There was no silver lining to inspire hopes of a recovery as in 1989 when it lost to the National Front. It lost again to the BJP in 1998 and in 1999.
The Indian National Congress suffered a terrible defeat in the recent election. The defeat was all the more demoralising for the fact that it had suffered a debacle in the 2014 polls too. All hopes of recovery were dashed. There was no silver lining to inspire hopes of a recovery as in 1989 when it lost to the National Front. It lost again to the BJP in 1998 and in 1999.
To her credit, Sonia Gandhi revived the Congress by securing the dismissal of P.V. Narasimha Rao and his successor from the office of party president. Rao’s tenure as prime minister (1991-96) was marked by corruption and all manner of skulduggery.
Sonia Gandhi reigned supreme as president of the Congress till ill health and defeat in the 2014 elections made her decide to give her son Rahul the office. Not long thereafter, The Economist’s astute New Delhi correspondent called him a dud. Time has proved him right.
All these years, there was clamour in the party for his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s entry into active politics. At long last she plunged into the 2019 election, and lost. Rahul and Sonia won. Adversity tests individuals as well as institutions. It found brother and sister wanting. Rahul resigned as Congress’ president, with a show of firmness, as courtiers in the party begged him to stay. But both furiously blamed the cadres for the party’s defeat. Sonia supports them, son and daughter alike.
Together, these facts pose a question for the few senior courtiers with a backbone and the cadres. Why should they pledge their allegiance to leaders who, instead of bravely acknowledging their own shortcomings, blame the rank and file? Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka seek to follow in the footsteps of the authoritarian Indira Gandhi, but without her talent for political compromise. There is good reason to suspect that were it not for her assassination in 1984, she would have failed in that year’s polls. Hubris had overcome her, as it did her untalented son Rajiv. He did not know how to build the Congress. Sonia is more accomplished but she cannot discard the Indira legacy either. Her arrogance cost the Congress Assam. Her favourite “weapon” is the snub, administered to opponents and partymen alike. Rahul is no different.
Combined with this is the undermining of any who shows spine. Like Indira, her imitators take pride in undermining any state leader with a following and stature of his own. The “high command” plants its own man in the cabinet. Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh is seen as a threat because he enjoys respect in his own right. His theatrical colleague, Navjot Singh Sidhu, who covets the latter’s post, cocks a snook at his chief, with the high command’s blessings. Why would Amarinder Singh support leaders who behave thus for long? He is superior in stature to Rahul and Priyanka. In Punjab, he can give battle to Sonia. Therein lies the root of the Congress’ problem — the national leadership loses sleep at the very prospect of state leaderships with a mass following of their own. In its hour of dismal defeat, the Congress has no alternative leadership and a demoralised, much-abused cadre. This is a direct result of the appointment of “Delhi-made chief ministers” since 1972.
By arrangement with Dawn