If you were anyone other than Rahul Gandhi, the knives would be out for you after leading the party to disaster in Bihar. But if you are a scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, at best you may face elliptical criticism. Which you can ignore.
Kapil Sibal, the Congress party’s articulate lawyer-politician and former cabinet minister, hit the headlines the other day after he said that the party was in decline, and that “experienced minds, experienced hands and those who understand political realities” were needed to lead the party. There was no need for introspection, as one knew what was needed.
“We need”, said Sibal, “to do several things at several levels organisationally, articulation in the media in whatever form, putting up people who the people want to listen to, providing an active, thoughtful leadership who can articulate with a lot of circumspection….”.
That’s actually Waffle with a capital W. What Sibal actually wanted to say was that Rahul Gandhi and his coterie cannot revive the party, but he chose to beat around the bush by seeking an “active, thoughtful leadership”, an indirect swipe at Rahul Gandhi’s ineptness as party leader. Rahul Gandhi, who appears on the scene when it suits him, does the vanishing act at critical times. He does not have it in him to do full-time politics.
Sibal was immediately criticised by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who swears by Sonia Gandhi and the old guard, who seem to have a better grasp of politics than the heir-apparent. "There was no need for Mr Kapil Sibal to mention our internal issues in media; this has hurt the sentiments of party workers across the country,” Gehlot said on Twitter.
This is bunkum. Most party workers are probably dismayed that they have to defend a political dud like Rahul Gandhi, but it took an angry Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Shivanand Tiwari to say it like it is. Tiwari said Rahul Gandhi was having a “picnic” when the elections were on, and his party, given 70 seats to contest, did not even hold 70 rallies. He pointed out that Rahul Gandhi spent just three days in Bihar, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra did not turn up at all.
The problem is not with Rahul or Priyanka, but with the Congress party which both loves the idea of a dynast heading it but gnashes its teeth in despair when the incumbent fails to deliver. It has not understood the reality that when succession is determined by bloodline rather than capability, sooner or later you will end up with a dud. This is true as much for business dynasties as political ones.
Whether it is GD Birla or Dhirubhai Ambani, it is always too much to expect that all heirs will do as well as the founder, or at least well enough to maintain the empire as a going concern.
Among the Birlas, while the Aditya Birla group has turned out okay, the same cannot be said of the C K Birla or Yash Birla sub-groups. They turned out to be also-rans.
Ambani produced one genius son who was fit to succeed him, while the other did not live up to his reputation.
In the Nehru-Gandhi family, Motilal Nehru produced a tall leader in Jawaharlal and he, in turn, gave us Indira Gandhi. But then we got Rajiv Gandhi, who turned out to be a failure despite a spectacular win in 1984. Rajiv’s brother Sanjay was too rash to succeed at anything. He died while doing aerobatics with a small plane. Rajiv’s wife Sonia must be credited with greater political acumen, but she produced two duds – Rahul and Priyanka – suggesting that the DNA is slowly withering.
Dynasties have two ways of remaining relevant. One is to keep producing competent inheritors, and the other is to convert themselves into constitutional monarchs, where electable professionals run the day-to-day affairs of the party, while the family retains the trappings of power without actually having it. At best, the family can have a casting vote when two equally strong rivals seek the same office.
This is the key to the future relevance of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. It has to remove itself from active politics, and merely serve as the guiding force for politicians who will take the party to a higher orbit.
It is pointless blaming Rahul Gandhi for every party debacle at the hustings. The problem is the party wants a dynast on top, but does not have the guts to kick him upstairs when he proves to be a liability rather than an asset.
The question facing the Congress is the same one articulated by Henry II of England in the 12th century, where he faced a recalcitrant Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. The king asked in exasperation: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” The Archbishop had excommunicated several bishops who were supporters of the king and generally proving to be a thorn in his side. Four knights heard the king’s plea and got Becket assassinated.
Nothing as drastic is needed in the Congress party. But someone needs to do what needs to be done and get the dynasty kicked upstairs where it can’t do as much damage to the party’s future as it now does.
A party which mutters under its breath about Rahul’s incompetence and then does nothing about it is a party that deserves Rahul Gandhi as its head.
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