It will be a month, this weekend, after Rahul Gandhi told his party to find his replacement as president. There is no indication, whatsoever, of his party heeding his call; and Rahul seems committed to his position that he shall not continue as president. He is not even going to ‘lead’ the fifty-plus Congress MPs in the Lok Sabha, a job being left to Adhir Ranjan Chaudhury now.
Meanwhile, more than one hundred children died at Muzafarpur, in Bihar. This did not matter to medical professionals, who all swore by Hyppocrates (who held, long ago, that every disease had a natural cause and thus revolutionised human thinking to make medicines to fight against disease rather than leave it to God), as much as did an incidence of violence in a Kolkotta hospital.
Well. Let me explain why I raised the two points one after another here. Rahul Gandhi, unlike his grandmother Indira Gandhi, seems to have no clue to stay on and fight in such adverse times. Or else, he would have ended up at Muzafarpur, as did his grandmother at Belchi, also in Bihar, in August 1977. Sixty-year-old Indira, who had lost elections from Rae Bareili only six months ago, perched on an elephant to travel the last mile to Belchi expressing solidarity with the survivors of the 11 scheduled caste people (they had not called themselves Dalits then!) massacred, allegedly by Kurmi ‘warlords’ in that sleepy village near Nalanda.
Belchi, on August 11, 1977, indeed marked Indira’s return to power. It may not be as easy for Rahul Gandhi now. The Bharathiya Janata Party is not a fragile outfit as was the Janata Party in 1977. And the Congress party is not what Indira Gandhi commanded in 1977. But then, Muzafarpur could have been where Rahul and his sister Priyanka could have been to despite the scorching heat there. Indira’s grandchildren seem to not have any idea of what it means to be in politics in times as adverse as this to them and their party.
There are other reasons too that lead to such a view. The choice of Adhir Chaudhury as the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha is one. Rahul and Priyanka could have thought of anyone other than someone who is known to have pitted himself against Mamata Banerjee all along. The TMC as a party, indeed, is in its most vulnerable moment now since its triumph in West Bengal in 2011. And Indira would have moved, in such a situation, to see if it was possible to mend fences with Mamata. Rahul and Priyanka seemed oblivious of such a possibility and even ended up closing such an option.
The Congress party is as weak as it is today for a variety of reasons. And among them was the ‘command mode’ it had ended up in the 1980s under Indira Gandhi and its perpetuation in the couple of decades post-1990s. While the party appeared strong and going in the 1980s because it stayed on with power and hence the fault lines did not show, the command mode indeed was the reason for an exodus of leaders from the fold ever since the Congress began losing elections since 1996.
Take for instance the fate of the Congress in Andhra Pradesh after Jagan Reddy left, angry over denial of the chief minister’s job to him after his father’s death; or K. Chandrasekar Rao, who left the TDP to be with the Congress and then charted his own path. This is also true of Mamata Banerjee, whose grouse behind leaving the Congress and set up her own party was that she was being hedged in by the high command imposing her adversaries as PCC leaders in West Bengal.
Rahul Gandhi, however, seemed to stray away from the ‘command mode’ and had shown, many times during his short stint as party president, to leave things to whatever the state units felt and also left whoever controlled the state party’s organisation to determine things. In some ways, he led the Congress party on a path what was the Janata Dal’s hitherto! A democratic Congress, some of us reporting politics from Delhi in the 1990s, used to hold is the Janata Dal.
Rahul Gandhi did promise this and thus held out the potential to gather such leaders as Mamata Banerjee, K. Chandrasekar Rao, Sharad Pawar and even a Jagan Reddy into a confederation and even take this to a loosely knit party at some stage. He could have then taken things to the next stage by way of gathering Jayant Chaudhury, grandson of Charan Singh who left the Congress in his grandmother Indira’s time, back to the fold. He could have made a beginning in this direction by anointing anyone other than Adhir Ranjan Chaudhury as his party’s leader in the Lok Sabha.
And if Rahul and Priyanka had learnt anything from Indira, they would have gone over to Muzafarpur; they could have taken some funds from the party’s coffers (from where the party is reported to have spent about Rs 40 crore on two of its strategists who fed the leader with cooked up reports that he was close to becoming the prime minister) drafting medical professionals (and I suppose there are still many who are committed to the Oath of Hyppocrates unlike the many who were concerned the least over the death of so many children) and also carry medicines to the hapless families there.
It may be recalled that the Indian National Congress was not merely engaged in politics all its life. The INC emerged among the people also engaged in what then used to be known as rural reconstruction programmes. Rahul Gandhi and his sister seem oblivious of all these.
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Krishna Ananth is an associate professor at Department of History, Sikkim University.