The Congress is in the throes of death and desperately needs a breath of fresh, non-Gandhi air to survive.
However, the ecosystem continues to peddle the lie that the family is the glue that is keeping the party together.
In a column in The Times of India on 21 July 2019, Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar makes a pitch for Sonia Gandhi and her family, and posits that the family is the glue without which the Congress party will disintegrate. He then proceeds to compare former prime minister Indira Gandhi with Sonia Gandhi—apple and orange—and deviously employs election results post-Rajiv Gandhi to substantiate his argument.
The highest tally of Lok Sabha seats that the Congress party achieved after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was 27 long years back, in 1991, when it won 244 seats. Since Sonia Gandhi was not even in the frame then, Aiyar dismisses that victory, saying “Congress failed to win outright”. In 1996, a Sonia Gandhi-less Congress won 140 seats, and Aiyar rightly says it lost.
Now compare this to the spin he gives to the performance of the party after Sonia Gandhi took charge of it, after allegedly locking the then Congress president Sitaram Kesri in a toilet. In the election that followed her throwing out of Kesri, Congress won 141 seats, just one more than it did under him, but Aiyar calls this score "respectable". Worse, he not only gives a complete miss to the much lower 1999 tally of 114 under Sonia Gandhi, but also goes on to assert that "she led the party to victory in 2004 and 2009".
In 2004, Sonia Gandhi won just five more seats than Kesri did in 1996. In 2009 she won only 206, and that too thanks to Dr Manmohan Singh and the rejection, by core voters, of a secularised Lal Krishna Advani, in an almost presidential-style election marked by a low turnout. However, as per Aiyar, while 1996 with 140 seats was a defeat, and in 1991 Congress "failed to win outright" with 244 seats, 2004 and 2009 were victories “which proved that Congress needed the family to win elections”.
The Congress suffered its most humiliating defeat ever in 2014, when it was reduced to an unbelievable 44 seats under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. The rout was so overwhelming and debilitating that one would have expected a seasoned columnist like Aiyar to have dwelled on it, and the causes for it, at length. But, no, just as he skipped the 1999 elections when Congress won only 114 seats, he gives this unprecedented rout also a complete miss, because it too does not fit with the case he is trying to manufacture for the Gandhi family.
If all this was not enough, Aiyar makes a further mess of his argument by pinning blame on the downward spiral of the Congress party, both before and under Sonia Gandhi, on its dumping of Nehruvian secularism and aping of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In fact, his only comment about the second consecutive rout of the party in 2019 is a disparaging one about the temple run of Rahul Gandhi in the run-up to the elections.
No wonder Aiyar is silent about why the ‘janeudhari’ Congress president lost in family bastion Amethi and, worse, why he chose to contest from a constituency where the communal and fundamentalist Indian Union Muslim League was needed to carry him to victory, and the majority was inconsequential. Why, even Sonia Gandhi would likely have lost from Rae Bareilly — despite non-BJP parties not putting up a candidate — had the BJP put up a strong candidate against her.
The rejection of the mother-son duo is that deep, across the country, but Aiyar cannot see it, or pretends not to.
Although she ruled India for 10 years and has been in the spotlight since the assassination of her husband Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, little is known about what and who Sonia Gandhi really is as a person, and what her beliefs and ideologies are, except that she is an Italian by birth and a Roman Catholic by baptism. The same mystery surrounds her son too.
But the one thing that they both openly share, and are most charged up about, is their intense dislike, bordering on hate, for the Hindu Right. Sonia Gandhi told journalist Vir Sanghvi as much just after the 2004 elections. A few days back, Rahul Gandhi too left no one in any doubt when, in his letter of resignation as Congress president, he stated that “every single living cell in my body resists BJP’s idea of India.”
Aiyar, once again, conveniently misses both these visceral disclosures, only because they bust his “aping BJP” fantasy.
It is true that Rajiv Gandhi and other Congress leaders made feeble attempts to assuage the feelings of the majority which felt short changed even in free India, and that too despite a bloody communal Partition. But after Sonia Gandhi seized control of the party, all that changed completely, as I suspect Aiyar knows but will not admit.
Over the years, an increasing number of Indians have come to believe that the ideological problem of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi is not just with the Hindu Right, but with the Hindu majority itself, and that they identify only with Christian and Muslim minorities, who they consider their core vote bank. The task of bringing in the Hindu vote needed to make up the numbers to grab power has been outsourced by them to regional and caste-based parties, most of which see power as a means to maximise the personal wealth of their leaders, all means fair.
It is only the fear of losing the complete majority vote — own and of allies — that compels them to publicly attack the majority indirectly via the Hindu Right.
Remember, the target of the draconian Communal Violence Bill that both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi pushed hard, despite strong opposition, is not the Hindu Right, but every single Hindu living in India. Similarly, every single Hindu is suffering the consequences of the 93rd Constitution Amendment, which Sonia Gandhi rammed through in 2004, even though she did not have the mandate to do so, as Congress won only 145 seats. Only Hindus have been disadvantaged by her sectarian Right to Education Act. And who can forget how Hindu terror was invented and the fact that Rahul Gandhi believes that radical Hindus are more dangerous for India than jihadi terrorists nurtured and unleashed by Pakistan?
In sum, it can be said that the Congress party did not flounder in 2019 because Rahul Gandhi tried to ape the BJP. On the contrary, it probably drove away a significant number of additional Hindu voters, who saw through the Hindu charade that Sonia Gandhi and her children were enacting to attract their votes. That is why they won a mere 23 seats in all of India outside Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
In the 21 years that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been at the helm of the Congress party, they have not been able to win a single election for the party. If one must compare Sonia Gandhi with Indira Gandhi, as Aiyar does, it has to be on the scale of seats won by them in various elections.
Despite the Gandhi brand name and the large legacy vote that Sonia Gandhi inherited, the figures of 141, 116, 145, 206, 44 and 52, in the six elections that Congress has fought under the Sonia Gandhi family, show that the family has not been able to establish a connect with the people, and now stands totally rejected. Only Swaminathan Aiyar can see in this Gandhi family the winner that Indira Gandhi was, when it is clear that only a non-Gandhi leader can pull the Congress out of the Gandhi swamp.
In a column in this magazine on 8 July 2019, this writer had argued that the grand old party is in the agonising throes of death and desperately needs fresh non-Gandhi air, if it wants to survive. The ecosystem, however, continues to peddle the lie that the family is the glue that is keeping the party together, and not the gas chamber that is killing it. What do you think?