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Does Cong want to perpetuate Nehru-Gandhi dynasty?

By M.V.Kamath

What is Sonia Gandhi up to? Is she grooming her son Rahul to become the next Prime Minister of India? And is the Congress Party so bereft of political leadership that it has to meekly let Sonia Gandhi have her way? One thing is for sure.

There is no leadership within the Congress at the national level. The party may have its own men as Chief Ministers, but these are men of straw. None has any national standing. Who is going to listen to Vilasrao Deshmukh were he invited to address an audience in Chennai? For that matter how many will turn up, say, if Sharad Pawar were to address a public meeting in Bhubaneshwar?

The sad fact is that there has been, over the years, depletion of national leadership in the country. Which is why, one suspects, Congress is turning to dynasticism as a way out. Presently, it is Rahul Gandhi who comes out as the heir-apparent. Or else, why was he chosen by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to accompany him during his visit to Kabul?

The answer given by Dr Singh sounds facile. According to the Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi has long been interested in Afghanistan and made a good candidate to accompany him. But surely there are other young and even old) Members of Parliament equally if not more interested, in our neighbouring country once removed? Why pick only on Rahul Gandhi?

The bare truth is more likely that either on his own or at the suggestion of his mother, Rahul was offered the chance to accompany Manmohan Singh to learn the business of government at first hand.

If Atal Behari Vajpayee is to be believed, the United Progressive Alliance is due to break up and fresh elections called for. It could be that the UPA will be returned to power in which case there is no question but that Dr Singh will continue to lead the government. But what if the UPA fails and the NDA gets back into the hot seat with a sound majority? That would undoubtedly mean the end of Dr Singh’s political life.

And the beginning of Rahul Gandhi’s political future. There s apparently no one else in the Congress who can keep its flag flying. Time was when many believed that Priyanka, the daughter will take over where her father Rajiv left. But apparently either Priyankais not interested in active politics or else it is a clear case of gender discrimination, with the son chosen over a brighter, more acceptable, daughter. But what is it that the country apart from Congress wants?

Dynastic rule? Has this country become so effeminate and weak that it is frightened to do away with dynasticism? Are we still in the medieval age of Maharajahs with power being handed over from father to son in natural succession?

The last major dynasty India had that of the Moghuls, from Babar to Bahadur Shah. Now it seems we will have a rule from Motilal Nehru to Rahul Gandhi, spread over four generations. Motilal, the patriarch, became president of the Congress held at Amritsar in 1919. He had no father rich enough or powerful enough to recommend his mame.

Motilal became Congress president on his own. But when Jawaharlal was voted in as President of the Lahore Congress in 1929 it was largely because Gandhi was pressured by Motilal, and the Mahatma himself was unwilling to take over the presidentship.

As Stanley Wolpert was to write in Jawaharlal’s biography, he was chosen “not by the masses of workers of whom he spoke... nor was it even by the provincial Congress’ legal and landed elite” but, “as he knew too well (by) his own dear father”. Indira Gandhi became Congress President courtesy, one suspects, of U.N. Dhebar’s sycophancy.

According to Indira Gandhi’s biographer, Inder Malhotra, “Dhebar was probably trying to ingratiate himself with Nehru by projecting Indira as the right occupant of the Congress President’s gaddi. Nehru never asked him to do so”. But as Malhotra put it “(Nehru) did nothing to oppose Dhebar’s move either”.

When Nehru died, the man chosen to be the next Prime Minister was Lal Bahadur Shastri, a consensus candidate. Had he not died in Tashkent he would probably have gone on as Prime Minister for at least another term, even if Indira Gandhi was on the sidelines, always a Prime Ministerial aspirant though she was serving as Shastri’s Information Minister, a lowly post in the cabinet.

When Shastri appointed Swaran Singh as Minister of External Affairs, Indira was so incensed as to tell a pressman: “Should he not have consulted me and Krishnamachari (a senior Congressman and Finance Minister)? I do not want the job, but surely I should have been consulted?” When Shastri died, inevitably, it was to Indira Gandhi that the party turned.

As S. S. Gill writes in The Dynasty: “Through a process of elimination, Indira Gandhi was the only candidate to fit the bill. She was the only person who could defeat (Morarji) Desai. And with her Nehru charisma, she was a truly national-level leader and the best vote-getter”.

