The Congress decision to convene an AICC session in January has triggered frenzied speculation about Rahul Gandhi being declared the party’s PM nominee at the venue. An unbroken tradition of three previous generations adorning the Prime Minister’s office remains Rahul’s sole political capital. The drubbing in the assembly elections in four states has left a question mark hanging over his political career. Either the Congress is blissfully unaware of public perceptions on Rahul Gandhi or it is facing a genuine shortage of good leaders. Party spokesperson Priya Dutt’s statement on Tuesday seems to point to the latter scenario. Dutt claimed that “in the entire Congress, there is only one leader” while ecstatically plumbing for Rahul’s elevation. Disputable as this claim is, what cannot be contested is the institutionalisation of the dynasties: a main central one, and a hundred-odd minor dynasties, in the Congress today.
It is perhaps not surprising that the hold of hereditary politics over the Congress has coincided with the decline in its support base and the end of inner-party democracy. Rahul Gandhi’s constant refrain — during his five-year-long, ultimately failed, talent-spotting drive to firm up the Youth Congress organisation — was the need for more young people to enter politics. In his book, India: A Portrait, author Patrick French had compiled statistics showing that all Congress MPs below 35 had reached the 15th Lok Sabha through a family link, that 78 out of 208 Congress MPs were hereditary MPs, and the average age of a hereditary MP, at 48 years, was ten years less than those who made it on their own. It is not surprising then that Rahul’s drive has failed. In an age of unlimited aspirations, discernible youngsters are quick to notice that every young Congress MP is a beneficiary of familial ties.
So when Priya Dutt, her father Sunil Dutt’s political heir, and others with political lineage, like Jyotiraditya Scindia, wax eloquent over arch-dynast Rahul Gandhi, who after 10 years in active politics has little to show in terms of achievement, it is natural to be sceptical. The vitality of an organisation is best captured by its response to crisis, its ability to effect leadership changes, and to absorb dissidence without resorting to splits and expulsions. In contrast to the overwhelming chorus of young acolytes pressing for Rahul’s elevation as the Congress PM candidate, is the BJP scenario from a few months ago. Narendra Modi was anointed the party’s PM candidate after a robust debate and objections raised by a vocal section led by LK Advani. Arguably, the enthusiasm among the party’s younger rank-and-file members swept the BJP old guard away.
Among the presumptions swept aside by the Aam Aadmi Party during its stunning debut in Delhi was the electorate’s favourable disposition towards young dynasts. Four of five debutant hereditary politicians lost at the hustings in constituencies groomed by their fathers for years. The predominance of hereditary MPs on its rolls, especially in the under-45 age-group, poses a real, if understated, problem for the Congress. The party that led the country to freedom has fallen out of step with the political aspirations of the country’s youth.