Dynasties have ruled democracies the world over

The Gandhi family is back with a bang at the helm of the Congress. Habitual critics have been silenced and the message is unmistakable

Dynasties have ruled democracies the world over
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Zafar Agha

The Congress  Working Committee meeting last week has made two things crystal  clear: there is no vacancy at the top; and, the Gandhi family critics within the party must either shape up or ship out. Sonia Gandhi’s stern speech at the CWC clarifying that ‘I am in full command of the party’ and ‘don’t talk through the media’ reflects the ‘enough is enough' mood at the top. The third important decision as widely reported in the media is that the party is ready for organizational polls and by September next all elections will be complete,  from the AICC membership to the party president’s post.  The clamour for Rahul Gandhi to lighten his mother’s burden at the CWC meet leaves no doubt about Sonia’s successor. Rahul has already indicated his willingness to take up the party top job once again. 

All doubts have been cleared and the decision is that the Congress reins will stay with the Gandhi family. Obviously, it has put the Family critics on overdrive both within and without the party.  Well, the ambitious lot within the party is quiet for now at least. But those outside are  once again raising the usual ‘family rule’ outcry. It is largely the liberal middle-class intelligentsia group that basically has a love-hate relationship with the Congress First Family. Nehru was fine; Indira minus the Emergency was a first-rate leader; Rajiv is good with his computer revolution; Sonia is ok as long as she keeps the BJP out of power but the same Sonia turns bad if she pushes Rahul -- so on and so forth are the normal laments of this group against the family. As far as the Sangh and the BJP are concerned, they have an unambiguous relationship of hate for the Nehru-Gandhi Parivar for obvious reasons that are well known and need not be repeated here.

But the moot question is: is there any alternative to the Gandhi family leadership for the Congress Party? The usual response, whenever there is a leadership crisis within the Congress. is: why can’t the Congress try the collective leadership model? Well, the party did try it with Sitaram Kesri in the 1990s and you know the outcome. It was such a disaster that the party had to go to 10 Jan Path requesting Sonia Gandhi to revive the Congress. She accepted the offer and brought the Congress party back to power defeating the seasoned Atal Bihari Vajpayee and kept the BJP out of power for one full decade. Critics also site Narsimha Rao’s example who did so well as the prime minister. But they forget the fact that Rao could never lead the party back to power. He also destroyed the loyal party Muslim vote bank with his questionable handling of the Ayodhya crisis that led to the demolition of the Babri mosque during his tenure. So, Congress has experimented with all the suggestions of the liberal critics of the Gandhi family to disastrous consequences for the party. Yet the same arguments are repeated again with no meaningful purpose.

Another important question is who can replace the Gandhi family within the Congress? A Ghulam Nabi Azad or a Shashi Tharoor from the much-hyped G 23 group? Pardon me to say that none of them can draw a crowd of even 500 people outside their states; forget about leading the party to a victory while the young Gandhis, Rahul and Priyanka, can muster 10, 000 -20,000 people on their own appeal. Why do people still come to listen to them? The fact is that there has been no pan-India leader like the Gandhis. Could anyone match Nehru’s vision for building modern India? Was there any one in the entire county taller than Indira Gandhi when she led the country? Middle-class critics of Rajiv Gandhi may still nurse a grudge or two against him. But no one can deny that Rajiv paved the way for India to march into the 21st century with his computer revolution besides many other contributions like panchayati raj to empower the lowest rung of society. Wasn’t it Sonia Gandhi who revived the Congress in the late 1990s and sustained the grand old party in power for a decade? Her MGNREGA scheme is still a boon for the poor. Well, an honest appraisal of the Nehru-Gandhi family's contribution to independent India will bear out that the journey of modern India largely revolves around them.


Yet there is always an outpouring of anti-Gandhi family sentiments whenever a young Gandhi takes the party reins from both media and a section of liberals as well. But no one speaks about other dynasties that are ruling various regions of the country. India from Kashmir to Kanya Kumari is the story of a bunch of dynastic rules. The Abdullahs and the Muftis have been ruling the roost in Kashmir for decades. Late Karunandhi’s son Stalin runs the DMK show down south in Tamil Nadu. The Yadavs raj in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh too is run by well-entrenched dynasties. Even Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress Party’s second in command is her own nephew. Except for the Communist Parties and the BJP almost all secular parties are dynastic shows. Yet the Gandhi family alone is singled out for dynastic rule. Let us not forget that Indian democracy is not centuries old like in the United States of America and Great Britain. Even such old democracies have had their own dynasties. Kennedys, Clintons and Bushes are a few well-known dynasts of the USA, for instance. England may have anyone as a Prime Minister but the political show is run by a centuries old royal dynasty there too. Indeed, democracy and dynasty are a contradiction in terms. But it is a phenomenon that is not as easy to explain as the Gandhi family critics make it out here in India.

This does not at all mean that the new generation of the Gandhi family represented by Rahul and Priyanka enjoy the sole right to preside over the Congress simply because they come from the first family of the party. They will have to prove themselveves as their predecessors. They are stepping into some illustrious shoes and bear the great burden of carrying the rich legacy forward. A hard task considering how Narendra Modi has changed the rules of the game altogether. Not just Gandhian-Nehruvian values but the very Constitution of the country is now trampled upon. Identity based hate politics is sweeping the country now. Congress party needs a new social vision given the post-Mandal-Kamandal scenario. The answer to hard Hindutva cannot be soft Hindu politics. Secondly, the Congress needs the kind of inner party democracy that Rahul Gandhi has been talking about off and on. It is the solemn responsibility of Rahul and Priyanka to ensure free and fair organisational elections and sincerely work for opposition unity to defeat the BJP in 2024.

Modi’s charisma is fading fast. People are restless and need a new leader. Let the Gandhi siblings pick up the gauntlet and prove themselves in the Modi era.

(Views are personal)

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Published: 23 Oct 2021, 2:02 PM