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Home > News > Columnists > Surjit S Bhalla

Wanted in Cong: Natural leaders

May 26, 2007

There is a simple explanation for the cacophony in the UPA -- lack of leadership.

There is a minister shooting in every direction. While that is heartening from an equity and diversity standpoint, it does not say much for leadership. Actually, that has been the real surprise of the UPA government -- the complete lack of leadership from chairperson Ms Sonia Gandhi.

There may be several reasons. Most often mentioned, and even more often in hushed tones, shhhh � The Left. But this won't wash anymore. And not only because the linen is so dirty. First, the argument is very stale.

Second, not that this is good or bad but just factual: there are more people who are Left, and more Left than the Left (holier than the Pope) within the Congress party than within the Left. And this display of leftism starts at the very top with Ms Sonia Gandhi. Then there is Mani Shankar Aiyar, Arjun Singh, etc. Apart from people, proof of lack of leadership is in the actions of the UPA. The fact that any policy can be articulated, and its opposite, speaks volumes for the cacophony in the UPA.

But being Left per se does not mean lack of leadership. So why is there no leadership in the 100-year-old party? Because at least since Kautilya's time, and that is 300 BC, statecraft and policy were not just the exclusive domain, privilege, or the genes of the rulers and their dynasties. The rulers relied upon advisers, such as Kautilya. And the Kautilyas obliged because it was a way for the best and the brightest and the ambitious to obtain and wield power and influence and attain wealth.

But then, and this started long before in England and then has spread across the world, democracy came along, a system of governance that gave everyone a chance to be the powerful, a chance to be the chosen, a chance to be the leader. In a democracy, like a firm, there can be several, hundreds if not thousands, aspirants to the one leadership spot. Only one person heads the firm, and is the "leader". Nothing wrong with that, and it happens in Communist and other utopian parties as well, perhaps even at Google.

What motivates people is hope, and a chance to get ahead, no matter who we are or where we were born. Obtaining the winning ticket in the lottery of life, even in dictatorships and monarchies, is the way the world has been, and always will be. But this simple, yet critical, point is simply ignored by dynasties and monarchies. Of course it is in their self-interest to do so, but that does not make it worthwhile or productive policy.

Because not giving people a chance to succeed means that the smart ones will go elsewhere. Slowly, and then in an accelerated fashion. The last occasion when the best and brightest moved towards a dynasty was in Rajiv Gandhi's time. Not because he was a great leader, but more because the timing was then, not now. India was slowly emerging from its closed cocoon, which in itself was a legacy of the dynasty's founder, Jawaharlal Nehru. India was then not much different from what it had been a 100, or a 1,000 years earlier. It had been ruled by kings, and advisers were there to get their shot of fame and power. Because the Kautilyas had no other option.

But then globalisation struck and suddenly there was a dramatic increase in the opportunities in life -- so large an increase that there aren't enough qualified people. So the bright ones go to firms and sports, become leaders in NGOs, etc. Some even start their own political parties. Why would one join the Congress party, and have a zero per cent chance of ever being the leader, versus having a 0.1 per cent chance somewhere else? That little bit of difference is actually infinite if one calculates or thinks about it. And it is that difference that dooms dynasties, whether in politics or in the marketplace. That is why the Congress has atrophied and why all the dynasties now mushrooming -- Shiv Sena, DMK, Pawar -- will die a natural death. If you don't believe me, just look at the Congress.

In 1996, the Congress lost the election and got only 140 seats. At that time they blamed it on the lack of a dynasty person as the supreme leader. Then came the 1998 election, this time with Ms Gandhi in charge, and the Congress won only 140-odd seats. This time they (the sub-leaders within the Congress) said that she did not have enough time. Then came the 1999 election and Ms Gandhi, the leader of the party for some time now, obtained only 116 seats, an all-time low. This time the sub-leaders said that while dynastic leadership was there, there wasn't enough time to build up the organisation. The party had gone to pot because of bad leadership by non-dynasty leaders since 1991. Then came 2004, with enough time for organisation and Sonia Gandhi leadership. The party won 140-odd seats.

But the moving movie of apologies hasn't ended. Fast forward to the UP elections, 2007. Rahul Gandhi. To make sure that Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent, succeeds where other dynastic leaders have failed, the Congress party starts preparing early. It starts with populism, and in an ostensibly brilliant stroke, the leadership of Ms Gandhi invokes

Mandal II. Who is ruling in UP? The Yadavs, a leading OBC caste. Who humbled the Congress in 1991 in UP and ever since? The Yadavs. So what better way to win them over than to provide reservations for them in jobs, in education, in life! That it fitted the dictatorial control-freakness of leftist ideology is beside the point.

So Rahul Gandhi campaigned in UP. The party and the leadership were cautious. We are here for the long run (any loss is when you are in for the short run). We want to gradually increase our vote share, and seats.

We know we have only 25 seats; we aim to get to only 40 to 50 seats (out of 403). The inherited leader draws crowds, and not much else. The Congress gets fewer votes and even fewer seats -- down three from a low base of 25.

Let us not invent further reasons for the continuing Congress debacle. It is doomed to failure for the simple reason that the Kautilyas of the world will go elsewhere. Up with the people. Down with dynasties, and monarchies.


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