Monday August 29, 2022

Nehru-Gandhi family must step aside

Nehru-Gandhi family must step aside

Congress party needs to introduce sweeping changes to the party's hiarchey.

The Indian National Congress, which led the country to freedom and held the reins of the administration for most of the last 75 years, is facing the worst crisis in its history.

The Nehru-Gandhi family was at the helm of both the party and government for a long period. It deserves credit for holding the party together during difficult periods. But it failed to nurture inner-party democracy.

The first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, led the Congress to power in three successive parliamentary elections. In his time, the party was able to retain control over the administration in most of the states too.

Towards the end of the Nehru period, a host of right-wing parties rose to challenge the Congress. Nehru’s successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, died suddenly a year before the fourth general elections. State party bosses backed Indira Gandhi for the post of the Prime Minister in the belief that, as Nehru’s daughter, she, more than anyone else, might be able to lead the party to victory. As they expected, she led the party back to power, albeit with a reduced majority in Parliament.

Many political analysts think Nehru had plotted to make Indira Gandhi his successor. They overlook the fact that after the big victory in the first elections in 1952, Nehru had invited Socialist Party leader Jayaprakash Narayan to join hands with the Congress. Narayan was the most popular leader after Nehru at that time. If he had moved towards Nehru he would have emerged as his political heir.

After a bitter fight with the party bosses which split the Congress, Indira Gandhi started relying on hand-picked loyalists to run the party. When she proclaimed Emergency rule, her younger son, Sanjay, became an extra-constitutional authority. That marked the beginning of dynastic rule.

Sanjay Gandhi did not join his mother’s post-Emergency regime but influenced it from outside. On his death in an air crash, Mrs. Gandhi persuaded her older son, Rajiv, to resign his job as an airline pilot and become General Secretary of the Congress.

That Rajiv was her chosen heir was so widely understood that when two security guards killed her, President Zail Singh swore him in as the Prime Minister without even waiting for the Congress Legislature Party to formally elect him as its leader.

Rajiv Gandhi’s government was embroiled in a corruption scandal relating to kickbacks in an arms deal with the Swedish firm Bofors. The Congress lost the elections, leading to a phase of non-Congress coalitions.

In 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a Sri Lankan Tamil suicide bomber while he was attempting to lead the party back to power.

His martyrdom helped the Congress improve its performance in the later rounds of polling. It missed majority but was able to form a minority government.

For the first time in a quarter-century the Nehru-Gandhi family did not have a candidate to head the party or the government. PV Narasimha Rao became the Prime Minister and Sitaram Kesari the party president. At the end of the Rao-Kesari period, the Congress faced the prospect of split. At the request of party leaders, Rajiv’s Italian-born wife Sonia Gandhi took over as Congress President.

The family was now back at the helm, and there it remains.

It is well known that Sonia did not want Rajiv to enter politics. It is reasonable to assume that she accepted the party post to keep the seat warm for her son Rahul who was still too young.

Under Sonia Gandhi, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance ruled the country for a decade. To avoid opponents raising the issue of her foreign origin, as UPA chairperson she named Manmohan Singh for the Prime Minister’s post.

Sonia handed over the party post to Rahul Gandhi before 2019 parliamentary elections. He resigned assuming responsibility for the party’s poor performance. He is now waiting to be formally elected as the president, not nominated by his mother.

Two years ago, 23 senior party leaders, including several former Union Ministers and former state Chief Ministers, wrote to Sonia Gandhi seeking sweeping changes in the party. There was no response.

One of the 23 later defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Another joined the Samajwadi Party. A third, Jammu and Kashmir leader Ghulam Nabi Azad quit the party last week. He is reportedly planning to form a regional party.

The Nehru-Gandhi family must realise that the best service it can render to the Congress now is to step aside and help a new leadership to emerge through.

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