By Amulya Ganguli
The writing is on the wall. To save itself, the Congress has no option but to bid farewell to the Nehru-Gandhi family. Therefore, the 100-odd supporters of the party who recently clamoured for the elevation of Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra to senior party positions are mistaken. If the 129-year-old party is to have a future, it has to make a new beginning under a new leadership. The continuance of the dynasty at the helm will be like a millstone round the party’s neck.
The reason is that the opening up of the economy has changed the mindset of Indians, and not of the middle class alone. The entry of liberal economic policies means that not only have the old feudal loyalties lost their relevance, but that any sign of them arouses scorn rather than admiration. The sycophancy of Congressmen towards the party’s first family has begun to hurt the party as never before.
What is more, the concept of a mai-baap sarkar has died an unlamented death. The Nehru-Gandhis, however, have tried to perpetuate the idea by pretending to be saviours of the poor via the Amartya Sen-Jean Dreze model of populism with its focus on official involvement in the health and education sectors at the expense of overall economic growth.
This was the line advocated by Sonia Gandhi’s kitchen cabinet, the National Advisory Council (NAC), one of whose members, Aruna Roy, bemoaned the undue emphasis on “growth” by the Manmohan Singh government instead of on social causes. Why growth is frowned upon by the NAC jholawalas (a derisory description of communists) is because the engine of development in a pro-market economy is the private sector with the public sector relegated to the background or turfed out altogether.
The days are over when the public sector was to occupy the “commanding heights” of the economy, as Indira Gandhi said. It is also the time to bid farewell to the idea of establishing a socialistic pattern of society, as a Congress resolution proclaimed in 1955. Hence, the accusation by Leftists that the reforms will make the rich grow richer and the poor poorer. But, the charge is not generally believed, as the declining influence of the communist parties shows.
Instead, the trashing of reforms is seen as being made by those who want the country to return to the licence-permit-control raj of the 1960s and ’70s with its fabled 2-3 per cent Hindu rate of growth. Indeed, the slowing down of the growth rate towards the later stages of the Manmohan Singh government is believed to have been due to Sonia Gandhi’s and the NAC’s virtual opposition to the reforms.
This in-house resistance probably explains former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram’s admission after the Congress’s defeat in the general election that “we should not have lifted the foot that have been kept on the accelerator of growth” because “I think the people of India want growth”. And, they want growth because it generates employment and reduces poverty.
Although Sonia Gandhi acknowledged that the Manmohan Singh government had lifted “millions” out of poverty, her emphasis as well as that of the jholawalas was on doles and subsidies – rural employment scheme, food security law – which militated against the major thrust of the reforms which encouraged individual and entrepreneurial initiative and did not favour official handouts at the behest of a benevolent family.
But, it isn’t only the dynasty’s socialistic instincts which have made it lose touch with the present-day economic realities. Even more damaging to it is the fact that its members palpably lack the intellectual wherewithal to deal with India’s complexities. As a result, they appear to studiously avoid saying anything on topics like ban on books or capital punishment or prohibition.
The silence is either because they believe that they will be unable to argue their points of view convincingly, or because they may offend a potential group of supporters by taking a firm stand. It is this propensity to cultivate vote banks which has made the dynasty push for reservations for the backward castes among Muslims (although Islam does not recognize castes) or insist on the inclusion of castes in the census data after a gap eight decades in order to please the OBCs and others with the sop of the quota system. Not surprisingly, the family has maintained a deafening silence on the merit vs reservations debate in the fields of education and employment.
The opportunism inherent in these attitudes has been compounded by the dynasty’s cynicism towards questions of morality, as is evident from Prithviraj Chavan’s candid confession that he could not “shed” Congress stalwarts Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan because such a step would have “decimated” the party. Clearly, the former Maharashtra chief minister did not expect any help from Sonia Gandhi in his attempt to cleanse the party. Similarly, Manmohan Singh, too, could not “shed” Andimuthu Raja presumably because of objections from the Congress president, who appears to have imbibed the fake socialism and genuine cynicism of her formidable mother-in-law when she was a young bride in an unfamiliar country.
From a disconnect with an India which wants “growth” to dalliance with corruption, the dynasty has let the Congress down in every way possible, as is apparent from the election results. It is time for it to go. (IPA Service)