It was a good week for the Congress. Good? Because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his number two boss, Rahul Gandhi, both sphinx-like characters, at long last opened their mouths. Even if what they said was far from convincing, and left everyone dumb-founded, the fact that they spoke was enough to excite the Family faithful.
First, the stray thoughts of the Gandhi scion. The burden of his chat with the journos and the fawning crowd of Congressmen in the Central Hall of Parliament was that he was far from keen to ascend the prime ministerial gaddi. Very good, then. But, pray, tell us why did you then allow them to anoint you the unquestioned Number Two in the Congress at the recent Chintan Shivir in Jaipur. Indeed, the sole purpose of the Jaipur meet was to formalise the succession plan in the Grand Old Party. The import of the entire paraphernalia of a full-scale coronation of a young prince with bands and fireworks and singing of hallelujahs by the sycophantic lot could not have been missed by anyone but the purblind.
If you believe Rahul, his all-consuming passion is to empower each and every Congressman and Congresswoman. Tell that to the birds. Come on! If you believe that you will believe that I am Mukesh Ambani. No one should get fooled by such silly claims. Given that he is the Chosen One to succeed his mother Sonia Gandhi, he cannot be unaware that the Family has a vice-like grip over the party. Nothing moves in the Congress, and the Government-headed by it, without the express and/or tacit approval of the Family. If the Family sheds control, if it ceases to play the role of the sole arbiter, Congressmen will feel orphaned.
For, in the past four decades since the forcible grab of the once-great Congress by Indira Gandhi, she and her direct descendants have treated party men as truant children, to be rewarded with toffees and trinkets of patronage sometimes and to be punished and put aside on other times. The worth of every important Congress leader is in direct proportion to his proximity to the 10 Janpath Establishment.
Because the Family has the final word in every important matter, if the Congress now finds itself in dire straits it tells a lot about its leadership and its intellectual abilities. Mrs Gandhi was thoroughly Machiavellian in the late 60s when she outmaneuvered the party’s Old Guard which had supped almost on equal terms with her father, J L Nehru. She was wholly unscrupulous in her conduct. And she went on to become the one-woman Congress High Command.
But for Rahul Gandhi what his grandmother did was right. And yet he rails against the high command culture. Failing to realize any contradiction in criticizing the high command culture in his own party while being a foremost member of the same high command is clearly a reflection of his warped thinking. As for his claim that he was not keen to become prime minister, one may then ask why then did he become the Congress’s Number Two? His disinterest in that high constitutional office clearly stems from the cold realisation that ab dilli door ast.
Let us now turn to Manmohan Singh’s bravado while replying to the debate on the President’s Address. He claimed that the lamb that he was supposed to be had got the better of the Iron Man L K Advani in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll. Well, that is far from true. For, this lamb had even refused to enter the race, keen to stay in Parliament using the indirect route — of getting elected from faraway Assam to the Rajya Sabha even though he belongs to Chandigarh. Once the voters in the capital’s politically-conscious South Delhi rejected his bid to enter the Lok Sabha, Singh seemed to have decided not to face the people again. Staying in political purdah becomes him, too, for his appointers give him so much leeway and no further. Is it not a rather poor comment on the world’s largest democracy that its prime minister has not had the good sense to seek election to the House of the People?
As for the growth figures he quoted, it ought to be understood that the spadework for putting the economy on the seven-percent growth path was done in the previous six years of the Vajpayee Government. The economy reaped huge gains due to the novel infrastructure projects of linking the four corners of the country through road and rail corridors, through express highways and toll roads and through the proposed freight corridors. Since the advent of the UPA, commission has prevailed over the mission of nation-building. If you do not find it credible, go and ask why in the UPA I and II highway projects and environmental clearances had suddenly become so hazardous. It was because under the benign leadership of the Prime Minister key economic ministers felt free to extract huge sums in baksheesh.
The Prime Minister claimed that the UPA would return to power after the next election. Of course, his own party men are worried stiff at their reelection prospects, such being the ill-wind flowing fast and furious for the Congress throughout the country. A collapsing economy, failing law and order, a rising and unending tide of corruption scams and, above all, back-breaking consumer price inflation is hardly reassuring for ordinary Congressmen who, unlike the PM, have to go back go the people for re-election. But, Singh can dream of a third term as PM. Especially now that the young Gandhi scion seems unready to shoulder that onerous responsibility for fear of being exposed as thoroughly incompetent and worse.
By the way, if Rahul Gandhi genuinely wants to shun power, why wouldn’t he get out of the family business. The family has had a long innings running the Congress. For the true inner democracy to flower, for Congressmen to discover their vertebrae, for them to decide the course of the party’s destiny rather than for it to be decided by the mother-son duo, Rahul should consider political sanyas. Since the family has not known any productive and lucrative work for at least four generations, it can always live a princely life on the spoils of the last four decades.
Incidentally, Rahul should feel inspired by the example of Narendra Modi. Born poor, Modi today seems to have become a thorn in the side of the Family. All because Modi has worked his way from the grassroots up to lead the charge of the principal Opposition party against a decaying and demoralised Congress. Where are the Narendra Modis in the Congress? As the great Socialist Ram Manohar Lohia had said of the Nehru-Gandhi family, it is like the palm tree under which not even a blade of grass grows. You can get an idea of the degeneration of the family-centric Congress when an intellectual like Mani Shankar Aiyar — he got nominated to the Rajya Sabha on that ground, didn’t he? — feels obliged to do verbal calisthenics to defend the indefensible money-making rackets of Robert Vadra!