Then came Indira Gandhi’s assassination and to whom did the party turn to? Indira’s son Rajiv Gandhi: who else? If his younger brother Sanjay was alive he surely would have snatched the post. But he was dead. Following Sanjay’s death, Indira Gandhi had asked her reluctant elder son to join the Congress. It was to him that first the bureaucracy, and then the party turned to, for national leadership.

As P. C. Alexander, who was Indira Gandhi’s secretary, writes in his Memoirs, `Through the Corridors of Power’: “It was my firm conviction as soon as I received the news of the tragedy (of Indira’s assassination) that the most feasible arrangement would be to have Rajiv sworn in immediately as Prime Minister without going in for an interim Prime Minster”. Pranab Mukherjee missed the chance.

When, in 1991 Rajiv Gandhi himself was assassinated, Rahul Gandhi was too young to be groomed to succeed him and Sonia Gandhi was apparently unwilling to take on any burden. Now the time has come for the fifth generation Nehru to be groomed. But can Rahul make it? What are his qualifications?

When first Jawaharlal became Congress President he was, in a sense, still a novice, but he had proved his credentials. He had been sentenced to jail; he had served the party well and he had the support of the Mahatma who was then in full control of Congress. He had, to his credit, sacrifice.

What sacrifice has Rahul Gandhi to his credit? And yet he is being openly groomed for future leadership. He is all set to be given a formal role in the party after theHyderabad plenary session of the Congress next October.

According to knowledgeable sources he is due to be “promoted” as the party’s General Secretary which would automatically give him a seat in the Congress Working Committee of which his mother is the president. And it would then be a matter of time before Sonia Gandhi would resign to make way for her son, for the dynasty to continue.

Should the Congress be returned to power in the next General Elections, whether after Manmonhan Singh completes a fullterm or earlier, the possibility is that Rahul will be given a cabinet post which could well be that of Minister of Information, a post once filled by his grandmother.

After all, the young man must start somewhere down the ladder first to climb to the top, shouldn’t he? But is he fit for any cabinet post? When Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister her aunt Vijayalakshmi Pandit dismissed her as a doll. She stayed to become a terror.

Rajiv Gandhi was so tactless as to indulge in a public tantrum when he alighted at Hyderabad airport one day to be received by Chief Minister N. T. Rama Rao; the provocation was so great that itmoved N.T.R. to launch the Telugu Desam movement very successfully, as it turned out.

What has Rahul Gandhi to show? When, in May 2004 both he and his mother were rooting for Rajiv’s friend Satish Sharma who was standing for elections from the Sultanpur Lok Sabha constituency, they failed miserably. Sharma lost.

The Nehru-Gandhi `magic’ did not work. It is no one’s argument that a son should not follow in his father’s footsteps and there are many politicians in India whose sons have jumped into their father’s shoes. But think of some of the All-time Greats in India whose sons went their own way: Greats like Vallabhbhai Patel, C. Rajagopalachari, T. Prakasam, B. G. Kher, Morarji Desai... to name only a few.Is this country and is Congress so totally bereft of leadership that Rahul should be considered an automatic choice for a future Prime Ministership of India?

The Indira Gandhi generation could conceivably claim to have been part of India’s national struggle for freedom. In the case of Rajiv Gandhi the argument was obviously put out that under the tragic circumstances of Indira Gandhi’s cruel death, the nation would unquestionably give her son a chance, in the interest of “continuity”.

From all that one knows, Rahul has neither the charisma of his father, nor the intellect of his great grandfather. So why is he being pushed on to the country? It is unlikely that the Gandhi name will futurely sell among the masses. India has reached a stage when it needs and would rather have someone like Manmohan Singh, a Narayanamurthi or Azim Premji as Prime Minister who understands economics.

They are known to be wealth-producers. If the name of the game is mass popularity, then why not pick Amitabh Bachchan or Shahrukh Khan for Prime Ministership? At least they have excelled in one field, even if it is acting. What has Rahul Gandhi excelled in? The charge is made that he was not even present in the Lok Sabha during most of the monsoon session.

That is hardly the way to show concern for the country’s future. Hasn’t the time come for the Congress to think of possible successors to Manmohan Singh? Has the party been sold out to the Mehru-Gandhi clan in perpetuity or do we still cherish democratic values to let the best man in? Hasn’t Congress any sense of selfrespect to choose a real people’s choice for party leadership?

Does it for ever have to accept someone thrust on it in the name of power and continuity? The public has theright to demand an answer.

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