Rahul Gandhi has visited Amethi and will be standing for election from there. This news was splashed in all newspapers and the electronic media. On the day he went there an army of cameramen and journalists went with him; every word he said was breathlessly reported, every smile, every bite of his lunchtime paratha photographed. Rahul Gandhi was in Amethi. The Prince come to survey his kingdom. The media — and many Congress enthusiasts in Amethi — were doing handstands. Would the people of Wales behave quite like this if Charles, Prince of Wales, visited that part of Britain' It seems rather unlikely, to put it mildly. So what on earth was all this hooha about'
All right, part of it was engineered by the Congress. But they found the media not only willing but in a fever of eagerness to cover his visit. “The heir apparent was visiting Amethi. What could be more newsworthy'” our seasoned editors exclaimed, as they turned somersaults in sheer excitement. The rest of the country can be forgiven for being a little bewildered and even amused by all this. He is a pleasant enough young man, better educated than others in his family, looks pleasing — but then, he is no different in all this from hundreds of thousands of other young men, many of them far more intelligent, far-sighted, better looking and more charismatic. There’s just one difference; they don’t belong to The Family.
Political democracies have had families in politics over the years in different countries; quite often the familiarity with politics that one person brings to his house affects the family, and one or the other member of the family makes the move to it quite naturally. William Pitt the Elder, first earl of Chatham, who is credited with having transformed Britain into an imperial power in the mid-18th century was followed, not succeeded, though, by his second son, William Pitt the Younger, who led Britain during the French Revolutionary Wars and is considered one of the greatest prime ministers Britain has had. Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States of America, and some years lat- er his cousin, Franklin, who also married his niece, became the only president to have been elected to that office four times. In recent years, we have President George Bush and his son, George W. Bush, and there have been the Kennedys — even though only one of them was president — who are considered by many Democrats to be the closest America has to a First Family.
But all of this pales into little punctuation marks in history compared to The Family in India. Did Jawaharlal Nehru, who dreamt of a democratic India, which embodied all the values he cherished — freedom, equality and justice for all — ever imagine that his daughter would become prime minister and hold that office for several years, that her son would succeed her as prime minister, that her daughter-in-law would be the virtual ruler of the Congress, and that her grandson’s decision to stand for election would become a huge event' Whatever else happens, there is little doubt that Rahul or his sister will succeed their mother as the ruler of the Congress, and that one of their children will, in turn, succeed them. It’s not just dynastic, but virtually a royal line of succession.
And there are similar, if not quite as prominent examples; Sheikh Abdullah being succeeded by Farooq Abdullah, who in turn is being succeeded by Omar Abdullah; Sachin Pilot standing for election following the death of his father Rajesh Pilot; Jyotiraditya Scindia being hailed as the next winner from Gwalior after the death of his father, Madhavrao. But, again, these are lesser instances of dynastic trends in politics; the really big one is the Nehru-Gandhi family. One wonders what it is that makes it so. Mahatma Gandhi’s children did not go into politics — his grandsons are to be seen going about their business like ordinary citizens of India. No SPG protection for them, no convoy of cars, flashing red lights, nothing.
It finally comes down to a sad realization that the commitment to true democratic values, to ideologies and to principles has, over the years, become superficial and more of a ritual in the Congress. This is the party that fought for the country’s freedom, had ideals that often had to be paid for with the lives of those devoted to the party and what it stood for. This is the party that had such great leaders as Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant and a galaxy of others. As they passed on, they and what they believed in passed away with them; it wasn’t only the memory of these people that were cast into the dustbin of history; it was also their beliefs and ideas. Oh yes, there are all kinds of noble things said about them from time to time, their photographs adorn walls in various party offices. But that’s all there is to it.
Power, those years and years in power, robbed the party of any sense of ideological commitment to anything except power. So when they lost it, they had nothing to hold the party together, nothing except the binding force of The Family. Many will remember how in the first years of P.V. Narasimha Rao’s tenure as prime minister, many new and exciting initiatives were taken, and how this led to a wave of resentment among those who wanted more power than they had, and how Sonia Gandhi was persuaded to emerge from her seclusion and lead the party which was otherwise going to fall apart. They thought they would get to power through her and are still waiting for that to happen.
But it doesn’t seem to strike them that precisely because of this, the party will never ever get back to power. It has in its ranks some very fine minds — economists, speakers on public affairs, eminent scientists and entrepreneurs — but all that will be of no use because of the vitiating effect of the abject grovelling that has to be done by everyone before The Family. Helped, of course, by the media. One just has to see how Rahul Gandhi, that pleasant but ordinary young man, was treated when he went to Amethi. Would another pleasant young man get the same treatment' Of course not; not because he’s not pleasant enough, or unintelligent — he doesn’t belong to The Family.
Where are the ideals and the dreams that the leaders of the Congress dreamt when they fought for independence' They flap around this shrunken, emaciated party like old clothes too big for the wearer, a sad reminder of what once were exciting, passionate ideals, which transformed young people and gave them hope and the vision of a new beginning. All we now have are servile groups waiting to see “Madamji” or “Rahulji” or “Priyankaji”, aided in their servility by eager cameramen and journalists, who find this all secretly very exciting.
Can this change' Can the dynastic obsession of the Congress fade into what it ought to be in a democracy, merely an incidental aspect of it' Not if it is left to potentially gifted leaders and young people who can become great statesmen. They will be crushed and cast aside by the obsession for The Family. If there is to be change, it has to come from The Family itself. It can come if the unthinkable happens — The Family walks away from its overweening position, and helps organize elections in the party from the grassroots up, on issues, not on personalities. You decide whether this is likely to happen or not.