Sonia Subs Veteran Cong. Leaders: A 1969 Repeat?


(B Someshwara Rao)

Deja vu. We have seen it beforeWill the Indian National Congress that ruled India the longest so far, destroy itself  by splitting again as it did in 1969? The 1969 split was  engineered by Indira Gandhi who put up a Presidential candidate against the party;\’s official choice, to oust the ‘old guard’ who later joined the Janata Party, leaving the Congress in her hands.  Today Sonia Gandhi, her daughter-in-law, may split it again, wiping it out in that process.

It was founded in 1885 by a retired British Indian Civil Service officer Allan Octavian Hume as a platform for civil and political dialogue among educated Indians but later turned into a movement for freedom. Initially It sought not freedom but educated Indians’ participation in governance. It was again an England-born person, Annie Besant who later made it demand home rule – not independence.  Only on 26 January 1930, 45 years later, it demanded full freedom or Poorna Swaraj.

By that time Gandhiji had such full grip on the party that what he willed was practiced, not what the majority wanted. At 1930 Tripuri session when Netaji Subhas Bose was elected the president of the party. Gandhiji declared “Subhash’s victory is my defeat”. Netaji was thrown out and Pattabhi Sitaramaih made the president. Gandhiji wanted Nehru, his political heir to bw Prime Minister, though the majority wanted Sardar Patel.

So Nehru’s party, where only his will prevailed, usurped the name of the movement and made it that of a party which was run solely on the whims of one family. Whoever differed with Nehru had to resign and leave the party. These included Purushottamdas  Tandon, J.B. Kripalani, JP, Ram Manohar Lohia, union minister C.D. Deshmukh, first Governor General of free India C. Rajagoapalachari (Rajaji) and many others.

Nehru rejected Rajaji’s proposal for an exchange of populations to prevent bloodshed. What ensued was the world’s worst communal massacre in both India and Pakistan. That Nehru wanted his daughter Indira to succeed him was obvious. To fool the people, Indira adopted the Gujarati name Gandhi while she was a Ghandy if the reported Parsi surname of Feroze is taken or Khan, which could be the name of Feroze Khan. Her father grabbed the party and she grabbed the most respected name in India.

The party is facing a crisis for the second time – the first being the 1969 split Indira engineered to oust the ‘old guard’ who later joined the Janata Party, making her party the official Indian National Congress. The crisis came when Sonia Gandhi, Indira’s daughter-in-law and the present head of the dynasty, wanted to resign as the interim president of the party, which was headed by her successor, her son Rahul.

She took take over when Rahul resigned after defeat in the general elections when the party lost power for the second consecutive term. It was attributed to his image as ‘Pappu’ who never failed to make the wrong remarks.

Italy-born Sonia, who became a naturalized Indian citizen long after her marriage to the assassinated dynastic PM Rajiv Gandhi, is said to have manipulated her choice as party supremo by victory over the youth group siding with Rahul.  She is seen as leader of the old guard and the appointment of Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan and Kamal Nath in MP, overlooking the young leaders Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia, is considerfed an indicator.

It was seen as a tussle for power between the mother and son, though under-the-surface. With Rahul’s inefficiency proved, a few of the party leaders even started a whispering campaign to make Rahul’s sister, Priyanka Robert Vadra, as the successor and PM-candidate.

The party cannot look beyond the dynasty and would have gone for Priyanka’s minor children, and if they prefer to play and refuse, the family’s dog, as the PM candidate, for sycophancy is the primary qualification for a Congress leader.

The senior Congress leaders’  letter to Sonia on how the uncertainty was harming the party,. was seen as a rebellion. Rahul allegedly called them BJP stooges, but that was later denied. Some wanted Rahul back as party chief and others wanted Sonia to shed the ‘interim’ label and become a full-fledged president again. A section, preferring to stay underground, wanted Priyanka to lead, As a first step she was made a General Secretary witnout any political experience.

They, perhaps, cannot look beyond the dynasty as they would be subtly demoted if they do. They also remember that whoever opposed the dynasty, mysteriously died. Shyamaprasad Mukherjee who founded the Jana Sangh (now BJP), which was seen as an alternative, was killed in a jail. L.B. Shastri who came between power and the dynasty suddenly died, with no post mortem or inquiry held.

Sachin Pilot’s father Rajesh, a senior party leader, died in an accident days after he wanted elections for the party posts. Madhavrao Scindia was growing popular and powerful so he could become the PM, but died in an air crash. His son Jyotiraditya had to leave the party. Pranab Mukherjee hinted that he was the seniormost minister when Indira was assassinated; he had to start another party later merged with Congress. He meekly agreed to be kicked up as titular President of India to make way for Rahul.

This is the political culture evolved in 75 years of freedom. Most parties are dynastic, except the Communists who prefer to be the tail of the Congress puppy and the BJP.

Former Ministers Kapil Sibal and Ghulam Nabi Azad were among the 23 who wrote to Sonia seeking sweeping reforms in the party if it was not to go into oblivion. Deleting his tweet expressing surprise at Rahul alleging a collusion of the writers with the BJP, Sibal said it was not about posts but about “about my country which matters most.”  Other leaders too confirmed Rahul’s remark, denied by the party spokesman and Rahul himself.

Azad said if elections, “opposed by those afraid to lose their posts”, were not held, the party would “sit in the opposition for the next 50 years”. The CWC, in a seven-hour stormy meet, did nothing and let Sonia head the party for at least six months, till the next Congress session. 

So it became a vote of confidence in the dynasty. On Aug. 27, Sonia snubbed the seniors. Ignoring them a five-member Rajya Sabha panel was formed including Ahmed Patel, K.C. Venugopal and Jairam Ramesh (also made chief whip in Rajya Sabha) and two Lok Sabha MPs promoted

So Sibal was wrong.  Not the country but posts mattered.