By Sant Kumar Sharma
JAMMU: D K Barooah was at one time president of the Congress, succeeding ShankerDayal Sharma and handing over the baton of presidency to Indira Gandhi when his term finished. Not many today know how the party’s top position came to him but he is remembered for a coinage allegedly attributed to him “India is Indira, Indira is India’’. Was it for scaling such highs, or lows, of sycophancy that he was rewarded by Mrs Gandhi? He parted company with her some time later and went to a splinter group called Congress (Urs) founded by Devraj Urs.
The Congress (U) was endorsed by scion of Dogra dynasty, Dr Karan Singh, who contested and won the 1979 Lok Sabha election from Udhampur constitutency on its ticket. The party was named Congress (Socialist) later and got lost in wilderness. Recently, Captain Amarinder Singh parted ways with the Congress, allegedly due to humiliation by Rahul-Priyanka duo, the Gandhi siblings. He has now founded a new party called Punjab Lok Congress, and as the name suggests, a party centred in Punjab. The whole action drama has unfolded this year itself.
In 1998, Mamata Banerjee, who had spent 26 years in the Congress, parted company and founded Trinamool Congress, the ruling party in West Bengal since 2011. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy had founded YSR Congress Party in 2011, the same year Mamata rode to power. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma of the BJP was once, not very long ago, till August 2015 to be exact, in Congress. Last month, in November 2021, former Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, accompanied by 11 Congress MLAs, quit the party, to join the Trinamool Congress. He said the Congress policies in Meghalaya were lacklustre, and lacked direction, while parting company.
Presently, there are loud rumblings in the Grand Old Party as it completes 136 years in a couple of days, on December 28. Noises much like a rickety old automobile make after years of neglect, with moving parts not greased properly, with worn out ball bearings and a spluttering radiator. It is being said and speculated that two more stalwarts, Harish Rawat, former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, and Ghulam Nabi Azad, former CM of Jammu and Kashmir, are unhappy with the Gandhis, the Gandhi siblings and their mother Sonia Gandhi. On the way out? Azad is a leading light of G23, a group of 23 senior leaders who had written a letter to Sonia to sort out things in the party in August this year. G23 had sought internal organisational elections within the party, something Sonia has skilfully dodged till date. For how long and to what end?
In the preceding paragraphs, we discussed the careers of some leaders who were groomed in taking politics as a career in the Congress. But most of them became much bigger than they were once and left the party, choosing to go their own way. It can definitely be said that these desertions and dissensions have made Congress much weaker than it would have been otherwise. Even Gandhis can’t argue that with Mamata, Reddy, Sarma and Sangma around, the party would not have been stronger. In Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar’s party is Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), clearly indicating its antecedents as being another party formed on the bricks collected from the ruins of the Congress.
Whatever the claims being made by Gandhi loyalists, Congress has now become a pale shadow of itself with Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan as three states where it is the ruling party. In Maharashtra, it is a part of three-party ruling coalition led by Uddhav Thackeray of Shiv Sena. Even in Punjab, it looks like being on a shaky wicket, far more uncertain of its performance in the coming elections, after Amarinder’s departure and with bickering between CM Charanjit Channi and Navjot Singh Siddhu. In four other states, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, which go to polls along with Punjab, it hardly counts for much.
The days, weeks and months ahead cannot but be challenging for the Gandhis who have maintained their stranglehold on the party apparatus so far. The results of elections in these states will have a huge impact on the Congress, and the Gandhis, despite claims to the contrary. Incidentally, Congress has created a peculiar narrative in which all credits belong to the Gandhis, with discredits and failures attributed to everything under the sun, but Gandhis. Rewind to the assembly polls in Bihar when Rahul bolted away mid-way through the campaign. The pathetic show by the Congress in Bihar was the main reason we see Nitish Kumar as CM in that state still.
On looking back, we find that the founder of this Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Jawaharlal Nehru, was no winner in inner party democracy but hoisted by M K Gandhi on the Congress. In April 1946, no less than 12 out of 15 Pradesh Congress Committees voted in Sardar Patel’s favour saying he should lead the Congress. The other three chose not to vote and abstain, rather than back Nehru. This despite Gandhi putting his weight behind Nehru openly prior to the election. After scoring a grand zero in support from PCC units, with 12 backing Sardar Patel, Gandhi made Nehru the Congress president, and put him on the path of becoming the Prime Minister of India.
Incidentally, Subhash Chandra Bose was another great Congress leader who was manoeuvred to make way for Nehru some years earlier. By same M K Gandhi for whom the Congress was a personal fief.
At least this part of Congress history is what Sonia is very well aware of. She knows Rahul would perhaps do an encore, do Nehru proud by scoring another zero if organisational elections are held in the party. To not allow these elections are thus a sure way to protect Rahul, and in this even the pandemic has become an opportunity to stall internal democracy in the Congress. With a strong teflon coating against any criticism, or responsibility, the Gandhis, and Rahul in particular, seem to be living in an echo chamber where no voices of sanity can reach.
No Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari, or any other smaller or bigger name, can dare raise an argument and escape being instantly branded a traitor. Gandhis are virtually lords of all they survey with everyone else just expected to play their parts as props in a play. But it doesn’t look like a grand soap opera any longer as grand plot, sublime lines, worthy actors are just not there. The party now looks like an interlude, that too of clowns, who try to hold the attention of the spectators, as lead actors apply greasepaint in the green room.
Unfortunately, the lead actors, who else but Gandhis, are now no guarantee of success at the hustings. Sonia knows too well who she is trying to emulate but she is acutely aware that she is no MK. (IPA Service)