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Fundamental problems

Fundamental problems

Since I am not known to pull my punches,let me begin by saying it like I see it.

Since I am not known to pull my punches,let me begin by saying it like I see it. Last week’s elections results are very bad news for the Gandhi dynasty. Not the Congress Party. Anyone with even a casual understanding of Indian politics knows that this party runs according to the wishes of one family. It has been that way since Indira Gandhi introduced dynastic democracy as a political idea in the seventies. She used the Emergency to hand the Congress Party,and virtually the Government of India,to the late Sanjay Gandhi who till then had not contested an election or shown an interest in politics.

Dynastic democracy has now spread like a lethal disease to almost every political party in India but Congress has been afflicted longer than anyone else. And,it is now beginning to pay the price. Nowhere is this more evident than in Rae Bareli and Amethi where Congress lost nearly every seat. This happened despite Priyanka Gandhi campaigning relentlessly herself and enlisting the services of her husband and children. Mr Vadra,not a seasoned politician,naively admitted on national television that his whole family intended to play a political role. This smacked of a sense of entitlement that voters no longer seem comfortable with.

In the campaign speeches of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi,the sense of entitlement was more subtly expressed. It manifested itself in the way they spoke of the money ‘we’ have sent from Delhi. In Rae Bareli,I happened to catch one of Sonia Gandhi’s rallies on television when I stopped to have lunch in a local restaurant. My lunch companion was a young Dalit man. When Sonia said ‘we’ have sent more than Rs 100,000 crores to UP that was looted by the state government,he asked me if this was not money that belonged to the ‘janata’. It does. It is not just arrogant but offensive to talk this way but this has been the leitmotif of Sonia Gandhi’s speeches for many,many elections now.

Rahul campaigned indefatigably in Uttar Pradesh but wherever he went he behaved like a prince who had deigned to step out of his palace to mingle with people he would not ordinarily have needed to meet. He boasted often about how he had spent nights in the huts of villagers and shared their humble meals. He made it sound as if he was doing something that other politicians did not do in the normal course. They do and it did not take long for Akhilesh Yadav to point this out.


This brings us to a question I have been asked over and over since the Samajwadi Party won in UP. Why was Akhilesh more acceptable than Rahul since they are both inheritors of political parties? As someone who believes dynastic democracy has been disastrous for Indian politics,I do not have an answer I like. Except to say that Akhilesh has not yet started behaving like a prince. He may do eventually but during this campaign he did not exhibit a sense of entitlement.

He would,however,do well to study carefully what went wrong with the Congress Party in order to avoid making the same mistakes. The biggest is the delusion that charisma is the only key to electoral success. When this delusion sets in political parties start to rely on the wisdom of a ‘high command’ to decide which candidates qualify for tickets and which ones are unfit. Inevitably then political parties become infested,as Congress has,with power brokers who concentrate on pushing forward their friends and relatives instead of people with a real interest in public life. For political parties this is usually the kiss of death.

In Punjab,voters had a choice between two dynasties and chose to keep the Badals in power. Again,I believe this could be because at the moment the Badals have not started behaving as if all that matters is their ‘charisma’. Their campaign was based not on a sense of entitlement but on a determined effort to convince voters that they would continue to bring development and prosperity to Punjab. They succeeded this time. But,like the Samajwadi Party,and other political parties that believe in dynastic succession,they would do well to observe carefully what has happened to the Congress Party.

Forty years of surviving in the shadow of a dynasty has reduced India’s oldest political party to being little more than the appendage of a court in Delhi. When Rahul Gandhi said after last week’s results that he believed the ‘fundamentals’ were wrong,he made a correct assessment. But,as heir to the dynasty there is nothing he can do about it. Since he himself entered politics because his surname gave him entitlement how can he admit that the ‘fundamental’ that needs changing is dynastic democracy.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh