Circus of sycophancy

After Sonia Gandhi’s refusal to become PM, the Congress put up an embarrassing show.

Written by Inder Malhotra | Published: September 7, 2015 12:00 am
Sonia Gandhi, Congress, Congress party, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Sonia, Indira Gandhi, 2004 general elections, gandhi family, dynastic politics, gandhi dynastic politics, congress dynastic politics, indian express column, ie column, Inder Malhotra column Sonia Gandhi

On the subject of the totally unexpected defeat of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in the 2004 general elections, I have hitherto concentrated on three salient facts — the saffron party’s anger and the consequent disruption of an entire session of Parliament that somehow persists till now; Sonia Gandhi’s decision to retain only the presidency of the Congress and say no to the office of prime minister; and her nomination to that job of Manmohan Singh. Some had foreseen this because in her two meetings with then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the Congress president was accompanied only by Singh. But since political Delhi is a whispering gallery larger than even Washington within the Beltway, some others had concluded that Kalam had “some reluctance” to swear in Sonia as the PM.

At an appropriate time, Kalam — who has just got a major road in Lutyens’ Delhi renamed after him — slammed this spurious speculation. However, this wasn’t and couldn’t have been the end of the matter.

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The real drama, punctuated with low comedy, began on the day the Congress Parliamentary Party, after electing Sonia Gandhi its leader unanimously and enthusiastically, virtually wept when, after thanking them, she announced that in accordance with her “inner voice” she would not accept the office of PM, which would go to Singh. Their repeated plea to her to reverse her decision made no difference. Barely had Sonia reached her home at 10 Janpath when the already mobilised legions of loyalists started a special act of their own. In overloaded cars, buses, trucks, etc, they started a procession to No 10 to remind their leader that they could not even conceive of a Congress government that wasn’t headed by “Soniaji”. They had planned so well that their show went on from early afternoon till late night.

Far from being anything novel, this was entirely in keeping with the unbreakable link between dynastic rule and sycophancy. The Congress party’s first family is not the sole beneficiary of this established pattern. An impressive number of regional parties dominating states, big and small, are also family businesses, and their supremos rule their domains as patriarchs and matriarchs. Witness the way the two rivals, Mulayam Singh and Mayawati, have governed Uttar Pradesh. Or study the impact on Tamil Nadu of the enmity between J. Jayalalithaa and the Karunanidhi clan. Three generations of Abdullahs have ruled the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir, though they have now yielded place to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba. Countless other examples can be cited but, alas, there isn’t enough space.

However, despite broad uniformity in the system of dynastic succession and power, there have also been significant variations, in different phases, of almost all dynasties. Remarkably, the most important of these have been in the case of the renowned and incomparable Gandhi dynasty. In a brief period of five years (1966-71), the dynasty’s founder had morphed from goongi gudiya (dumb doll) into invincible goddess Durga. Shortly thereafter, she decided to groom her younger son Sanjay to be her political heir and successor. She hinted that power should start moving in his direction. The courtiers obeyed and the young man was happy to grab whatever power he could. The Emergency and the 1977 election were the undoing of both mother and son. Both lost not only power but also their own seats in Parliament. However, far from having been “consigned to the dustbin of history”, Indira was spectacularly back in power in 33 months flat, and so was Sanjay. The Janata that had vanquished them was history, having destroyed itself.

However, the tremendous triumph of January 1980 suddenly turned into a searing tragedy in June. Sanjay died in the crash of a plane he was flying himself.

Soon afterwards, there was a big row within the dynasty because Sanjay’s feisty widow, Maneka, believed that she was the rightful inheritor of her husband’s legacy, while Indira Gandhi ensured that this role would go to her surviving son, Rajiv. Within a few hours of his mother’s assassination, Rajiv was sworn in as PM. Because of his image as “Mr Clean” and his good manners, he was extremely popular until the Bofors scam erupted.

After Rajiv’s assassination in 1991, his widow firmly refused the Congress party’s grovelling requests to step into his shoes. Indeed, she announced that she would never accept any political office. Most Indians believed her. Only a Pakistani analyst commented: “Never say never… Sonia or her progeny might appear someday in India’s power equation.”

This brings me back to where I had begun — Sonia’s renunciation of the most powerful office in the land and the gymnastics of the sycophants circulating around her residence. The most bizarre element in the scene was a lone man in an otherwise empty truck with a pistol to his own head and a sword in the other hand to deter anyone interfering with him. He never pulled the trigger.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator.

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  1. A
    Sep 7, 2015 at 2:07 pm
    They are big time cons which is apparent from how they attached the hi surname to fool the voters..dira's husband was no hi!!
    1. T
      Sep 7, 2015 at 11:17 am
      Feku56 has failed to control food inflation or create jobs during 15 months of his five year slot
      1. A
        Sep 7, 2015 at 5:21 am
        Italian pigs.
        1. अक्षय टंकसाळे
          Sep 8, 2015 at 1:40 pm
          Dynastic politics is a curse to the nation. But it's very difficult to mend the mindset of the people. Narendra Modi changed the political scenario to considerable extent.He showed that even person with zero political background could become PM & that too without licking boots of party high commands. However communists are only political eny who had kept distance from dynastic politics. People have to count performance rather than genetically inherited morphological attributes (It makes me laugh when people talk about Priyanka's nose resembling to Indira's).There is certainly going to be future for Congressmen when they will give chance to Non-hi Nehru leader.
          1. A
            Sep 7, 2015 at 12:44 pm
            Don't worry, he's done quite a bit and will finish the job as soon as he finishes dealing with the huge economic debris left behind by your masters, The Dynasty, who had 10 years to themselves-- and which was not enough for Vacation56 to become an adult or to give up on the family habit of thieving. MODI has 45 months to go so don't get your hopes up-- your party of sycophants will remain in the dustbin-- where they rightfully belong!
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