Out of my mind: Contests and electionshttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/out-of-my-mind-congress-party-sonia-gandhi-rahul-gandhi-contests-and-elections-4975833/

Out of my mind: Contests and elections

The Congress has had very few contested elections in its entire history. Once Gandhiji became its leader, he nominated the candidate for party president and the All India Congress Committee duly voted for the sole candidate.

Congress party election
The pattern the Congress has set is followed by other parties.

When Shah Jahan succeeded Jahangir, it was not automatic. He had to fight his brothers to win his kingship. Aurangzeb was even more thorough in removing his brothers who were his rivals for succession. He was not the oldest son and therefore not the natural heir. There was nothing easy or predictable about Mughal succession.

Which is not true of Rahul Gandhi’s almost certain elevation to presidency of the Congress party. As in some Central Asian ‘democracies’, there is no contest, and had there been (remember Jitendra Prasada), Rahul would have got 99.99 per cent of the votes cast. Why bother with nominations etc?

The Congress has had very few contested elections in its entire history. Once Gandhiji became its leader, he nominated the candidate for party president and the All India Congress Committee duly voted for the sole candidate. In effect, the president was a figurehead while the Leader was the key person. The president served for one year. Exception was made for the Nehrus. Motilal became president twice, in 1919 and 1927, and Jawaharlal followed in 1929 and 1930.

It was Subhas Chandra Bose who defied Gandhiji and became president a second time against Gandhiji’s candidate. But Gandhiji frustrated his second year by instructing his party not to serve with Bose on the Working Committee. Bose resigned and Rajendra Prasad was appointed in his place. Democracy was not required in the party. Nehru demonstrated his mastery over the Congress after Vallabhbhai Patel passed away and removed Purushottam Das Tandon from presidency as he was too right wing for him. From then on, the parliamentary leader of the Congress chose the president and the party duly voted for the candidate. So Nehru and then Indira Gandhi called the shots. After her defeat in the 1977 election, Indira became president herself and stayed so till her death. Rajiv Gandhi followed suit and was president till 1991. The vacuum caused by Rajiv’s death opened out the process, but with Sitaram Kesri nearly destroying the party, Sonia Gandhi took over, and has now served for 19 years — the longest anyone has been president of the Congress. Contested elections could not be trusted.

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No real contested elections such as those that take place in Britain or France are held in India. The pattern the Congress has set is followed by other parties. Neither Mulayam Singh Yadav nor Lalu Prasad nor Mayawati faced contested elections. The BJP is different. It has no family leading it. The RSS was crucial to the choice of BJP president while the party was not in power. Before the 2014 polls, there was many names in the race to be named the leader of the election campaign, including Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and Narendra Modi. There was no doubt who the members wanted. Modi was chosen, and delivered. Modi as Prime Minister chose Amit Shah to be president, following the Congress practice.

The principle is clear. If your party is not in power, it does not matter how the party chooses its leader. It is the person who can win elections and take the party to power who matters. The winner of the parliamentary contest earns the right to nominate the president, as Modi did with Amit Shah. The issue with Rahul Gandhi’s election is not whether it is democratic or dynastic. It is whether he can win the next election and earn his leadership. Not very likely, is it?