■ By Vijay Phanshikar :
T HERE he stood, fair and handsome and tall, face glowing with the feel of the stupendous success of his party in Lok Sabha elections about one year earlier, and said in a firm voice,“The Congress party is the Ganga of Indian polity, but it needs to be cleansed.” On January 16, 1986, the occasion was the inaugural ceremony of the centenary celebrations of the Congress party, on the massive Gowalia Tank ground in Mumbai. Thousands of party workers and sympathisers present at the moment, plus countless lakhs of others across the country, cheered lustily as Congress President and Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi made that assertion, indicating his resolve to clean up the ruling party of all its ills and make it worthy of leading the nation into the next century. There was no question of doubting the honesty and integrity of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s statement. His was the final word and the party was going to abide by it with all its power.
Thirty five years later, on May 7, 2021, addressing a virtual meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s widow -- Mrs. Sonia Gandhi -- lamented that her party’s performance in the recent legislative elections in five States was disappointing. Much water has flown between those two moments and the Congress party had travelled to one of the lowest points on its decline -- no matter the five years of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s Government and then ten years of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Government. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s lament matched perfectly the truth of the moment -- that the Congress party, which Mr. Rajiv Gandhi described to be the Ganga of Indian polity, had brought itself to a debacle without any parallel.
Everybody who has watched the continual decline of the Congress party since the days of Mrs. Indira Gandhi -- various electoral victories apart -- will remember thinking, even way back in 1986 that the organisation was slowly losing its inner glow and drive to lead the nation. His proud intent of cleansing the party notwithstanding, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi became one of the main reasons for the decline of the party when it lost the Lok Sabha elections under his leadership. And now, it is his widowed wife Sonia and son Rahul and daughter Priyanka under whose leadership the Congress party is amassing failures by the bagful. Factually and fatefully, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has no other option but to express her severe disappointment with the party over the terrible performance in the legislative elections -- which were being considered as a mini national mandate. The reason is not far from anybody’s understanding.The Congress party has not had any sensible leadership for too long a time. After the most unfortunate assassination of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, the party was led by persons such as Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao and Mr. Sitaram Kesari, followed by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and then her flippant son Mr. Rahul Gandhi. Each change of guard proved to have taken the party still lower in public estimation and the national electoral calculus. Now also, the Sonia-RahulPriyanka Gandhi trio is only ensuring that the party nosedives further down.
The family has little respect for the party’s glorious history and tradition, and only a perfunctory awareness about the contribution it has made to India’s public life over the past 135 years since inception. The threesome appears to have decided not to listen to wise counsel offered by party colleagues and seniors and also to ignore whatever popular acceptance the party may have been left with across the country. That is why in region after region, the Congress party is losing its appeal, in the process resembling a dried up river which the people use as a dumping ground -- far from the Ganga of Indian polity, declared so proudly by Mr. Rajiv Gandhi. As the party was preparing to defend its turf in 2014 at the end of the second term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), I asked Mr. Rahul Gandhi a specific question about what he was doing in the light of his (late) father’s centenary assertion, at a meeting he called with newspaper editors at Nagpur.
He just did not understand the question at all, and talked terribly loosely about absolutely unrelated issues, his eyes wandering aimlessly around and his countenance that of a very confused man (and certainly not of Congress party’s national leader). Following the recent electoral debacle, senior Congressmen like Mr. Kapil Sibal are reminding the party leadership to stop celebrating the BJP’s failure to acquire power in West Bengal, but to concentrate in rebuilding of the party. A similar appeal had come up a few months earlier at a Jammu conclave as well where more than two dozen senior Congress men had gathered to discuss the party’s future.
All of them were treated terribly disdainfully. So terribly is the quality of Congress party’s current central leadership that neither Mr. Rahul Gandhi nor Mrs. Priyanka Gandhi (Va dra) addressed even a single campaign meeting inWest Bengal. In Assam, too, the twosome only drew a lot of public derision. In Kerala, where Mr. Rahul Gandhi is a Member of Parliament in one Lok Sabha constituency, the party failed to make a mark. InTamil Nadu, if it had not been in alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the party would have offered a terrible show. There is no doubt that the party is losing its ground even in the States where it runs the Government -- like Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. This is because the Congress party is one leaderless and rudderless organisation with no clue about its future course of action. And that is because it has not bothered to maintain a close connect with its history of 135 years. The so-called Ganga of Indian polity ...!