MINISTER of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma has said that there is no vacancy above. He means that Manmohan Singh is already there as the Congress Party Prime Minister. His purpose is to close the controversy over who will be the next Congress candidate. But Sharma is too junior in the party hierarchy to be taken seriously. Such declarations have to come from Sonia Gandhi, who heads the party or, for that matter, controls it tightly.
It is true that she has once or twice mentioned that the party will project at the polls the same person, Manmohan Singh. Yet, the blatant manner in which she has gone about inducting her son, Rahul Gandhi, as the Congress Party’s key general secretary does not delude anybody. She makes it clear that Rahul will inherit her mantle. The official organ of the Congress, Sandesh, says in its latest issue that Rahul Gandhi is capable enough to be the next Prime Minister.
At a recent session of the Congress, speaker after speaker said from the rostrum that they wanted Rahul Gandhi to be Prime Minister. Sonia Gandhi was present. Had she wanted to stop them she could have done so. But she allowed the members sing praises of Rahul whose tenure in the Congress is so short that the number of months can be counted on fingers. Thank God, when the Congress members vied with one another to have Rahul as their Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh was not present because of his heart bypass.
Still more unfortunate is the way in which the party has caved in to adopt Rahul. There are posters all over the country, carrying a large picture of only Rahul, with the slogan: Vote Congress. Not long ago, the posters also had the photos of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. What was a formality has been dropped. I saw such posters when I visited UP and Maharashtra recently.
Those who have followed the Indian politics would testify that the Congress has been playing the dynastic card unashamedly for the last four decades. Jawaharlal Nehru made his daughter, Indira Gandhi, the Congress president, when she was around 38, the same age of Rahul. Nehru wanted Indira to succeed him and, as Lal Bahadur Shastri told me, she was all the time in his mind. But Nehru could not supersede tall freedom fighters on the scene at that time.
When it came to Indira Gandhi choosing her successor, she did not think twice. She wanted one of her two sons to be the Prime Minister after her. She chose the younger one, Sanjay Gandhi, and gave him the charge of government after imposing the emergency (1975-77). When he died in an air crash, she took no time in selecting Rajiv Gandhi, who during the lifetime of Sanjay Gandhi was considered a political novice and kept out of any discussion on politics. Subsequently, despite Rajiv Gandhi’s reluctance and reservations of his wife, Sonia, Indira Gandhi had her way. He too was first made the Congress general secretary.
The Congress members are so cravenly attached to the dynasty that they know their place when any of its members steps in. They did so when Priyanka Gandhi, Sonia’s daughter, came on the scene for a while. Sonia Gandhi had only to withdraw Priyanka and hint that Rahul was her heir apparent. He is the one who has been chosen to stomp the country for electioneering. It is an open secret that he has a lot to do with the selection of candidates for the Lok Sabha election. He is pushing out the old, weathered Congressmen in the name of youth. Manmohan Singh is nowhere in the picture. How can the candidates be loyal to him when Sonia and Rahul nominate them?
Yet all this may take the party nowhere. The Congress is no way near winning 272 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha to get a majority on its own. They party may find it hard to retain even its present strength, 153. It is seeking an alliance here and there to see if in the post-election scenario the Congress has enough support to expand the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which the Congress heads, and cobble a majority.
Things are not favourable. The Congress has shrunk in space. It has had no adjustment of seats either in UP with formidable Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party or in Bihar with Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. The two states have 125 seats in the Lok Sabha—UP having 80 and Bihar 45. After pitching its demand high, the Congress has come down to make up with Sharad Pawar’s National Congress Party in Maharashtra, stormy petrel Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and the charge-sheeted Shibu Soren in Jharkhand.
The Congress may gain in Kerala at the expense of the Communists and to some extent in West Bengal, again eating into the Communist strength. But then the Communists are the Congress natural ally. However unhappy they are with the Congress over the nuclear deal with America, they may have no option except to support Sonia when the BJP’s L.K. Advani looks like forming the government.
Understandably, the Communists’ real anger is against Manmohan Singh who is also seen on the side of capitalism. But this does not mean that they will accept Raul who has no qualification except that he is Sonia’s son. Running India is not a child’s play. But how do you convince the Congressmen who believe that anyone from the Nehru dynasty is their only saviour?
The love for dynasty is the bane of South Asia. Pakistan has Bilawal, the grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and son of Benazir Bhutto. Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujib-ur Rehman, father of Bangladesh, has emerged as the tallest leader. Her son is not yet in the picture but who knows when he will come to the fore. None thought of Rahul even two years ago.
We, in South Asia, no doubt, love democracy. But we also have an obsession for the Maharajas and the Nawabs. Even when they are not there, their children get our instinctive esteem. That is the reason why the region, however poor and backward, has had no revolution. Democratic elections too see the power passing from one set of civil society members to another. The teeming millions are too dazzled or too suppressed to think of becoming rulers.
Yes, Manmohan Singh will be picked up without much ado to sit as the opposition leader if the Congress loses. His integrity or humility is not the point. You have to have a person who can make sense when interrupting the Prime Minister or ministers. Indeed, that place is vacant for him.