Probably everybody would have heard this at least once in their lifetime. Common Cold — If you don’t take any medicines, then it will last for one week. If you take any medicine, then it will be cured in seven days. There is a kind of common cold which has affected the Congress party and the ‘’one week’’ is yet to be over. That common cold is the Gandhis. The leadership of Congress party remains with the Gandhi family, except for a brief period, which was an aberration. Is there no leader worth guiding the party other than from the Family? The common refrain, from die-hard congressmen, is that the Gandhis have the charisma and they are unifying factor in the party as well as the country. Unfortunately, the common man finds it hard to believe this.
For a few years after Independence, it was the Congress party which held sway over almost all the states and it was getting the unequivocal support of the people. The situation started to change soon, when Congress started to lose elections in state after state. After the death of Pandit Nehru, Lal Bahadur Sastry became the Prime Minister of India and after his unfortunate death, Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister, though a rank junior at that time. It was Kamaraj who was instrumental in bringing in Indira Gandhi to power, a decision he regretted much in his later days. From that day on, the Congress party was under the grips of one family, whether in power or out of power.
The two main reasons cited for the adulation of the family are Charisma & Unifying force. In 1977, the opposition parties did not have a single charismatic leader but still they won the elections. It was because of the anger against the Emergency and Indira Gandhi. However, within a short span, Indira came back to power. Did it mean that people had completely forgotten or forgiven the excesses during the emergency? No, certainly not. It was because the issue in the elections of 1980 was stability at the centre. In 1984, it was the sympathy wave after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. In 1989, it was Bofors and anti-corruption. In 1991, once again it was a case of stability and the sympathy after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, as the results of elections held before and after the assassination would reveal. In 1996, once again it was anti-corruption which propelled the opposition parties to power, which was also short-lived as in 1977.
In 1998, the victory of BJP, although short of a majority, was based on the promises made by the party on development. In 1999, it was once again giving a chance to the BJP to carry out its development agenda. However, in 2004, things turned out to be different. The defeat of BJP was not because of new found love for the Congress party. The people still reposed faith on BJP and its development agenda but results in just two southern states, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh changed the mandate. Had the BJP won these two states in alliances, it would have resulted in continued rule of BJP as a coalition government. Thus, it is not any individual or charisma which captivates the Indian electorate but issues and leaders who are considered by the people as capable of solving those issues and fulfilling their aspirations. Modi is not a person per se but he is the epitome of aspirations of the common man for development.
Rajiv Gandhi was touted to be the most charismatic leader after Indira Gandhi. The massive mandate in 1984 has got nothing to do with Rajiv who was not into active politics at all during that time. What happened to his charisma in 1989? In 2004, the victory of Congress was attributed to Sonia Gandhi, but it was a victory despite Sonia Gandhi. Same is the case in 2009 also. However, 2014 elections presented the electorate with a clear and positive alternative in Modi with a proven development agenda.
Even if we consider the state elections, especially after 2014, the victory of congress in a few states are to be attributed to the strong local leaders only and not because of Rahul or Sonia. In Punjab, it was a victory for Capt.Amarinder Singh as much as anti-incumbency against the Badals. States which are considered virtually one party state and dominated by Congress are falling like dominoes and where is the charisma of Rahul or Sonia? People who were neglected so long in the development process and who had been fed only rhetoric and nothing else have woken up to the reality and throwing away Congress in state after state.
Everybody would agree that after 1977, the victories of Congress are predominantly due to negative votes and sympathy factor. Rahul holds the dubious distinction of losing the most number of elections consecutively. But why people call him a charismatic leader and the unifying force in the party? The answer to both the questions is one and the same. People know that there is no charisma with Sonia or Rahul but who will call a spade a spade? If anybody raises a question against the leadership, they will be thrown out of the party. Even before disciplinary action is initiated, there will be a chorus for action and party functionaries will vie with each other to draw the attention of the leadership. Here lies the problem affection the Congress party.
It is a known fact that Gandhis cannot win elections for the Congress party but if they are shown the door, who will be the next leader? There is no leader with a pan-India appeal in the Congress party today and most of the leaders are confined to their state, like Scindia, Pilot, Kamal Nath and a few others. Further, the policy of the congress leadership has been not to allow anybody from the state level to grow in popularity in order to avoid becoming a threat the national leadership, read the family. There are some leaders who cannot be termed as leaders because they lack any mass support even in their own states, like P.Chidambaram, who cannot win even in his home state without alliance. Under these circumstances, everyone is afraid that if the family is removed from the leadership and a new one takes the reins, what would be his position in the party and equation with the leadership. The state level leaders have cultivated a sort of rapport with the family and in every state, there are umpteen number of factions in Congress party and the leadership also plays into these factions. In such a scenario, it is nothing but natural that everyone would be worried about change of leadership at the national level. If a leader on his own merit from a state is chosen as the leader of the party at the national level, it would certainly lead to revolt by other so called leaders in all the states.
Thus, it is understood by everyone that victory for the Congress party can come only if there is anger against the ruling party, which is purely a negative vote, but if the party wants to capture the imagination of the electorate by change the leadership towards that direction, the emerging new leadership may not be palatable to most of the factions within the party, which is the only factor rallying the party behind the family. This is the existentialist crisis the Congress party faces itself in. While on the one hand a lack of vibrant opposition may not be good for a democracy, on the other hand, it may give rise to new political dispensation, weeding out the corrupt elements and sycophants.