Finally, it has happened. Rahul Gandhi has been anointed successor. A long-time aspiration of Congressmen has been fulfilled. I can claim to have prophesied this development even before Rahul was born. That was in 1964, on the day Jawaharlal Nehru’s ashes were immersed in the Ganga. After the immersion, Indira Gandhi left for her Allahabad residence, Anand Bhavan, with her young sons. I was one of the pressmen who travelled with them from New Delhi to cover the immersion. In the evening, two of us went to Anand Bhavan to see what was going on there. Nothing much was happening. Indira Gandhi was chatting with the household staff. As we were leaving at dusk, we encountered two young girls at the gate. One of them hesitantly asked, “Where’s Rajiv?” They hurried in the direction in which we pointed. I told my colleague: “Their fathers must have come here looking for Indira. They have come looking for Rajiv. Their children will come looking for Rajiv’s children. Each generation will find its Nehru-Gandhi.”
I must admit that things are not really working out the way I had imagined. Rahul Gandhi’s induction did not become inevitable because a new generation is demanding a new Gandhi. Although Congressmen claim that they are honouring the people’s wishes, actually they are fulfilling their own need, not that of the people. After the Nehru era ended, Lal Bahadur Shastri had led the government and K. Kamaraj the party for some time. It was later that Indira Gandhi came in. She generated excitement in the people. But they never thought they could not manage without the family. In fact, at the fag end of the Emergency they demonstrated that they are prepared to dump even a Nehru or Gandhi if he or she acted wrongly. Did not the illiterate voters of Uttar Pradesh sweep away all Congressmen, including Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay?
After Rajiv’s time, P. V. Narasimha Rao ruled for five years without the help of the Nehru-Gandhi family. It was later that Sonia Gandhi came. When the possibility of her becoming the Prime Minister created some dissension within the party and even more outside it, she gracefully declined the post and installed Manmohan Singh. So far there have been ten Prime Ministers from outside the family, including three Congressmen. This clearly shows that the nation can manage its affairs even if a member of the family is not available. It is the Congress that needs someone from the family. The Congressmen need a Gandhi over their heads to remain under the same flag even as they feud among themselves at various levels.
Many believe that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who laid the foundation for dynastic rule. According to some, even before the country gained Independence, Motilal Nehru had started moving the pieces to bring his son to the front. Many foreign correspondents had asked Jawaharlal Nehru who would succeed him. In answer, he often quoted the Buddha’s words. The Buddha had told those who asked about succession that the Sangham would find its leader. The direct proof for Nehru’s desire for dynastic succession is Indira Gandhi’s election as the Congress President in his lifetime. But, then, a few years earlier he had tried to woo the Socialist Party leader, Jayaprakash Narayan, back to the Congress. He certainly would not have wanted JP, who, as the hero of the Quit India movement, was the most admired young leader of the time, in the party if he was keen to make his daughter the next Prime Minister. If the dynastic idea had entered his mind it must have happened later on.
When the Allahabad High Court set aside Indira Gandhi’s election, some party men told her the best course would be for her to step down as Prime Minister pending the Supreme Court’s decision on her appeal. It meant giving temporary charge to Jagjivan Ram, who was the most senior member of the Council of Ministers. But she accepted the advice by some others to stay put, taking harsh measures like an Emergency proclamation. Sanjay and Rajiv were later inducted into the party as the heir apparent. Rahul’s arrival must also be seen in the same light.
With Rahul Gandhi’s appointment as General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee, the party leadership shifts to a new generation. Previously such generational shifts have given the party a new life. It is, therefore, a welcome development. However, considering the party’s dismal condition in the big States, a dramatic improvement in its position cannot be expected. Only if the new leaders can get to the bottom and create a stir will they be able to arrest the party’s continuous decline. New social forces have arisen in several States. In the circumstances, the formula the party had used successfully in the past has become irrelevant. A new coalition is needed to rescue the party. It remains to be seen whether Rahul and his boys can put together one such.
Youth is not something that can take the place of ideology. The people have a right to know what ideals guide Rahul’s generation. Jawaharlal and Indira had taken special care to give the party a progressive image. But later Congress leadership faltered before the threat raised by Hindu and Muslim communalism. The party needs to realize that such an approach will do no good.
Based on a piece that appeared in Kerala Kaumudi dated September 27, 2007