The clamor within the Congress party in India for Rahul Gandhi to take over some of the party reins and play a ‘bigger’ role has grown louder in the past few weeks with senior party leaders and even union ministers publicly pushing for this change. Gandhi, of course, is the scion of the Nehru Gandhi dynasty, the heir apparent and also prime minister-in waiting.
Union law minister Salman Khurshid in a candid interview last week said the Congress lacked “ideological direction” and needed an “ideology to be given by our next generation leader Rahul Gandhi to move forward”. Never mind that Khurshid was later forced to tone down his very honest remarks and claim his views were blown out of proportion. Meanwhile, senior Congress leader and Gandhi family loyalist Digvijay Singh, never to be left behind, also pleaded for a bigger role for Rahul Gandhi in the party. Several senior ministers have also been mentioning in private that Rahul needs to take over to put the party back on track. Following all this, Gandhi himself decided to clear the air and oblige his fans by stating he will play a “more pro-active role in the party and the government”, in an interview to a news channel.
That the Congress is completely beleaguered and directionless needs no stating. It is struggling to get its act together and controversies, electoral losses and tactless positioning have been its defining features in its second consecutive tenure in power at the centre where it leads a coalition (the United Progressive Alliance). And that the party needs serious stock taking, energy and a clear vision is also a given. But this deep, inexplicable faith in one leader who would come and rescue the party and serve as the messiah is problematic and unfounded at several levels.
One, the biggest fallacy in this entire ‘bring Rahul in’ propaganda is that nobody yet knows Rahul’s worth or his political usefulness. Gandhi has not done anything so significant or worthwhile in the party so far to command that kind of blind faith and devotion. He has experimented with a lot of new strategies and may surely be well meaning, but as this columnist had pointed out in the last column, his efforts are yet to show any significant results.
In any thriving democracy, a leader’s work and contribution, at whatever level, and political astuteness as demonstrated by him/her under demanding situations is what should inspire confidence and determine his/her suitability for the highest echelons of power. If the Congress wants to suddenly elevate Gandhi by virtue of his lineage and pedigree, then be it. The party has every right to pick its leader, who ultimately, will be put to test in the democratic battle of elections. But what is disconcerting is that the single largest party in the country reposes all its faith in someone as inexperienced and untested like him and looks towards him for ‘direction’; this is when we know we are politically lost. How can any party, which leads the government at the centre and several states, be so devoid of any confidence in its existing structure? And is it, then, conceding its inability to deliver the large task at hand unless their ‘messiah’ takes charge?
And what if Rahul fails to deliver? What if, being a product of the same mores, he is unable to rise to the occasion and bring out the ‘new ideology to meet contemporary challenges’? Then there is also the question of Rahul’s desire. He has so far seemed reluctant to take any real charge or concrete role within the government, even as his other contemporaries have been serving as ministers. He seems to be a reluctant politician, unwilling to take responsibility, happy to work in a haphazard manner in whatever aspect that comes up. Pinning all your hopes on a leader who is not just untested but also unwilling cannot be very wise.
Two, it is both perturbing and amusing in equal measure when senior party leaders and even union ministers raise their hands in despair and claim their party is bereft of any direction or vision and that they need a savior to deliver them from this mess. After all, these leaders are themselves stakeholders and a part of the party and government; they have been elected by the people to represent them and then picked by the party to fill senior posts and ministerial berths. The onus of rejuvenating the party and bringing it back on track is entirely on them; they should be the agents of change in this demanding and challenging political environment.
In politics, no leader can get away by putting the onus on someone else; if you cannot infuse direction and energy in your party, if you cannot give the government a fresh outlook, then you have absolutely no right to be a part of either the party or the government—at least in an active role. And that is true in democratic and political spaces across the world—the minute you blame somebody else for your misfortunes or you look upon someone else as your savior, you have frittered away the mandate you received and with that, the right to rule.
Law minister Khurshid said the party and government needs “a new ideology to meet contemporary challenges”, which is where Rahul needs to step in. The Congress is truly in a deep mess, not because of the current challenges and difficulties it is facing, but because its existing leadership is reluctant or unable to reinvent its ideology to tackle rapidly changing socio political dynamics.
Three, there are two kinds of leadership crisis. One, when too many interests and people are vying for the top job, creating an internal rift, as is the case with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The other, like in the Congress, where the entire party is rooting for a certain leader, but he is reluctant to step up and the other leaders have resigned themselves to being bystanders, refusing to take ownership of the party’s future. In a democracy, the former crisis—as messy as it may be, is always preferable to the latter; politicians willing to take charge and at least pretending to have a vision for their party are any day better than those who behave like leadless victims.
Dynastic politics is not necessarily a disturbing culture. Problem arises when successors are given the status of ‘god.’
This brings me to the final point about dynastic politics. This culture is not disturbing, per se. It is natural for a child who has grown up in a politically charged household watching his elders battle the mucky world of politics, to be politically inclined himself. He/she may even be more politically astute and perceptive than those who haven’t been bred on this hefty dose of politics. The problem, however, is with how dynastic politics is practiced. The problem arises when such successors are given the status of ‘god’, as someone who would deliver his ‘followers’ from all evil. It is this completely undemocratic thinking that challenges the very notion of democracy in the party, or even the country.
Meanwhile, as the Congress hopes to see their redeemer give them some serious direction and ideological re-jig, the country is forced to wait with baited breath for an unknown angel, because for now, we are stuck with the ailing Congress that leads the nation.