The status quo prince doth protest too much

Dear Rahul Gandhi,

You hit the headlines last week by saying you are disinclined to marry and have kids because then \”I will become a status quoist and will become concerned about bequeathing my position to my children.\” Second, you said you are not in the race to become prime minister.

It would be gratifying to think you actually seek to end the status quo, but I suspect nobody believes you. Why have you and your mother done absolutely nothing to erode, let alone end the status quo after so many years in power? Why have you fortified the belief of every Congressman that your party has no rationale, ethos or future without the Gandhi dynasty?

No Congressman thinks the feudal principle is affected by your getting married or having children. Mayawati and Jayalalithaa are both unmarried and without kids, and they run fiefdoms no less feudal than the Congress. Absence of children has never meant decentralisation.

In feudal parties, criticism of the family is treason. All successes (like the 2009 general election) are attributed to the family, while all debacles (like the 2012 UP election or 2010 Bihar election) are blamed on flawed courtiers. If you really want to end the status quo, you should say plainly that you flopped badly in Bihar and UP, and so should be replaced by somebody better. If you don\’t say so, and if you and your partymen think nobody is better, then the status quo is here to stay.

After talking for years about promoting youth in politics, you have indeed promoted many newcomers to important ministerial positions. They are young by Indian standards, but many have greying hair. The list in New Delhi includes Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora and Jitin Prasad.

Is this your idea of smashing the status quo? Every one of these young men is son of a top Congress politician. They are intelligent, well-educated, and capable enough. But they represent dynasty with a capital D.

Is the position very different in the states? The new chief minister of Uttarakhand is Vijay Bahuguna. Is it just a remarkable coincidence that he is the son of former Congress Chief Minister HN Bahuguna? You lost the UP state election, but had you won, Rita Bahuguna (daughter of HN Bahuguna) would have been in line to become CM. Does the status quo get any better than this?

In Maharashtra, you appointed Ashok Chavan as chief minister. Predictably, he was the son of a former CM, SB Chavan. After the Adarsh housing scam, he was replaced by Prithviraj Chavan, a decent man but one lacking a political base in Maharashtra. He owed his appointment entirely to the high command, which you accuse of excessive power, but then do nothing about.

You have repeatedly said that you want to bring more intra-party democracy to the party. You once said that every MLA you meet aspires to become an MP, and every MP aspires to become a cabinet minister; but every sarpanch you meet does not aspire to become an MLA. You criticise this lack of upward mobility, and say it must be corrected.

But intra-party democracy surely has to go further than that. You fail to say that you want every cabinet minister to aspire to become prime minister or Congress president. That is the true test of intra-party democracy. As long as the top positions are hogged by the Gandhi family, intra-party democracy is a sham. You and Sonia look as entrenched as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles in England.

You say you are not in the race to become prime minister. In a feudal regime, there is no race: the family wins automatically. There may be a contest between family members (as with Raj and Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra, or Stalin and Alagiri in Tamil Nadu). But in your case there is no race even within the family. The winner need not necessarily become prime minister: Sonia has shown that one can rule from outside, as has Bal Thackeray. But in neither case is there any question of the party having a race.

Do not interpret this column as entirely critical. In a democracy, it can be good political theatre for a feudal lord to disavow any taste for power, and then go for the power anyway. This goes down well with the masses.

In the Ramayana, Vibheeshana, brother of Ravana, joins Ram\’s camp saying he seeks only high principles, not power. He nevertheless ends up ousting his brother and becoming king, and a popular one too. A victory for high principles? Or for political theatre?

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