interview,” the weekly said in a statement(The ‘edited’ casual chatcan still be read on Tehelka’s website)).
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on September 28, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)
Some twenty eight days before my tenth standard exams I started reading William Shakespeare‘s Julius Caesar, seriously, for the first time. And I am still trying to figure out why the world fusses so much over plays written in a form of English that went out of fashion a long long time ago.
My memory of the play is very hazy now, given that it’s been two decades since. But what I do remember is that in Act 3 scene ii of the play comes a line which I found very relevant to the way world operates. “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones,” says the character of Mark Antony in that scene.
The evil that men (and women) do lives after them and in some cases the coming generations have to bear the consequences for it. Take the case of Indira Gandhi who systematically destroyed the institution of democracy. As historian Ramchandra Guha recently told CNN IBN “Nehru nurtured institution of democracy – an independent election commission, an independent judiciary, bureaucracy autonomous of political interference, pluralism, secularism. Indira systematically undermined all of this.”
This included democracy within the Congress party as well. During her heydays she first had Dev Kant Baruah installed as the President of the Congress party. Baruah is best remembered for saying “Indira is India and India is Indira”. Such was the level of the sycophancy that was prevalent when Indira Gandhi was at her peak.
After Baruah, Indira Gandhi took the presidency into her hands and was the president of the Congress party from 1978 to her death in 1984. Her younger son Sanjay more or less ran things within the party as well as the government (when Indira was in power) for a major part of this period.
She was succeeded as the President of the elder party by her son Rajiv who remained the President of the party till his death in 1991. This more or less institutionalized “dynastic” rule within the Congress. As Guha said “Even Nehru’s fiercest critic wrote at that time that the Nehru has no interest in promoting dynastic rule… Indira promoted first Sanjay and then Rajiv.”
With no democracy at the top of the Congress party, it simply wasn’t possible for the party to remain democratic at the state or the district level for that matter. The lack of internal democracy and the centralized nature of the Congress party led to the coining of the legendary phrase “high command”. It was also ironic that the world’s largest democracy was and is governed by a party with very little “internal” democracy.
More recently the party has seen Rahul Gandhi, fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, at the helm of things, trying to correct the lack of democracy within the party. In October 2008, while addressing girl students at a resort near the Jim Corbett National Park, Rahul referred to “politics” as a closed system in India. “If I had not come from my family, I wouldn’t be here. You can enter the system either through family or friends or money. Without family, friends or money, you cannot enter the system. My father was in politics. My grandmother and great grandfather were in politics. So, it was easy for me to enter politics. This is a problem. I am a symptom of this problem. I want to change it.”
Rahul has tried to change this by trying to introduce some internal democracy within the Congress party by trying to ensure free internal elections. As Rasheed Kidwai writes in 24 Akbar Road – A Short History of the People Behind the Fall and Rise of the Congress, “Rahul Gandhi took it upon himself to bring about inner-party democracy in the Congress. He hired retired election commissioner JM Lyngdoh to design processes and implement policies to ensure that there were free internal elections within the party and that all initiatives and representatives were backed by elected representatives.”
While this is a good move but it is not going to lead to instant rejuvenation of a party that has constantly lost hold over the Indian electorate over the last two decades. Also, any move to initiate democracy within the Congress remains a non-starter given the lack of any democracy at the top.
Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi has been the President of the Congress since March 14, 1998, when the Congress Working Committee members led by Pranab Mukherjee invoked the Clause J of the Article 19 of the Congress constitution to throw out the elected President Sitaram Kesri. They then installed Sonia Gandhi as the President. This was unprecedented in the history of the party where an “elected” President of the party was thrown out by invoking a vague clause. The clause did not clearly point whether an elected President could be removed, by invoking it.
As The Hindu wrote after the death of Sitaram Kesri:
“The constitutional coup was hailed widely as restoring the party’s leadership back to the site of its only natural entitlement – the Nehru-Gandhi family. When the historians get to chronicle the import of that eventful day, most of the honorable men of the Congress would be shown to have acted way less than honourably; even those who owned their rehabilitation and place in the CWC to the old man had no qualms in abandoning him. The transition that day cast the Congress (I) once again in the dynastic mold, and the consequences are visible.”
Sonia Gandhi has been the President of the party ever since. Even if the party had presidential elections regularly the chances of anyone else other than Sonia Gandhi (assuming she continued to contest) winning the elections remained low. As Jitendra Prasada found in November 2000, when he ran against Sonia Gandhi, in the hope that she would ask him to withdraw his nomination and reward him with a senior position. Sonia never did and got nearly 99% of the votes polled. As Rashid Kidwai writes in Sonia – A Biography “As the date for the withdrawal of names drew nearer, Jitty Bhai waited in vain for a call from 10 Janpath offering a face saving, last-minute withdrawal. Humiliated and marginalized, Jitty Bhai realised that this gambit had failed. Accompanied by a handful of leaders from Uttar Pradesh, Prasada filed his nomination papers and was humbled in the party polls as Sonia went on to get nearly 99 per cent of the votes. The peacemakers and many of those who had encouraged Prasada to teach Sonia a lesson were nowhere in sight.”
Prasada never recovered from the humiliation he suffered at the hands of Sonia and died of a brain haemorrhage a few months later.
So try as much as Rahul might to revive the democratic process within the Congress party, it doesn’t really matter. To paraphrase what Dev Kant Baruah said about Indira Gandhi: “The Nehru-Gandhi family is the Congress. And the Congress is the Nehru-Gandhi family”.
The only constant in a party which lacks any ideology is the Nehru-Gandhi family. Given this, it doesn’t really matter if the Congress party has internal democracy or not. What matters is whether there is someone around from the Nehru-Gandhi family around to lead it.
It’s time Rahul Gandhi realised this and moved on from a full time party role to a role in the government while continuing with his role in the party as well. This will go in a long way in motivating the party cadre than all the moves to promote democracy within the party. There is nothing more that a Congress party worker likes than being led by a scion of the Nehru Gandhi family. This move also becomes even more important in a scenario where Pranab Mukherjee the principal troubleshooter for the party has decided to retire and move to the biggest house in the country.
It’s been nearly twenty three years since Rajiv Gandhi lost power to Vishwanath Pratap Singh. A Nehru-Gandhi family scion has not been a member of the Indian government since then. It’s time for Rahul and the Congress party to set that anomaly right.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 30,2012. http://http://www.firstpost.com/politics/rahul-gandhi-is-paying-for-the-mistakes-of-indira-gandhi-396001.html/)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])