Is the Gandhi family losing its hold over the Congress party, despite the effort being made by Priyanka in UP? Not only are party satraps now finding the courage to voice their opinions in independent manner, state and local politics is being shaped by power equations out of ‘High Command’ control, as happened in Rajasthan. Loose cannon Navjot Singh Sidhu is practicing temperamental politics unfazed by its impact on the party or his ‘patrons’ Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. His nuisance value is such that nobody wants to take him on within the party.
Now, a senior member of the ‘Group of 23’, Manish Tiwari has questioned UPA-1’s response to the 26/11 attacks in his latest book – an indication that the party mythology is being seriously challenged. Over the Nehru, Indira and Rajiv eras, personality had come to dominate party ideology. The tallest leaders had begun to break away from the time of Independence, followed by the split which led to unquestioned power in the hands of Indira Gandhi. Her assassination and that of her son created the belief of the family’s indispensability in the business of gathering votes. It has taken a succession of defeats at the Centre and the states to open party members’ eyes to the present reality. Rahul and Priyanka just do not understand politics enough to make the necessary impact, no matter how much briefing is provided by backroom analysts. It is probably just their control of party funds that preserves the power of the Gandhis.
Another factor that has emerged from the debris is the Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool Congress. Mamata, like Sharad Pawar before her, broke away from the party because of the glass ceiling between the cadre and the family. Small time and marginalised leaders are hoping to rediscover relevance under her flag. It may not represent a resurrected Congress, as Mamata’s hold is no less authoritarian, but does give hope to those wishing to counter the BJP’s dominance. Kirti Azad is only the latest to succumb to the lure.
The Congress must heed these warning signals – even more so the Gandhis. The family must step back on a permanent basis – retaining nothing more than Lok Sabha seats for the siblings. Senior leaders must be given real control and genuine democratic functioning introduced. It is worth trying and possibly the only chance to prevent almost total irrelevance in Indian politics.