Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as Congress president has been followed by an exodus of Congress MLAs in Karnataka and Goa. The party has long been a bunch of opportunists held together only by dependence on the Gandhis to attain power. Without that glue, the party will disintegrate.
I am amused by those nostalgic for Nehruvian secularism who think a Congress minus the Gandhis will combat Modi’s rise. Sorry, all past attempts to create a Congress minus the Gandhis have failed.
Indira Gandhi split the Congress in 1969 to assert her supremacy. She swept the 1971 election, with the official Congress wining only 16 seats. Then came the Emergency of 1975. Indira imprisoned Opposition politicians, unifying them. They merged to form the Janata Party. This party won the 1977 polls. Morarji Desai — the epitome of Congress minus the Gandhis — became Prime Minister.
Congress stalwarts thought Indira and Sanjay Gandhi had become liabilities, and ousted them. Devraj Urs headed the Congress minus the family, now called Congress (U). Once again, Indira broke away, creating the Congress (I).
Meanwhile, the Janata Party squabbled and splintered, forcing a general election in 1980. Indira won 353 seats against 82 for the two Janata splinters. The Congress (U) won only 13 seats, and withered away.
Next, in 1988, V P Singh broke with Rajiv Gandhi over the Bofors affair to create the Janata Dal, bolstered by Congress defectors. This again was a sort of Congress minus the Gandhis. In the 1989 election, the Congress was beaten, and the Janata Dal formed a minority government, supported from outside by the Left Front and BJP.
Alas, the Janata Dal, like the Janata Party earlier, squabbled and split in barely one year. History proved again that what could be called a Congress minus the Gandhis lacked glue to cohere.
After Rajiv’s assassination in 1991, Sonia Gandhi refused to take over the reins. Narasimha Rao was chosen as party leader because he was a political lightweight, posing no threat to party heavyweights. Congress failed to win outright in the 1991 poll, but formed a minority government under Rao.
His leadership was always tenuous. In 1995, two top Congressmen, N D Tiwari and Arjun Singh, split to form a Congress (Indira) which called on Sonia Gandhi to take over. Sonia declined, and the party lost the 1996 election.
Rao was ousted and replaced by another political lightweight, Sitaram Kesari. He simply did not command authority, so defections galore began before the 1998 election. Party elders pleaded with Sonia Gandhi that she alone could save the party from disintegration. Sonia agreed to take over. She won a respectable 141 seats in the 1998 election. And then led the party to victory in 2004 and 2009. She proved that the Congress needed the family to win elections.
To meet the BJP threat, the Gandhis dumped Nehruvian secularism and began to ape the BJP. Indeed, even in the 1989 election, some Congress stalwarts said that their party had unlocked the doors of the Babri Masjid and performed shilanyas at the site, and so should get credit for moving towards a Ram Mandir.
The worst aping of the BJP came in 2002 after the Gujarat riots. Instead of taking a secular line, the Congress inducted Shankersinh Vaghela, an RSS apparatchik who had defected from the BJP, to lead the party in Gujarat. This brazenly broke its secular traditions, trying to beat the BJP at its own game. Unsurprisingly, it failed dismally.
Yet the Congress continued down the BJP path. Rahul Gandhi began visiting temples galore, calling himself a janeu-wearing Shiv-worshipper. Many Congress leaders declared they were ardent cow-worshippers. After becoming Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Kamal Nath arrested the Muslim victims of cow vigilantes.
Aping the BJP did not save the Congress from crushing defeat in the 2019 election. Rahul Gandhi resigned as party chief, complaining that he sometimes stood alone. Alas, that was only because every Congressman was lying prostrate at his feet. He complains that some Congress honchos were more interested in getting their sons elected than in the party. Are the Gandhis any different? Some figurehead will take Rahul’s place, but the Gandhis will retain power behind the scenes. All know the party will crumble without the family.
Meanwhile, several Congress MLAs have resigned or defected to the BJP in Karnataka and Goa. As opportunists they seek power, nakedly. If the family cannot provide power, they will seek it in the BJP. In Goa and Karnataka, you could say the Congress party minus the Gandhis means defectors to the BJP. Oh what a fall it is, my countrymen.