360° Analysis

Rahul As PM! Can India Afford the Dynasty?


March 17, 2013 17:48 EDT

The promotion of Nehru’s great grandson, Rahul Gandhi, as future prime minister despite his party’s poor governance, his lack of administrative experience or ideology, and close association with corrupt characters, is extremely damaging both to the Congress Party and to India.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s frontal assault on the Congress party, accusing it of sacrificing national interest at the altar of “the family”, has unnerved the Grand Old Party. The cacophony of sycophancy which greeted the ascension of Rahul Gandhi as vice president of the Congress seems to be withering before Modi’s charismatic personality. Congress spokespersons who have rushed to the family’s defense betray a streak of subservience to the Nehru-Gandhi clan. This subservience has become embedded in the genetic code of the party. In 1975, after Indira Gandhi, then prime minister and Rahul’s grandmother had struck a blow to the edifice of democracy by imposing ‘emergency’ and assuming draconian dictatorial powers, Congress President Dev Kant Baruah claimed, “Indira is India, India is Indira.”

The same sycophancy was evident when the party leaders rushed to Sonia Gandhi, the Italian born wife of Rajiv Gandhi, with tearful entreaties to assume responsibility of the president of the Congress after Rajiv’s assassination in 1991. The fact that Sonia had no prior experience in public life apart from being married into the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty perhaps paled in comparison with her familial connections. Once Sonia declined the offer, the mantle was passed onto Sitaram Kesri, a political nobody. Political heavyweights in the party were shown the door. The message was loud and clear. The throne had to be kept warm till the rightful claimant from the dynasty stepped on to the stage.

The surprising defeat of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in the general elections in 2004 witnessed enactments of similar theatrics before Sonia. Sonia, who in 1999 had resorted to all the tricks in the trade as she made desperate attempts to cobble together a majority to form a government, suddenly took on the halo of self-abnegation in 2004 when she declined to assume the prime minister’s post. Tearful eulogies from loyalists failed to budge Sonia who converted the liability of her origin of birth into an asset by an apparent renunciation of power.

India, with its historical proclivity for spiritual renunciation, took the bait. Machiavelli would have been proud!

Manmohan Singh’s nomination as the prime minister was another astute move by the acolytes of the Nehru-Gandhi family to perpetuate the dynasty’s control over Indian democracy. Manmohan, a political non-entity, was designated to act as a regent till Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the dynasty achieved political maturity and acceptability in the country.

The political diarchy with Sonia as president of the Congress, having power and no responsibility, and Manmohan having responsibility and no power has served only the interests of the dynasty. Egregious governance has been the price the country had to pay for the perpetuation of the dynasty’s dejure rule over the country.

Manmohan, who has never won any direct election, surreptitiously entering the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament on an evidently dubious proof of residence from Assam, has proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Ministers in his cabinet routinely plead for Rahul to take over the reigns of the country, belittling a prime minister who prefers silence.

Anarchy and Lawlessness

Silence, which has been developed into a method of governance by Manmohan, has resulted in India’s dangerous drift towards anarchy and lawlessness. With financial scams tumbling out of the government’s closet on a regular basis and the government making no real effort to confront corruption in public life, the common people are exasperated by the ineffectiveness of a prime minister who appears to have abdicated governance.

With ministers ignoring Manmohan and paying obeisance before Sonia and Rahul, the wheels of the government are coming off. Ironically, despite the economist credentials of the prime minister, the economy has been stuck in a quagmire, with increasing inflation and rising unemployment hurting the ever increasing middle class. Nevertheless, the government continues with the profligate financing of populist schemes to ensure the portrayal of the dynasty as the messiahs of the poor, notwithstanding the disastrous impact of such schemes on the economy.

With the national elections in 2014 fast approaching, the government has pulled out all stops to ensure Rahul’s coronation. The façade of Manmohan as a leader has been exposed with senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor claiming that in the event of Congress gaining power in 2014, “the president and vice president of the party would be the natural choice as prime minister.”

