Some might say this is because Rahul is the son of the Congress’s ‘first lady’, and in direct lineage. Well, ignore the fact that we are talking about a democracy here and not a monarchy. If Robert is an in-law, so is Sonia. Also, according to our great Indian culture, isn’t the ‘damaad’ more worthy of respect than the son (Robert could use this card)? In fact, Robert is at least approachable, compared to Rahul.
More than anything, Robert’s claim reflects the psyche of a large number of Indians, who believe that almost anyone from the Congress first family is entitled to rule us – brother, sister, mother and brother-in-law and, in future, their children.
Do we Indians realise what we are doing? We are not just celebrating the first family as ceremonial heads of state. We aren’t just interested in them as popular celebrities. In fact, we are saying the family will effectively have a hold on every policy of the country for generations to come. The son or son-in-law will decide how our steel industry is run, how shipping works or how telecom policies will be crafted. We don’t care about expertise; we only seem to care about their hereditary entitlement and charm. If we citizens think like this, do we not deserve the governance mess we are in?
We have CMs in several states who have worked for decades and won people’s trust. They are making a visible difference in their states, despite limited powers given to them. Still, many of us feel that only the family deserves the top job.
While the average Gandhi clan-charmed Indian voter needs to reflect, what is ironic is that the family is not a panacea for the Congress itself. This over-reliance on it may backfire on the party. Of course, most Congress members may laugh at this assertion. The family is the core reason why people vote Congress, they would say. Yet, the mood of the nation is set to change.
For, India is too diverse a place to be governed tightly at the top by anyone, leave alone one family. Even with the best intentions, the family cannot take every decision in the country, and there are too many decisions to be taken. The state of Mumbai roads, or that of UP colleges, or Bihar’s crime – all these are real issues that affect people who live in these places. What people have shown they need is a good state government, and a development-focussed CM who is a bit of a local star. Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee – their local focus and charisma have brought them great, recurring political dividends.
However, the Congress party virtually has no local stars. All good work is credited to the Gandhi family. All mistakes are promptly assigned to less senior leaders, keeping the family blemish-free. Even in tough negotiations such as with the Anna movement, the family kept away, while certain ministers ended up coming across as arrogant and rigid.
There is a huge political error in this. We have seen, wherever a good local leader emerges, the Congress is thrown out of power, perhaps for a long time. The remaining states are simply waiting for their own Nitish, Didi and Modi to emerge, and they will move towards them despite all the charms of the family. The Congress performed poorly in the municipal elections in Maharashtra, simply because other parties have local stars, and the Congress doesn’t.
Members of the family personally need to go and campaign for every election, making them spread themselves too thin. Nitish only has to care about Bihar at election time. Rahul not only has to take on Nitish in Bihar but also other opponents in every state. How on earth is this sustainable? ‘ Hoarding power at the top is in the Congress’s DNA. Take the recent controversy over the formation of the National Counter Terrorism Centre, which states saw as an attempt by the Centre to gain more power over them. Or the government’s Lokpal Bill, which states found hard to support. These are examples of the Congress government trying to pile it all at the Centre. However, it is a terrible model to run this diverse country.
Even if the family was well-intentioned, they simply cannot run a country as complex as India from the top. Local leader empowerment is a must, and the Congress just doesn’t seem to believe in it. While they keep debating between brother, sister or brother-in-law, and new regional stars emerge, they may find people’s support slip away from them, one state at a time. The family moon shines bright at present, but a beautiful moon has a downside. It hides all the stars. And right now, it looks like people like the moon, but they want their own stars too. The Congress better be prepared.