THE PRIYANKA MYTH: WHY THE CONGRESS’ PLAN B IS A DUD
Lakshmi Chaudhry Mar 7, 2012
Ohmigod, Rahul is a big dud! Save us, Priyanka! The ink on the UP verdict has barely dried, but the clamour for the next Gandhi saviour has already begun. It’s time for Sonia to make her very own Sophie’s Choice : choose one child and abandon the other to preserve the dynasty.
Never mind all that “serious reflection and introspection”suggested by some deluded Congress leaders, what the party really needs is some “detailed thinking” – as Rahul put it in his little speech – on how to change horses in midstream. While everyone is chanting ‘Hamara Rahul mahaan‘ in front of the TV cameras, party leaders behind closed doors are singing a different and yet far-too-familiar tune:
One figure close to Mrs Gandhi said the party’s strategy had been wrong and described the decision to allow Mr Gandhi to lead the campaign a “serious mistake.” “Now the pressure will be for Priyanka [Gandhi] to be involved and up front for the party. Rahul should not have got involved [in the campaign], he should have a good team in instead,” he said.
The legend of Priyanka-as-reincarnated Indira too hasreared its predictable head: “Many observers consider Ms. Vadra, who bears a striking resemblance to her iron-willed grandmother, Indira Gandhi, to be more charismatic and a better public speaker than her brother.” This bizarre — and mostly unfounded — myth has dogged her poor brother who has always been cast as the weaker sibling, in line for succession due to the privilege of gender rather than any natural talent. After all, handing over the family bijness to a daughter is a travesty when there is a loyal son in the picture.
But hey, here’s the bright side of the UP debacle: now that the son has proved to be useless, maybe we can all get the Gandhi we really, really want. Never mind that Priyanka has proved to be as big a dud in UP.
As is usual, she was hauled out at election time much like a magic wand, charged with delivering the family strongholds in Amethi, Rae Bareli and Sultanpur. In one of her innumerable rallies, she told the crowds, “I promised Ma that we will get her all the 10 seats of Rae Bareli and Amethi.” The result: SP grabbed four of the five seats in Rae Bareli, and eight of the 10 assembly seats in Amethi and Sultanpur. The Congress retained one seat and gained another. Back in 2007, the party won 10 of the 15 seats.
“Iss baar Priyanka ka jaadu nahin chala (Priyanka’s magic has not worked this time),” says Pradip Tripathi, a Dainik Jagran reporter in Amethi — but not for the reasons that Congress would like to claim. Yes, there were obstacles that even Priyanka could not overcome: the shoddy candidates the party chose to field, their dismal track record in delivering benefits to their constituents, and the lack of grassroot infrastructure. But a rare, candid report on Priyanka’s campaign presence suggests a more serious problem: that the so-called ‘jaadu‘ may be entirely imaginary.
Reporting for Rediff.com, Sheela Bhatt describes a very different Priyanka:
By the time Priyanka arrives in Amaye Mafi village, most local reporters begin to murmur about the absence of a response from her audience. I am surprised to discover that Priyanka gives unimpressive speeches. It is as if she is fulfilling a ‘duty.’ Political passion is clearly absent. By 4 pm, in Tikarmafi village, Priyanka is so defensive that while addressing an audience of around 200 people, she says, “Iss chunav main nahin to humein agle chunav main bal milega (If not in the current election, we will be strengthened in the next election).”
Much of her spontaneity and charm, Bhatt suggests, is reserved for the media, local and national reporters alike, who love to cover her. What is compelling on screen — “She is sheer magic when seen through the eyes of a television camera” — is less than impressive on the ground, even in strongholds where her family is revered.
Ok, so Priyanka isn’t likely to make a great politician either — or at least, there is no hard evidence as yet to suggest the same. But blaming the latest generation of Gandhis misses the larger, more important point. The problem isn’t Priyanka who has little political experience other than making stump speeches. Why should a homemaker who spends much of her time in Delhi with her family be a seasoned campaigner or expected to deliver votes? The problem isn’t with Rahul who has been pushed willy nilly into politics by his mother and the Congress party leadership. The problem isn’t with Sonia who rejected a political role in the aftermath of her husband’s death, only to have the party honchos literally beg her to take charge.
The problem is that our oldest and largest political party has been reduced to a one-trick pony show. Increasingly bereft of ideas or values, the Congress has become a party in surname only. Everyone snickered when Robert Vadra declared, “It’s Rahul’s time now. Priyanka’s time will also come.” It would be funny if it weren’t also true. This is indeed the 126-year old Congress party’s Plan B – through Z.
Interviewing Salman Khurshid on CNN-IBN, journalist Neena Singh asked, “Ok, so you say it isn’t about dynastic politics. So what is the glue that holds this party together — other than dynasty? What else is there?” A weary Khurshid shifted in his seat, shrugged his shoulders, and stared back at the camera in silence.
It was a sad moment for the Congress party, and sadder still for our nation.
CONGRESS, DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEAS FOR REDEMPTION?
G Pramod Kumar Mar 7, 2012
Congress is dangerously running low on fuel. Will it last till 2014?
If at all it lasts, will it have anything left to see itself through the Lok Sabha elections due by then?
The assembly poll debacle is a strong warning sign of the party’s severe erosion of political capital and the increasing rise of unfriendly regional parties. The rural voters have abandoned them and the regional parties have elbowed them out.
However, what should worry them more is the bankruptcy of political ideas and the limited leg-space that it will be left with over the next two crucial years.
