At last the truth about ‘The Family’ is being unravelled publicly again. Mani Shankar Aiyar, Manish Tewari et al would now do well to accept the truth about ‘The Family’s’ habit of use and throw. Instead of discussing the frustration that Mani and his vocal Congress family courtiers have been displaying since Sunday, let me point out the long history of ‘The Family’s’ propensity to sacrifice individuals and the party for its sake.
One of the few formidable mass leaders, popular Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and a leader independent of ‘The Family’, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna repeatedly suffered excruciating mental agony when he realised that he was being treated as an attendant of ‘The Family’. Let us not forget how humiliated Bahuguna felt when his political wings began to be pruned and how he showed a herculean determination and broke out of ‘The Family’s’ political dungeon in order to try and forge a national alternative to Congress rule. Had death not snatched him away, HN Bahuguna would have probably succeeded in giving a new direction to Indian politics by heralding a post-Congress India. ‘The Family’ was of course dead scared of that possibility.
The tale of ‘The Family’s’ expansive habit of first using talented political workers and leaders and then of heaping humiliation on them and of finally discarding them is legendary. Nehru’s treatment of Patel in his last years displayed that streak of political ruthlessness which became the hallmark of ‘The Family’ later. Two months before he died, Patel who had earlier abdicated power as a loyal ‘soldier of Bapu’ in favour of Nehru and had done much to accommodate the temperamental Prime Minister, wrote of the ‘mental torture’ he was being made to go through because of Jawaharlal’s behaviour, “I see no hope… I have gone to the farthest extent but I see that it is all no good and we can only leave it to God.” Patel died a sad man, sad to realise in what unstable hands he had to leave the country.
It is true that where his powers were concerned, Nehru was ‘highly aggressive and ruthless’, such were the heights of this ruthlessness that on Patel’s demise he issued directives to the ‘Ministers and the Secretaries not to go to Bombay to attend the funeral’ and tried to dissuade Rajendra Prasad from attending it as well. Nehru’s behaviour towards a man who had been his comrade in arms for over three decades and who had done more than anyone else to consolidate his position in the party and the country, was a brazen display of that humiliation-heaping trait which ‘The Family’ was to master in years to come. Nehru’s granddaughter-in-law, in accordance with ‘The Family’s’ tradition, meted out a near similar treatment five and a half decades later to PV Narasimha Rao’s funerary cortege in the heart of Delhi.
Even the ‘gentle and self-effacing’ Rajendra Prasad was not spared and had once confided his intentions of writing the memoirs of his presidency with the title ‘The Years of Agony.’ C Rajagopalachari, JB Kripalani, Purushottamdas Tandon, all stalwarts, were gradually discarded as soon as their utility was over or as soon as they displayed political sagacity, vision and initiative in comprehending and handling the affairs of free India.
Indira equally mastered this trait for using and humiliating, in her case Kamaraj’s example stands out. The man served Nehru well and meticulously chartered Indira’s political rise only to be unceremoniously sidelined when his uses seemed to be over. A shocked Kamaraj is said to have bitterly confessed that Indira was a ‘big man’s daughter, [and] a little man’s mistake.’ He died a disillusioned man having vehemently opposed the imposition of emergency as an event with no parallel even ‘under British rule.’ But even his death was used by Indira to consolidate her power, she used the occasion to digest the last fragments of the old Congress telling her south Indian audiences that merger had been the late leader’s ‘last wish’ and that it was a ‘privilege to work with him’ and that she ‘sought his guidance’ and ‘discussed’ with him ‘almost every matter of importance.’
The Family’s treatment of Zail Singh, Nandini Sathpathy, Arun Nehru, Arun Singh, Arjun Singh, Karan Singh and of course Pranab Mukherjee is the stuff of legend – it carried out with great aplomb and fervour the tradition of humiliation and marginalisation. CR was at his acerbic best when once describing this habit of using and tossing out, “Rajaji is just a match-stick to light the cigarette. You throw the matchstick into the ashtray without a thought after it has served the purpose.”
Every leader of consequence in the Congress has always been used by ‘The Family’ as a matchstick to light its cigarette of political ambition. And the nation, well the nation of course has always been its convenient ashtray!
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