If the Bharatiya Janata Party is deluding itself that Narendra Modi’s storm-trooping methods will miraculously ensure its victory in the next election, the Congress is no less dangerously mistaken in thinking that Rahul Gandhi will craft its return to power by assertively signifying his importance in the party—by bypassing it.
Gandhi may have scuttled the odious ordinance that was designed to prevent convicted lawmakers from holding on to their seats pending legal appeal as might have happened by the time these lines appear in print but he has not brought the party or himself any credit by the manner in which he went about doing it.
The ordinance militates against all democratic notions of accountability of the elected representatives of the people, and their legal equality with ordinary citizens. Surely, a legislator who is not merely charged with, but duly convicted of, a criminal offence serious enough to warrant imprisonment for two years or longer, is unfit to make laws until s/he has served the necessary sentence. The ordinance was clearly devised to shield people such as Lalu Prasad, who was about to be convicted in the fodder scam. It has no place in a democracy’s statute books.
Yet, merits apart, Gandhi showed profound contempt for elementary democratic norms by barging into a party press conference which was held to rationalise the ordinance. He advanced no rational argument against the legislation. That shouldn’t have been difficult. He merely denounced it as “nonsense” and demanded that it should be “torn up”. At work here was not reason or decent politics, but pure privilege, deriving from his lineage from the Nehrus and the Gandhis.
Gandhi wasn’t unaware of the anomalous nature of his position as Congress vice president, to which he was elevated primarily by virtue of his lineage, not his performance. Only four years ago, he told Congressmen: “The hierarchical system exists (in the Congress). It is a reality. But what is the option before me? I can either propagate the system or change it. I am not the one to propagate it so I am trying to change it. You do not like the system; even I do not like it. We have to work together to change it.”
He has brazenly reneged on this pledge and effectively confessed to his continued dependence on the “hierarchical system”. This comes on top of his disastrous performance in the last Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and worse, his failure to rejuvenate the largely discredited Youth Congress, which he decided to rebuild on the basis of democratic internal elections—as the key to strengthening the parent party. The elections were rigged in state after state, and reproduced the same “hierarchical system” by electing the sons and daughters of established Congress leaders.
Gandhi has done his damage. But those who urged Manmohan Singh to resign in protest haven’t gained either. In particular, the BJP stands exposed for its moral-political hypocrisy: it had earlier supported the ordinance, but now unconvincingly rails against it.
The Congress will gain nothing from looking for shortcuts such as getting Gandhi to throw his hat in the ring and imagining that it will somehow prove an electoral game-changer. He isn’t as yet ready, or fit, to take the plunge. There’s no alternative to striking roots among the people and building successful social coalitions and party alliances. The Congress has no soft options left.
The author is a writer, columnist, and a professor at the Council for Social Development, Delhi