Nehru family tightens grip on the Congress
News analysis

Nehru family tightens grip on the Congress

K. Gopalakrishnan

Rahul Gandhi’s decision to quit the Congress chief’s position after the Lok Sabha debacle and determination to stick to his decision and the party finding none but an unwell Sonia Gandhi to lead the party, had made many pundits think that they may choose a non-Nehru to lead the historic party. They even hoped that collective leadership and democratic functioning will once again return to the Indian National Congress.

It appears all such analyses (read hopes) are proving wrong.  If the Congress rally in New Delhi last Saturday is any guide, the family is determined to keep the leadership within the family with a few trusted men and women aiding and assisting – who are building their own dynasties at the lower levels. The importance given to the three family members, Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka, left no one in doubt about the re-emergence of the family to the top of the party.

Sadly even the respected leader, known for his impeccable integrity, Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was the Prime Minister and the only non-Nehru to occupy that position for two terms since Independence, did not get his due at the rally considering his seniority and service to the nation. His recent statement that the late P.V. Narasimha Rao as Home Minister under late Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, was responsible for the brutal violence against Sikhs then has not made much of an impact in the family, it appears. Incidentally, Dr. Singh’s statement lacked credence because he accused Rao for not calling out the Army to control the Delhi situation. Even a child in Delhi knew who was responsible for the violence against Sikhs then. To ask the Army to handle the situation the late Rao alone could not have taken a decision. All knew who were behind the brutal attacks against the Sikhs then.  It is difficult to believe that Dr. Singh did not know about the moves of the late Arun Nehru, then strong man within the dynasty and considered closest to the late Rajiv Gandhi, who influenced decisions some of which were reported too. So too the activities of late H.K.L. Bhagat, Congress leader in Delhi, was an open secret in those days. the actions of some powerful bureaucrats were also known.

On that fateful day, even President Zail Singh’s car was attacked by protestors! Who attacked President Singh’s was not a secret too. What is more, Zail Singh had to invite Rajiv Gandhi to form the interim government, though the well established convention by former President Dr. S. Radhakrishnan after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s death was to ask the senior most member of the cabinet to head the interim government until a successor is elected through a democratic process. Then it was the late Gulzari Lal Nanda who was asked to head the interim government. Incidentally, Nandaji became the prime minister of the interim government after Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death also following the same principle.

People privy to information in the inner circles of the Congress and Rashtrapati Bhavan did speak in hush-hush voices moving in the power corridors of New Delhi, about what made Giani Zail Singh depart from the well established procedures laid down earlier. Normally Gianiji should have invited Pranab Mukherjee to head the interim government. He was the senior most, well experienced and knowledgeable and could have held that position even in normal times, but was deluded and later had to be happy with a Rashtrapathi Bhavan term.  Even attacking Narasimha Rao, which is music to the ears of Sonia Gandhi according to the New Delhi grape vine, seems to have had not much of an impact on the position of Dr. Singh in the party. To be fair, Dr. Singh occupies a unique position in Indian history for his contributions and a party position may not mean much to him. At the same time Dr. Singh’s charge against Narasimha Rao needs to be examined by historians to put facts in the right perspective.

But the point is that the organizers of the rally kept him out while projecting the Nehru family members. Bigger than life cut outs of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka could not be missed by anyone who attended the rally and even those who watched the events on TV screens. Those chosen to speak too made it clear that the management of the party should be in the hands of the Nehrus or Nehru-Gandhis or Vadra-Gandhi, depending on their loyalties. After going through the reports and telecast of the event one got the impression that there is no need to look for a non-Nehru to lead the Congress.  A distinct impression was also created that Rahul Gandhi was the best to take over the reigns of the party, with a chorus begun by a Congress leader from the Hindi belt and seconded by the Congress leaders from South India, particularly Kerala.

To be honest there is no other leader who can lead and carry together the various groups, different regions, caste-communal interests except a leader from the time tested dynasty in the Congress. The party enjoys the acceptability similar to that of the Kennedys in America or Pitts in UK of the yesteryears. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty members are undoubtedly the most acceptable leaders within the party. A leader from the family commands respect and acceptability. Most of those who crossed swords with the Nehrus had to retire hurt in the past or have started their own political outfits, some of which too are surviving as dynasties in the various regions of the country.  Within the Congress too there are many dynasties which flourish due to loyalty, a virtue which can carry a Congress member to high places permanently. Rahul Gandhii who wanted to lessen the importance of this virtue had to retreat hastily unable to implement any change in this. Some of the Rahul loyalists are lying low in many states, particularly in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala, Karnataka and Haryana to name a few, after his resignation.

In a nutshell, the New Delhi Rally of the Congress last week clearly indicated that Rahul‘s ‘take over’ of the party is imminent. There is no one to oppose him outside the family.  Even within the family he seems to enjoy better acceptability. One may not be wrong to say that the rally may prove to be the re-launch pad of Rahul. Though there are some who are unhappy with his impromptu remarks and off the cuff statements, embarrassing the party, he is managing to get away with them. In other words it is not that he is the best leader but there is no one else in the party who is as acceptable as Rahul is. In other words he may not be the most acceptable but the least unacceptable. Remember even Pandit Nehru was not the most acceptable but the least unacceptable, a fact perhaps that guided Mahatmaji to back his “Jawahar”.