National Herald case has been making the headlines for last few weeks. Congress has charged BJP with political vendetta and all its leaders are trying to hoodwink the public into believing that since no financial gain has been made (so far) either by Mrs Sonia Gandhi or Mr Rahul Gandhi, therefore there is no case at all. What they do not tell the nation is that the court has not talked of any direct financial gain as of now. All that the court has stated, in no uncertain terms, is about the intent of the transaction which points towards fraud and conspiracy to acquire the assets of Associated Journals Limited (AJL) in a clandestine manner. Mr Chidambaram, Mr Kapil Sibbal and others from Congress are once again misleading the public when they claim that apart from CBI, the ED directorate is being misused by the BJP government in this case. Such claims indeed speak volumes about the dubious quality of key government agencies left behind by Congress after a decade of being in power continuously. If such agencies are loyal only to the political party or politicians in power and have no inherent character of their own then Congress has to take full blame for nurturing such agencies during its rule whose loyalty is like the proverbial chameleon. For the record, as of now there is no case registered by the ED in the National Herald episode, the current case in court is based on the complaint of Mr Swami and only related to fraudulent transfer of assets and the criminal intent thereof.
There is no doubt that since the completion of Bihar elections, the much hyped issue of intolerance has suddenly lost steam. Realising that the issue of intolerance had lived its short life, Congress was looking for a fresh issue to rework its obstructionist strategy in the parliament. Congress tried to zero down on Political Vendetta based on the National Herald case, however it realised very soon that they were on a weak wicket and therefore reverted to flogging the ‘Vyappam Scam’ and ‘Lalit Gate’ all over again. Without a doubt at the heart of the matter is the Congress master plan of not allowing the NDA Government to go ahead with its development agenda by scuttling key bills in the upper house. Having been reduced to anonymity of being just the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, without even the tag of ‘leader of opposition’, it is still smarting from its defeat in the national elections. To add to its woes it does not see any light at the end of the tunnel – all it can see is further erosion in its status with no hope of regaining its past glory in foreseeable future. Its ten years of scam ridden governance, political sycophancy based internal culture, lack of effective leadership and above all the ever present dilemma of what to do with Rahul Gandhi are taking their toll on the health of the party.
Mr Rahul Gandhi has been shouting hoarse for past few months on anything and everything mostly without understanding or focussing on any issue. It appears he needs a new issue every few days about which he can make some noise. As far as he is concerned anything and everything wrong that happens in this nation is because of Mr Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). He seems to be giving the PMO an overtly large presence, bordering to being ‘Omni Present’, in all parts of the country at the same time. Surely as the sibling of a family that boasts of three Prime Ministers and one shadow Prime Minister, he should know better than that. These days his pet statement seems to be “I will continue to ask questions. They cannot stop me from doing that. I am not afraid of anyone.”If one were to really dig deep into the Lok Sabha archives for last ten years, it is unlikely that one will find a single pertinent question asked by Rahul Gandhi on any issue that may have been discussed in the Parliament. One really wonders which questions he is referring to. But then for Rahul Gandhi clarity of expression has never been a strong point. His first interview on national TV on Times Now was a disaster. A few days ago in his speech in the parliament on intolerance, he substituted the two words -discussion and debate- with conversation. According to him democracy is all about conversation and it is for the ruling party to ensure that there is conversation in the parliament and that there is conversation with opposition. May be his use of the word ‘question’ too is in the same vein and one will never know what he really means.
History suggests that it is ‘time over’ for Congress. Pandit Nehru was fortunate to have the legacy of pre-independence Congress and largesse of Sardar Patel that helped him to be at the helm of the government for over a decade without any challenge to his leadership. In the absence of any sizeable opposition at that point of time there was no viable political option in front of the voter other than Congress. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, his successor and an astute leader, would have given the party more maturity and sustainability that possibly would have shifted the focus away from the Gandhi – Nehru name or family. Unfortunately that was not to be since he suffered an untimely death under mysterious circumstances. Shri Gulzari Lal Nanda occupied the PM’s chair for hardly a few weeks as a stop gap arrangement. Mrs Indira Gandhi, who succeeded him, consigned the original Congress to the dustbin and gave birth to a new breakaway Congress Party in 1969 that thrived on political sycophancy, cult leadership and mediocrity rather than merit. Most Congress leaders gave their willing support to allow Mrs Gandhi to impose ‘emergency’ on the nation, something that continues to remain a blot on the democratic traditions of the nation even today. The split in Congress party also signalled the death of the original Congress and its core values as inherited from the founding fathers. Therefore any claims by today’s Congress party to original Congress legacy can only be wishful thinking.
