By T.J.S. George
In a non-democratic family enterprise such as the Congress, even the appearance of rebellion is unthinkable. That is why last month’s letter of dissent by 23 senior leaders triggered an earthquake in the party. The letter was in fact no rebellion. It raised a call for internal reform, a reasonable idea in a party that is older than Indian Independence. It should have been doubly welcome because it came from respected veterans whose objective was to make the party stronger.
The ideas they put forward — a full-time leadership available at National and Pradesh- levels, transparent elections for Block, Pradesh and all-India Committees — were constructive. But ‘loyalists’ saw the letter as criticism of the High Command. And the power of loyalists should never be underestimated. They are the nuts and bolts of Rule by High Command. That’s why we saw a seven-hour debate in the Working Committee ending with renewed affirmation of faith in Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. The non-democratic family enterprise character of the party thus re-affirmed, all was well.
Given her background, Sonia Gandhi probably suffers from an insecurity complex. She wants her top position affirmed and reaffirmed so that she won’t have to worry about her personal incomprehension of India’s convoluted party politics. Once the Working Committee was all-in-all in the party. Today it is the High Command that calls the shots. And the High Command consists of the family and its loyalists. As for Rahul, nothing seems to give him sufficient confidence to take command de jure as well as de facto. Instead of deriving benefit from the Brave 23, mother and son went into gyrations that suggested activity when there was none. Loyalists are one hundred-percenters. Their allegiance is all-out and categorical. So the Gandhi loyalists stood firmly against “dissent.”
Kapil Sibal, a loyal Congress leader if ever there was one, put it plainly when he said that nominations could not be a substitute to elections. He drew attention to the party constitution which stipulated that the Working Committee should have 12 members who were elected to the AICC. But not one elected member is currently in the Committee; all are nominated.
Responding to the Brave 23’s letter, the AICC and Working Committee were reconstituted, but through nominations by the President, not elections. Some of the signatories did not find place in the new Committee. The message was clear: Leadership will be in the hands of a select few who will need no electoral approval.
There were reports that some of the Brave 23 and some from outside that group held a private meeting and surveyed the internal situation in the party. They were said to have hardened their position against leadership by nomination. But they are up against formidable forces. Remember the WikiLeak expose which quoted well-connected Americans saying how “the Gandhi family has been secretive about who belongs to the inner circle” and how the inner circle “carefully controls her access to information and inoculates her from criticism, while her carefully scripted public appearances protect her from making gaffes or missteps.”
When Rahul held office in the AICC (2013 to 2019), his team included Mohan Gopal, Jairam Ramesh, Madhusudan Mistry, K. Raju and Divya Spandana who were often at loggerheads with Sonia’s loyalists. That was irony of a revealing kind — Rahul loyalists being inimical to Sonia loyalists and vice-versa. These internal rivalries and clashing loyalties helped reduce the Congress to the status of a virtual non-entity. In the 2019 elections the Rahul caucus expected to win not less than 164 seats in the Parliament. It got 52, two seats short to have even the status of the official Opposition.
Kapil Sibal felt angry enough to say that, if nominations are to replace elections, then it was best to re-write the party’s constitution. The loyalists pretended that they did not hear it. The bottomline is clear: There are Congress leaders whose eminence depends on patronage by the Gandhis and they put their self-interests above the interest of the party and the country. Mahatma Gandhi must have foreseen this. Hence his opinion, openly expressed, that the Congress must be disbanded. He said: “India having attained political independence through means devised by the Congress, the Congress in its present shape and form, that is, as a propaganda vehicle and Parliamentary machine has outlived its use… The Congress has won political freedom, but it is yet to win economic freedom, social and moral freedom.”
Poor Gandhi! Not in his wildest dream could he have imagined India coming under a-moral freedom.