The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and Congress

Published: February 1, 2014
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The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar 
aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

What has ensured the longevity of the Nehru-Gandhi clan? Sonia Gandhi is the longest serving president in the history of the party by a long way and likely to remain in that position for as long as she is around. It is difficult to imagine the Congress party without the family being in charge, and there is not even a whiff of rebellion in the ranks though the Congress is headed for a defeat in the 2014 elections.

Perhaps, this will change when defeat actually comes, though I doubt it. The last time the Congress saw some internal resistance against Sonia Gandhi was when the current Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, broke away in the late 1990s.

He has always thought of himself as a contender to run the party nationally and perhaps, this was a gambit with the same end in mind.

Pawar’s ostensible issue was the foreign origins of Sonia, which he thought made her unsuitable as Congress leader and a future prime minister. It was not a burning issue in his home state of Maharashtra when he raised it. Not many in the party agreed with him, as he expected they might, and he reduced himself to a state-level leader who is today insignificant in national politics.

When the matter was being debated in that same period, a Congressman, I think it was Mani Shankar Aiyar, said that the party itself would disintegrate if the Gandhis were not in charge. His logic was that there was a tendency to pull away from the centre by each of the Congress state units, which were essentially regional parties, each with different issues and agendas. The only thing that made the Congress a national party, in this view, was the family. Without them, the ambition of people such as Pawar would reduce the Congress to a loose alliance of like-minded state parties, which would come together only during national elections.

The presence of the Gandhis, on the other hand, gives the Congress a national identity and presence. This may be true, but for many people, even those who are not against the party, such as the historian Ramachandra Guha, the idea that India’s biggest political party is run in feudal form by a dynasty is not appetising.

Guha has speculated that the Congress is actually not as dependent on the Gandhis as is thought, and if Rajiv had not been press-ganged by Congressmen into succeeding Indira, he would be still be alive and Sonia would be a housewife.

Guha is also disdainful of the chamcha (sycophant) culture that permeates the Congress more than it does any other party in India. It is unquestionably true that whatever else she may have done, Sonia Gandhi has run the party with the assistance of people whose main qualification is their loyalty to her. On the other hand, it is also true that she has compromised and made peace with those opposed to her, including Pawar, with whose party she formed a pragmatic alliance that has kept the Congress in power in Maharashtra for a decade and a half.

I interviewed the writer UR Ananthamurthy a few days ago and he said that one reason for the Gandhis’ success is that the family is not seen as regional or parochial. It has no roots in any one state of India (or in any caste) and can be seen as national in that sense.

Another writer, I think it was Santosh Desai, The Times of India columnist, said that one reason the Gandhis were popular was because they were fair-skinned. I think this is true to a large extent in a country where such things tend to be conflated with character.

My own view is that the Gandhis have done more good for the Congress than bad. Particularly Sonia Gandhi, a woman with almost no education who has revived the party and tried to run it morally. She has failed in some aspects but these cannot take away from her successes. Some of the best legislation in our history, on corruption and education, and against poverty, has come because of her.

I have a feeling that when the dynasty finally goes, and perhaps we don’t have to wait too long to see its end, the Congress will no longer be the national force it has been for so many decades and still is today.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2014.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Amar
    Feb 1, 2014 - 11:10PM

    “… Sonia Gandhi, a woman with almost no education who has revived the party and tried to run it morally.”

    Seriously, man? What morality did Sonia Gandhi demonstrate? CWG scam? 2G scam? Pushing people back into poverty? Zero accountability on her side?Recommend

  • Another North Indian
    Feb 2, 2014 - 12:58AM

    “Target Sonia and her advisers, middleman in VVIP chopper deal told AgustaWestland.

    NEW DELHI: One of the three alleged middlemen in the VVIP helicopter kickbacks scandal had reportedly advised top AgustaWestland officials to “target” UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and people close to her in order to bag the 556 million contract. ….”

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Target-Sonia-and-her-advisers-middleman-in-VVIP-chopper-deal-told-AgustaWestland/articleshow/29723337.cms

    Recommend

  • Akash
    Feb 2, 2014 - 1:05AM

    “the Congress will no longer be the national force it has been for so many decades and still is today.”
    And you and your ilk will lose their steady income as well.

    Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Feb 2, 2014 - 1:57AM

    “What has ensured the longevity of the Nehru-Gandhi clan? Sonia Gandhi is the longest serving president in the history of the party by a long way and likely to remain in that position for as long as she is around…”
    Simple answer is all of the CONgress leaders and their coalition partners area incompetent hangers on, besides indira ghandhi in past , not a single CONgress man can win an election on his own. Only sanjiv ghandhi had potential but he died before his time.

    Recommend

  • Sundar
    Feb 2, 2014 - 3:57AM

    Sonia enjoys power without responsibility. Nothing can be sweeter that this. Scam after scam after scam cannot happen in the past few years without the passive participation of the Sonia family. This is my firm believe. Dynastic rule is a great disservice that one can do to a democratic nation. If congress cannot function without this one family let it better disintegrate.Sooner it happens the better.