Despite the mollycoddling, Rahul has failed to generate any perceptible enthusiasm amongst the common people. Under his command, the Congress has performed miserably in various state elections. In Uttar Pradesh state elections in 2012 which was portrayed as Rahul’s coming of age by loyalists, the party performed worse than the 2009 general elections. In Rae Bareli and Amethi, which have been strongholds for the dynasty, the party candidates were decimated.

Bereft of any political ideology, Rahul comes across as a confused politician. He has hardly made any impact in his appearances in the Indian Parliament where he has been largely silent. Even in the tailor-made scheme of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) which basically ensures dole to rural workers in return for political support to the Congress, Amethi, Rahul’s constituency was the worst spender.

Rahul’s acceptance speech after his nomination as the vice president indicated his disconnect with the populace.

Perhaps referring to mass anti-corruption and security for women protests which have taken place in the country during the last couple of years, Rahul said: “Why people are angry? Because they are alienated from the system. Their voices are trampled upon. All our systems — justice, education, political, administration — are designed to keep people with knowledge out. Mediocrity dominates discussions.”

Emanating from a leader whose ipso facto claim over leadership stems only from his lineage, the reference to ‘merit’ was hypocritical. Surprisingly for a leader who has pretensions to become the prime minister after 2014 elections, Rahul avoids the media like the plague with his interactions limited to uttering monosyllables. After eight years in public life, the country is still waiting to hear his views on economy, national security and foreign policy.  

Perhaps the thousands of youth who flocked onto the streets of New Delhi after the brutal gang rape and murder of a young lady in December 2012, would have wished to explain the reasons for their ‘anger’ to Rahul. Realizing the actual power center in the country, the youth had sought the assistance of Sonia and Rahul in order to punish the culprits of the barbaric outrage and also demand security for women in New Delhi, which has become increasingly unsafe for women. Within hours, the New Delhi police which is under the control of the ruling Congress party launched a ruthless crackdown on the protesters.

The chicanery was particularly galling for the youth in light of Rahul’s attempt to discredit the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh over an alleged instance of gang rape in Bhatta Parsaul in 2011. With an eye on the vote bank, Rahul had virtually laid siege to the state in order to derive political mileage. After violence had broken out over land acquisition, he provided credence to theories of police gang raping women with his claims of witnessing, “[a] heap of ash with dead bodies inside.” Subsequent independent investigations revealed the falsity of this claim.

The Goebellian propaganda spread by the sycophants in the party and the media regarding Rahul being a ‘youth icon,’ is rapidly wearing off. Exasperated by the performance of an effete government which is seen as a proxy for the dynasty, the people have started demanding answers. The dramatic rise of Narendra Modi is a manifestation of the people’s disgust with the manipulations of the dynasty which wields massive power without exhibiting a fig leaf of responsibility.

Rahul’s platitudes regarding fighting corruption have been laid hollow after evidence surfaced regarding his brother-in-law, Robert Vadra, being obliged with extensive land assets by the Congress government in Haryana, bypassing all norms. Even a close aide of Rahul, Kanishka Singh, has been linked to a company which facilitated kick backs in the Augusta Westland Helicopter deal with Italy. The government’s desperation in shielding the culprits is manifested in its failure to even lodge a police complaint regarding the allegation.

Rahul’s veneer of social responsibility and shielding behind a façade of reorganizing the party structure is finding few takers. His failure to assume responsibility in the form of taking charge of a ministry is seen as his effort to keep his distance from a beleaguered government lest it damage his carefully calibrated political campaign during the elections in 2014.

The coterie which props up the dynasty has its defined agenda and profiteers from its perpetuation.  But the non-performing dynasty has lost its relevance in a dynamic democracy, and has become the albatross around the GOP’s neck.

The question remains: can India afford the dynasty any longer?

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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