G R Gopinath
“I rebel; therefore I exist,” said Albert Camus. For Camus, validation and justification to exist went beyond Rene Descartes who posited “I think, therefore I exist”.
Thinking and breathing, living without questioning ones beliefs and actions, you are only flotsam. Rebellion against any authority, be it the State, the Monarchy, the Church or a political party and questioning its orthodoxy is a primeval human urge and the basis of evolution of civilisation.
That trait has marked all the great men of the world — Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Jacques Rousseau, Socrates, John Calvin, Buddha and Basavanna who distinguished themselves because they questioned and rebelled against dogmas, oppression, injustice and inequality.
In this context, you wonder what is it in the DNA of today's Congress members that no one is ready to rebel and challenge the Gandhi dynasty.
Even after Rahul Gandhi abruptly resigned and walked away from the presidentship of the party in 2019, owning responsibility for the party’s abysmal showing in the parliamentary elections, notwithstanding his exhortations to his party members to elect a new leader, no one — neither the young, handsome rebels nor the old guard — came forward and demanded elections for a new leader.
The entire flock meekly waited for someone from the dynasty to lead and steer them, even if it meant following the messiah over the cliff.
The old obsequious coterie grovelled at the feet of Sonia Gandhi and anointed her back to the throne as an interim president — a ploy to deny Congress leaders from outside the dynasty to staking a claim.
Sonia, by a fateful default, inherited the mantle of the dynasty. Through a combination of courage, resilience, cunning and also an astute understanding of the psyche of her flock as well as Indian politics, she held them together and led the party to victory at the hustings and ruled India for 10 years, forming the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) over two terms.
She accomplished that incredible feat through proxy, surrounded by loyal henchmen and courtiers who wielded considerable clout even as her son, Rahul, was often an inscrutable loose cannon and a liability. A remarkable achievement by any political yardstick.
Now once again after Rahul's exit, the party is in the doldrums. With Sachin Pilot leading the dissidents in Rajasthan, the Congress is teetering on the brink and may collapse any time, ceding ground to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is raring to topple the wobbly Ashok Gehlot government.
After losing Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and now possibly Rajasthan, this may trigger a domino effect and create an existential crisis for the party.
There are multiple power centres within the dynasty. Rahul is floating in his own bubble, relentlessly attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is strutting around, mediating behind the scenes with Pilot, and there is Sonia, ailing and ageing, putting on a brave front but not visible and does not seem effective and in command in dealing with Pilot and his fellow MLAs. There's the invisible clique of her loyal old henchmen who are calling the shots and pulling the strings remotely and the boat is rudderless on stormy seas.
Still there is no one — neither the old guard (Digvijaya Singh, P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal or even Manmohan Singh, to name a few) nor the young brigade (Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, Jyotiraditya Scindia when he was still in the party) — openly demanding elections for the party leadership.
Not one man or woman is ready to stand up and is willing to contest an election against the member of the dynasty. Will such a party and its body politic that has mortgaged itself to a dynasty and has abjectly surrendered survive? Does it deserve to continue when its constituents are morbidly sick and do not wish to cure themselves and are unwilling to rid themselves of the yoke? What a fall for such a grand old party.
The Congress does not have to look elsewhere for lessons. It can learn from its own illustrious and vibrant history of more than 134 years. Many eminent people who were titans of their time, including foreigners, have been party presidents. Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Mahatma Gandhi Sarojini Naidu, Chittaranjan Das, Maulana Azad, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lala Lajpat Rai, Annie Besant, Subhas Chandra Bose , Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel to name a few who led the party.
From its inception, the party believed in democracy, diversity and plurality of ideas and religions. That explains why it attracted so many luminaries and had such a huge mass following.
Bose contested and won the presidential elections in 1938 and 1939 when Mahatma Gandhi openly lobbied and worked hard to defeat Bose.
Yet again in 1950, Purushottam Das Tandon, backed by Sardar Patel, won the election to become the Congress President even as Nehru opposed his nomination. This was the time when Nehru, a towering figure, was Prime Minister and Patel Home Minister.
A party and the individuals composing it lend vigour when they question moribund ideas and rebel against authoritarian leadership. Individual dissent is necessary for the health of any party.
Bose is revered and he still captures our imagination because he rebelled and challenged Gandhi and Nehru and left the party on realisation that he must found a separate party to fight the British hegemony and occupation of India through means other than non-violence.
Those who challenge the status quo either change the organisation they are part of or venture out and blaze a new trail.
Indira Gandhi split the Congress against the old guard and branched out on her own and was even denied the Congress symbol, but rose like a colossus.
Indefatigable and fearless, Mamata Banerjee left the Congress and founded a new party and single-handedly demolished the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal that had morphed into a party of goons who used violence to remain in power for three decades.
There are other examples too. Three decades ago, even Narendra Modi challenged the entrenched old timers and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh power-brokers in Gujarat and was banished from his state by a diktat of the BJP high command. He bided his time, challenged the old guard and ascended to power and fundamentally altered the character of party of the AB Vajpayee times.
It's a different matter that at times those who replace the corrupt and the old or overthrow despots turn out to be more venal or bigger tyrants than those they replaced.
The Gandhi family, ridiculed and accused of dynastic rule, which has presided over its decline and continue to hang on, cannot be expected to set its house in order.
There has to be a rebellion within the party to bring about leadership change and breathe new life into it and rejuvenate it for the party to survive.
There has to be a robust counter availing political force to question and check the leadership of a political outfit or the state that may run amok to prevent it from decline and disintegration.
A strong and responsible opposition party is the need of the hour. If the members of the Congress do not rebel when the party is drifting, headless and is splintering, then neither the members nor the Congress have a reason to exist. Hope better sense prevails and someone from within the party and outside the dynasty will rise and save it from extinction.G R Gopinath is the founder of Air Deccan. Views are personal.