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Congress must look beyond the Gandhis

By Sudhir Bisht
May 07, 2016 11:06 IST
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'The Congress president gets into samurai mode only when there is a direct attack on her and her family.'
'Is being the president of the oldest and one of the most respected parties in India only about personal reputation and survival?' asks Sudhir Bisht.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh court arrest during the 'Save Democracy' march in New Delhi, May 6, 2016. Photograph: Shirish Shete/PTI Photo

IMAGE: Congress President Sonia Gandhi, 69, and former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, 83, court arrest during the 'Save Democracy' march in New Delhi, May 6, 2016. Photograph: Shirish Shete/PTI Photo


I watched with amusement as the First Lady of the Congress party courted arrest along with a two-term prime minister. This brief cameo lasted under two hours and within minutes of being arrested Sonia Gandhi and the former PM were released.

The occasion was the 'Save Democracy Rally' that took place within an earshot of the Press Club of India on Raisina Road where I was tearing into the crispiest of Dosas on this side of the Equator.

Sonia Gandhi read out the written speech at Jantar Mantar and her loyal followers including the ever cheerful Renuka Chaudhry raised slogans against the Modi Sarkar.

Holding rallies is the democratic right of all parties. And I have no objection to that. The reason for my amusement is the timing of the rally. I have observed that the Congress president gets into samurai mode only when there is a direct attack on her and her family. Let me explain this in detail.

The fact that the Congress lost its government in the key North Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh should have provoked the party enough to organise a rally against the alleged BJP plot to usurp power in the tiny hill state.

Also the imposition of President's Rule in Uttarakhand, the state where my father was born and where my grandfather was cremated, didn't happen in the recent past. Why is the Congress president in fighter mode only now?

Especially since the Congress party is in an advantageous position in Uttarakhand now that the Supreme Court has barred the nine rebel Congress MLAs from participating in the May 10 floor test.

I would like to question the timing of Sonia Gandhi's rally. I have observed that she was at her aggressive best when her name was dragged in the National Herald case and she is at her aggressive best now as her name figures in the alleged Agusta Westland helicopter scam.

Is being the president of the oldest and one of the most respected parties in India only about personal reputation and survival? This is a question that begs to be answered.

Apart from questioning the timing of Mrs Gandhi's 'Save Democracy' rally I would like to ask a few pointed questions about the rally's intent:

  • Mrs Gandhi's intent to save democracy is welcome, but what is the meaning of democracy for Mrs Gandhi?
    Not allowing Parliament to function?
    Stalling Parliament for the law and order situation in Hyderabad or in JNU or in the FTII?
    Not allowing Parliament to function because a Congress MP was not accorded respect at a temple a few years earlier?
    Not allowing the GST Bill to pass for one flimsy reason or the other?
    Not allowing the highest law making body in the country to function because of a fugitive named Lalit Modi?
    Is democracy about NOT allowing a popularly elected government to function just because you lost the elections?
  • Mrs Gandhi seems especially peeved at the plight of Harish Rawat, the recent 'one-day- CM-in-a-hurry.'
    I want to tell Madam Gandhi -- and I say this after travelling across the plains of Roorkee and the Garhwal hills and the Kumaon region -- that Harish Rawat's plight is due to Mrs Gandhi's excessive reliability on a coterie of advisors who have always treated Rawat with scant respect.
    Let me explain this in detail. In March 2002, Harish Rawat was the architect of the Congress party's victory in Uttarakhand. However the coterie that surrounds Mrs Gandhi ensured that Rawat wasn't made the CM. This led to the decay of democratic spirit and ascendency of the high command culture in Uttarakhand.
    In March 2012, history repeated itself. Your concept of democracy, Mrs Gandhi, is 'what my coterie tells me is the gospel truth.'
    So you appointed a man who was the brother of your favourite politician in UP. Rita Bahuguna Joshi's brother Vijay Bahuguna was appointed Uttarakhand chief minister whereas the rightful claimant was Harish Rawat.
    When Rawat finally became CM, when Vijay Bahuguna failed to deliver on all fronts, he was not the confident general who had delivered two victories to the Congress party in Uttarakhand.
    On the contrary, he was frightened, always-on-guard, susceptible to threats, a CM who was treated as an errand boy by the high command's 'observers'.
    Your high-handed treatment of a popular leader led to the indiscipline and uprising in Uttarakhand which you seek to correct by holding a 'Save Democracy' rally. Can it get more farcical than this?
  • What are the outward signs of a strong democratic set-up? These are manifested in developing strong second-line leaders at the party headquarters and charismatic regional leaders at the state level.
    And what do we see in the Congress under your leadership? Second-rate speakers like Ghulam Nabi Azad and insipid leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge occupying the coveted positions of Leader of the Congress party in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha respectively!
    Why can't the combative, knowledgeable and fiery Anand Sharma be the leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha? Or someone like Jairam Ramesh (relatively young) or Digvijay Singh (your party's Dronacharya)?
    Why can't someone like Kamal Nath be the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha? Or the giant-slayer Amarinder Singh? Or the young turk Jyotiraditya Scindia?
    Is it because you feel that in democracy those leaders who have the ability and popularity to upstage you or your son must never make it to the Top?
  • I want to ask Madam Gandhi if her concept of democracy means enjoying the powers of the monarch without having to wear the crown of thorns?
    So the scion of the Congress' first family will continue to tear a copy of an ordnance and increase the number of subsidised cylinders we Indians would get without having anything to do with what is called 'accountability'

The BJP has been very vocal about a 'Congress-mukht Bharat'. This would a very dangerous situation to be in. With the Left parties dying their natural deaths and with partisan regional parties raising their heads with the sole purpose of getting bigger and better deals from the Centre, a national party like the Congress must survive for democracy to survive.

And for the Congress to survive there is a need for the party to look beyond the current high command. The sooner it happens, the better it would be for democracy.

Sudhir Bisht, an author and independent columnist, writes from New Delhi. He tweets at @sudhir_bisht

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