By Shivam Vij for ThePrint.in, 31 October 2018
If there’s any BJP voter thinking of switching over to the Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a reminder: all power in the Congress is concentrated in the hands of one family.
On Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charge that a non-Gandhi cannot be president of the Congress party, P. Chidambaram pointed out names of non-Gandhi party presidents before and after 1947, and also examples of people like Manmohan Singh and P.V. Narasimha Rao whom the Congress made prime minister although they did not come from the Nehru-Gandhi family.
His defence didn’t work because PM Modi only furthered his attack, reminding everyone how Sitaram Kesri was humiliated by the Congress, his office physically taken over by Sonia Gandhi loyalists in a coup.
The Congress party cannot claim to be democratic in its internal leadership, because it is not. It is not an argument they can win. In doing so, they come across as apologising for being led by a political dynasty. It is strange that they should apologise for their only USP, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
It’s a charge the Modi-led BJP is making every single day to discredit the Congress. By defending itself, the Congress only falls into the trap.
The truth is that Indian voters don’t care about dynasty. If anything, it helps voters trust a politician, knowing s/he comes from a political family they have trusted in the past. Why, just look at the number of dynasts who’ve been given tickets by the BJP for the Madhya Pradesh elections.
Every fifth winner in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was a dynast. Across the country, in every state and every party, political dynasties are flourishing. Fifteen of 75 ministers in the Modi’s council of ministers are political heirs, as per a September 2017 report. From Yogi Adityanath to Devendra Fadnavis, from Vasundhara Raje to Pema Khandu, from Maneka Gandhi to Varun Gandhi, the BJP is full of leaders who could get into politics thanks to their surnames. It is strange that Amit Shah should run the BJP like a cabal of families and then accuse the Congress of being a family enterprise.
Political dynasts must be bringing something to the table that Indian voters place so much trust in them. You could argue that Indian politics isn’t that open to outsiders, but it is rare to meet a voter who says s/he is not voting for a politician because s/he is a dynast. Instead, one only sees dynasty re-imposing trust. You’ll typically hear people say ‘purane neta they hamare, bohot kiya hamare liye, ab unka ladka aaya hai, us hi ko vote denge’(He was an old leader of ours, he did a lot for us, now his son is contesting. We’ll vote for him).
The BJP’s trap
The case of Vasundhara Raje Scindia is rather funny. She comes from the Scindia family of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, which is better known for being part of the Congress. Her son is a BJP MP too, carrying forward her own political dynasty. And she recently complained about how the Congress party is controlled by four members of the Gandhi family!
The BJP’s hypocrisy is proof that its attacks on the Nehru-Gandhi family are only meant to put the Congress on the back foot in the narrative wars. Every time the Congress takes the bait, it does itself a disservice, making it look weak and the BJP stronger. Often the BJP doesn’t even have to try. Rahul Gandhi goes abroad and gives interviews to NRI academics in which he almost sounds like saying ‘I’m sorry for being a dynast’.
Instead of apologising for being from the Nehru-Gandhi family, Rahul Gandhi should boast about it. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is the only USP of the Congress party. Had it not been for the Nehru-Gandhi family, there would have been no Congress party left. The reason why Congressmen begged Sonia Gandhi to take over the reins was because it was collapsing like a pack of cards under Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri.
Wear it on your sleeve
Instead of counting the non-Gandhis who have led the Congress, P.Chidamabaram should say he’s proud to be led by the Nehru-Gandhis. Two members of this family laid down their lives for India. Nehru spent almost nine years in jail to fight for India’s freedom. He was made the Congress president for the first time on the recommendation of Mahatma Gandhi, whom Mr Modi has been trying to appropriate.
Like all influential leaders, the Nehru-Gandhis are a mixed bag of some great achievements and some poor choices. Yet, you’ll find none other than the Hindutvawadis abusing them. People old enough to remember Nehru, Indira or Rajiv only remember them fondly. Instead of apologising for the surname, the Congress should launch a campaign taking ownership of the dynasty. Perhaps, the most amazing dynast till date has been Sonia Gandhi, who managed to displace a towering BJP leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Under her leadership, the Congress ruled India for 10 years recently, and voters did not buy the BJP’s ‘Italian’ rhetoric about her.
It is only by resurrecting Nehru, Indira and Rajiv as icons of modern India that Rahul Gandhi can revel in some inherited glory. Short of achievements in his own CV, Rahul Gandhi can sell himself to voters as the heir of a family identified with India’s freedom, democracy and progress over the decades, warts and all.