Rajeev Gandhi won a historic mandate mainly on the sympathy vote after the assassination of his mother and assumed leadership role of the new Congress because of his Gandhi name and the spineless second rung leadership that Indira Gandhi left behind. Mr Narasimhan Rao, who came to power in 1991, did give the Congress party a bit of character and solidity during his time but the rot was so deep that after he vacated office, it was once again Sonia Gandhi (another Gandhi) who came to the fore as there was none in the Congress who could take on the mantle to keep the party together. With a victory in 2004, Dr Manmohan Singh was elevated to lead the government as a shadow Prime Minister but it was Sonia Gandhi who called all the shots as is well known. Several senior Congressmen made merry and amassed huge gains for themselves at the cost of the nation in the ten years that Dr Singh occupied the PM’s chair. Non accountability became the order of the day and every Congressman worth his salt followed but one mantra – keep Congress Party President happy for survival. Devoid of leaders with mass appeal and courage to challenge such political machinations within the party, the Congress party culture eroded further and it suffered its most humiliating defeat in 2014 when it won just 45 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Any political organisation that suffered such a crushing defeat would have done some serious and genuine introspection. But not so the Congress Party. Who could bell the cat by blaming the Congress President or her son Rahul Gandhi for the defeat? Many senior Congressmen were of the nominated variety who became Members of Parliament in Rajya Sabha because of the largesse of Mrs Sonia Gandhi. Most were content to be there and no one was ready to take on the mantle of going to the public and revamping the party at the grass root level. Grass root workers continued to stay at the lower rungs of party hierarchy with no hopes for any upward movement. Merit was shelved, sycophancy rewarded, closeness to the first family became a prerequisite and last but not the least accepting Rahul Gandhi as their leader became the norm for being successful.
Post the last elections and the humiliating defeat, hardly any known Congress leader can claim to be working seriously towards reviving the party cadres. Dr Manmohan Singh was never a political leader and remains so even today despite being the PM for ten long years. Mr Kamal Nath, a comparatively young veteran and winner of nine Lok Sabha elections is neither heard nor seen. Chidambaram, who hardly has any mass base, has more or less retired despite not being in that age bracket as on date. Mr Digvijay Singh’s role is only confined to making controversial statements that Congress invariably disowns. Mr AK Antony, a known Gandhi family follower, seems to be without any responsibility within and outside the party. Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar is a motor mouth who refuses to reign in his tongue that invariably lands the party in trouble. Mr Salman Khurshid is rarely heard but when he speaks he invariably tends to say things out of context that embarrass the party and it does appear that he seems to have suddenly found some long lost love for the Pakistani establishment. Mr Kapil Sibal is busy catching up with his legal profession and now has the added responsibility of fighting the National Herald case on behalf of the Gandhis. Mr Veerapa Moily is seen once in a while whenever there is a need to sing some paeans for the Congress President.
Mr Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the party in Lok Sabha, is more noise and less substance who is possibly shivering in his boots as his real estate empire is now under scrutiny in the media and public. Barring Mrs Ambika Soni, most women leaders in the party seem to be hibernating since there is nothing much to do. The much touted young brigade of Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Randeep Surjewala, Manish Tiwari and the like seem to be still roaming on the periphery and not really part of the inner core of the party presided over by Mrs Sonia Gandhi. Their role as party spokesmen is limited to either running down Mr Modi or BJP bashing without really contributing in any significant manner to revive the party. Nearly all the above names are Delhi based barring a few since the fear of being ‘out of sight and out of mind’ always looms large on all Congress leaders. Given this history, is it any wonder that the party is moving towards further anonymity? It is now becoming an issue for survival and therefore the party seems to be practicing the age old trick of ‘if I have to go down, why should I allow you to swim’. This possibly explains the deliberate effort to stall the parliament, cost to the nation notwithstanding.
The question is what does the future hold for the Congress Party? Politics can be very unpredictable as we all know. But as things stand today, the future for Congress certainly looks rather bleak and for the Gandhi family – even bleaker. If the party hopes for some kind of revival so as to be counted at the national level, then first and foremost it needs to grow up. In principle that means overcoming the self imposed limitations and breaking the shackles that bind it to the Gandhi family so that new leadership can emerge. The party has to understand that independence struggle, sacrifices of past leaders, party legacy, Nehru or Gandhi name are all passé now. For today’s young voter it is the present that counts and not history. Time for Congress is running out fast unless it can come up with some innovative measures and a liberated leadership that is far removed from the Gandhi family. That, within Congress of today, may be easier said than done. In absence of such a scenario all one can predict for Congress is further erosion of its position, particularly since its numbers in Rajya Sabha too will dwindle in the next few months resulting in a reduced clout in the upper house and therefore in the parliament as a whole. That will also mean a reduced stature within the opposition ranks since it will be no better than most other opposition parties.
It may do the BJP a lot of good if they stay away from a continual conflict with Congress for the time being and instead concentrate on their development agenda. If BJP plays the development card in the right manner, at the right levels and at the right pace, the chasm between the two parties will be so huge in the years to come that even a rejuvenated Congress will not be able to bridge it for years if not decades. That should give BJP more than a head start to consolidate its position for the next decade as the foremost political party in the country. As far as the Hindutwa card is concerned, BJP should make a deliberate effort to shelve the same at least in its current tenure. Development of second rung leadership and developing party cadres will pay the party rich dividends in the long run. Finally, it must first establishes a reputation for not only being bankable for the nation’s growth but also for an inclusive growth where there is a synergy between merit and meeting the needs of the backward citizens in an ever increasing manner.
In this journey of development there should be but one mantra for any political party in power: ‘India is for Indians and when it comes to applicability of fruits of development, all Indians are equal irrespective of caste or religion’. If India is predominantly Hindu in character, let the nation show to the world that a Hindu nation has the strength and capability to take all its citizens along in an equitable manner without any differentiation. In such a situation India’s Hindu character will emerge by itself and there will be no need to blow a trumpet to announce the same. Perhaps both BJP and Congress need to pay heed to what Steve Maraboli, famous author and philanthropist had once said “A lack of clarity could put the brakes on any journey to success”.