    Recommend

  • Feb 2, 2014 - 4:16AM

    After almost 200 years of British Rule over India and Pakistan, the average Indian and Pakistani consider white skin people as god. During that 200 years some 8 generations of Indians and Pakistanis have been borne and they melt away when they see any white skinned Europions or Americans. They are too eager to become CHAMCHAS of the whites to get the Baxish (corruption money). Recommend

  • C. Nandkishore
    Feb 2, 2014 - 6:49AM

    Lets get it straight. In the last 67 years the only all India leaders other than the Nehru dynasty were JP and Vajpayee. You may add Advani. But thats that. Nobody more.

    Recommend

  • Anjaan
    Feb 2, 2014 - 7:03AM

    The Indian Congress party, is now a days known as the Scamgress party, or the Con-gress party. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and its Congress party was voted to power for over 60 years … as people had faith in the name and there was no credible alternative to it.

    60 plus years later, the people of India have discovered that they were cheated all these years … half of the population still do not have healthcare, education, water, electricity, roads …

    Now the people of India knows the reality, thanks to proliferation of communication … that the Nehru-Gandhi family and its Scamgress party has been reduced to a criminal enterprise of chors and thugs … looting India systematically and ironically, democratically … !

    A large part of the Scamgress party’s success goes to its Muslim appeasing vote bank politics … the Muslims, like the Scamgress party prefers the status quo … they want the corrupt and inefficient system to continue … they are not concerned about India changing and prospering …Recommend

  • Parvez
    Feb 2, 2014 - 3:06PM

    Again as an observer………….I fell you got the last bit wrong. It’s logical and natural that the brand ‘ Congress ‘ will outlive and outgrow the demise of a dynasty that existed on the juggling of a family name.

    Recommend

  • Rakib
    Feb 2, 2014 - 9:04PM

    @Parvez:

    Your perception is incredible as always, Sir! Congress is microcosmic India. It is a caravan, a cornucopia, a collection. Many love to hate it but decade after decade they revert to it even after rejecting it. Because, it offers the comfort of the familiar & it’s the potpourri that is India! The entire caboodle-religions, regions, languages, ethnicity, tribes, castes, creeds, ideologies, carpetbaggers, swindlers, scoundrels, saints,scamsters, the entire Bazaar is right there within it. Many political parties have splintered out of it & many founders began their career with Congress. Jinnah walked out of it disgusted & Mahatma did not succeed in closing it down, Mukherjee the father of Jan Sangh/ BJP quit Congress & many socialist parties came out of it. It split many a time & changed character. And yet nobody could close down Congress & nobody else can including Gandhi-scions, for the simple reason that Congress is Us-accommodating the teeming masses-regardless of one being Secular or Communal. All other parties-Left, Right or Centrist-are a variation on the same theme, but each accentuating its favourite slant..

    Recommend

  • Nitin
    Feb 2, 2014 - 9:15PM

    Dear author: can you please enlighten us on what is the best legislation on corruption in india’s history that Sonia Gandhi came up with? If you re talking about lokpal bill, some points of note. First, it is a completely watered down bill which will do nothing o reduce corruption. Second, Sonia’s govt introduced it after intense pressure from he civil society given the huge corruption scandals. Third, it was finally passed when congress got routed out in he state elections. Thus, please stop writing such misleading articles.

    Recommend

  • Parvez
    Feb 3, 2014 - 12:35AM

    @Rakib: Thank you…..and yes I think you’re right, but right now Congress seems to be on a down cycle.

    Recommend

  • Sid
    Feb 3, 2014 - 4:56PM

    @Rakib: Whether i agree with you or not is a seperate story, but your comment is mellifluous. Very well written.

    Recommend

  • Rakib
    Feb 3, 2014 - 8:08PM

    @Parvez:
    @Sid: Thank you.

    I agree, Parvez. Congress is unlikely to win & may sit in Opposition as it had before but it will keep trying stunts. Whichever way, a period of penance is called for. My point was about its existence. A variation on Alif-Lylah tale where the magician’s soul was in the parrot would be political India’s soul is housed in Congress. Though I have never voted for it, I wouldn’t wish its demise.I believe,Congress at its best is more Indian than any other party-may be even more “Hindu” than any other & I don’t mean in the parochial, religious sense but as an inclusivist, accommodating body where stark contradictions & paradoxes co-exist comfortably, as they do in the nation it represents. IMO, the best of Congress-ism is eternal since whichever party comes to power in the meanwhile & holds it for a while will begin to look exactly like Congress after a while.Recommend

  • Rahul
    Feb 3, 2014 - 10:22PM

    @Rakib

    “……Congress at its best is more Indian than any other party-may be even more “Hindu” than any other & I don’t mean in the parochial, religious sense but as an inclusivist, accommodating body where stark contradictions & paradoxes co-exist comfortably, as they do in the nation it represents. IMO, the best of Congress-ism is eternal since whichever party comes to power in the meanwhile & holds it for a while will begin to look exactly like Congress after a while.”

    There are a few things which are easier to describe than to define. Congress is one such thing. Your description is so apt that it begs superlatives. One of the very best from you. Incidentally I too never voted for congress, but I share the same opinion.Recommend

  • Rakib
    Feb 4, 2014 - 9:05AM

    @Rahul: Thank you Rahul for the kind words.

    Recommend

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