For all the hype about Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and the statue, no one mentioned that Patel was the architect of the Congress as the most successful election fighting machine devised. The successes in 1937 and 1946 elections established the hegemony of the Congress, which Jawaharlal Nehru was able to strengthen by winning the first three General Elections of independent India decisively. He became the undisputed Leader of India.
This Leader syndrome got established with Nehru and became even stronger with Indira Gandhi. Indira destroyed the Cabinet system; her ministers were treated as inferior to her. They allowed her to break constitutional norms during Emergency.
Indira eroded the Congress structure and with it the superb machine Sardar Patel had bequeathed. This weakness was not realised as her sudden death (on the same day as Patel’s birthday) gave Rajiv Gandhi the biggest electoral majority and the largest vote share ever in Indian elections. After 1984, the Congress never won a majority. Regional parties got smarter at exploiting vote banks and the BJP began its long march towards power. It became the alternative party to the Congress. It fashioned for itself a superb election fighting machine. The result was the triumph of Narendra Modi in 2014.
Modi is the first Prime Minister since Rajiv to reassert the prominence of the PM. The Congress cannot get used to another party being top dog or a person from outside the Family being the Leader. Modi continues the Indira practice. The Cabinet members are strictly subordinate cheerleaders. This is why Indian politics has become Modi-centred. He is the story and the Manifesto. This is also the reason why Rahul has only one policy — attack Modi. He has no policy proposals nor a programme the Congress will follow if, by chance, it won power.
Far from being weak, this one-issue campaign has proved effective for Rahul. Instead of asking how the Congress would solve the challenging problems facing India (which would mean admitting the possibility of the BJP losing power), the BJP returns the compliment by attacking Rahul personally. This works for the Congress president as it makes him the news. This is also why the only issue preventing a grand alliance is the issue of Kaun Banega Pradhan Mantri.
Even so, the burden on the Leader is getting unmanageable. Modi may have won two international awards recently but he has not had the time to savour them. He has been kept engaged firefighting on multiple fronts. The CVC/CBI case is getting out of control. The Government has to submit the Rafale decision papers to the courts. The Sabarimala temple is challenging the Supreme Court decision and the Centre is not helping Kerala implement it. The BJP has its own faithful to worry about. The Supreme Court has postponed the Ayodhya case till January, further angering the faithful.
The next six months will test the Leadership principle. The election fighting machinery needs the footsoldiers of the party to be happy. But being the Leader means the leader of all and the guardian of the law, not just the party faithful.
The Family could rely on the citizens being meek and obedient. The Party members had a sense of service. No longer. By winning, Modi could make BJP the sole party for the future.