Ahead of 2014, it has to face another round of assembly elections in four states, including its incumbent Rajasthan and Delhi. If the results are going to be even close to what we just saw, the party is in deep trouble. It might even lose its right to convene, if at all the UPA allies together manage to cobble a majority.
The drubbing in four states, particularly in UP, has shown that Rahul, and the sparingly used Priyanka, are not the steroid shots that a severely emaciated Congress will need; instead, it requires big political ideas, that over the next two years can create a dramatic impact on large rural masses.
The biggest of them all, is the need for a political prime minister.
It is absolutely clear for the nth time that taking the lifeblood of politics out of the prime minister and conserving it within the Gandhi family for an imagined charisma doesn’t work any more.
A politically lameduck prime minister implementing simple neo-liberal prescriptions out of the policy papers of the WB or IMF is a bad idea. That immediately after the assembly elections, the policy issue that Manmohan Singh spoke about was on retail in FDI shows his lack of political acumen. Does it work for anybody? Absolutely not, not even for the urban voters.
What is required is a big idea like the NREGA that will have an impact on the lives of rural people. NREGA was partially helpful for the UPA in getting a second term, but it has run its course and now makes sense only for international students of poverty. It requires something bigger with short term results. An NREGA Version 2.0 perhaps. After the `India Shining’ experience, nobody has a doubt that it is the rural voter base that counts.
Instead, what does the Congress have in store? The Food Security Bill and the increased allocation on health in the 12th plan.
The Food Security Bill has been severely criticised as a wasteful behemoth that can even impair effective universal PDS systems in states such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala. If at all it gets partly going, it is not likely to create any impact. The first two years could at best be a pilot period when one is likely to see more failures than successes.
The next big thing in store is the proposed doubling of allocation on health. The 12th plan proposes to raise the per capita expenditure on health from the present 1.4 percent to 2.5 percent of the GDP. Experts do find the proposals ground-breaking of far-reaching consequence, but its short term political gains are likely to be negligible given the incubation period its implementation will take.
Two more upcoming pieces of legislation—the Grievance Redress Bill and the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill—are hailed for their likely impact on public life.
Progressive, but politically smart? In the absence of a more popular Lokpal, they wouldn’t make much sense to the public. A Lokpal could have been a politically smart choice because it captures public imagination. Political intransigence and hard line advice, perhaps out of genuine fear of skeletons in the closet, killed a fantastic opportunity.
What else does the party have? Pretty much nothing. Instead, what it is likely to see in the coming months is an increasing defiance by its alliance partners, challenges in Rajya Sabha elections and many of its proposals falling through.
By 2014, the Congress is unlikely to gain anything in Tamil Nadu: Jayalalithaa is already talking about it and has asked her party workers to get her all the Parliament seats. In Andhra Pradesh, the ghost of YSR’s corrupt legacy will be difficult to exorcise; in the four states where the Congress has failed miserably now, the fortune is unlikely to change despite theories of split-voting; the upcoming elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan also do not look overtly favourable at the moment. Maharashtra and Bihar? Pretty faint.
Perhaps the only hope the Congress can nurse is that the BJP pitches Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. In such an event, Congress might be an indirect beneficiary.
It is certain that Congress cannot hope for a semblance of redemption without changing its ways and politics. The first step towards such a change is a political prime minister. Nowhere in a democracy, one would see a political dud like Manmohan Singh. Either makeManmohan Singh political or look for a wily veteran, to begin with.
Otherwise, forget about 2014.
THE DYNASTY IS OVER; GO ON RAHUL, GET A REAL LIFE
R Jagannathan Mar 7, 2012
The Gandhis’ longevity in this “family business” is an unnatural exception that has continued for five generations. S Nagesh for Firstpost
The one simple takeout from the Uttar Pradesh elections is this: the dynasty is now on its last legs. It may soon be over.
Of course, it may be easy to make this statement after Rahul Gandhi was trounced in the UP elections – including in his pocket boroughs of Rae Bareli, Amethi and Sultanpur. The statement will also be seriously contested, for the Congress party is certainly not over. And dynasties are not restricted to the Nehru-Gandhi family alone: look at the Karunanidhi, Yadav, YSR, Pawar, Badal, Patnaik, Chautala and other dynasties sprouting all over.
Let’s get one thing clear. We are not talking dynasties in general. Limited dynasties are in the natural order of things – as the course of human civilisation shows. The history of evolution is a history of sons (and daughters) following in their parents’ footsteps – whether it is business, profession or vocation. (As an aside, let me confess, I am a third generation journalist, and I could be the last for a while.)
So, the proposition that “dynasty is over” is not a statement about all dynasties. Dynasties will come and go. One is, however, talking about The Dynasty – the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which is now into its fifth generation with Rahul Gandhi and Varun Gandhi – and could conceivably continue into the sixth if Priyanka’s kids turn out to moderately interested in politics. Her six-packing, motorcyclist hubby certainly seems to think he is in with a chance in this line of business.
However, the Gandhis’ longevity in this “family business” is an unnatural exception that has continued for five generations because of extraordinary events that catapulted many family members to do what they were not equipped to do. They are an aberration.
In business, there is a saying that the first generation creates wealth, the second one consolidates it, and the third one either destroys it or loses it – by letting someone else run the show to grow it. This, of course, is not an iron rule, for family rule can continue for generations, but the proposition that ultimately all dynasties have to end can be etched in stone.
There is a simple reason: despite all our beliefs in heredity and the passing down of strengths from one generation to another, the truth is success is seldom the result of heredity alone. You inherit bad qualities, too. Moreover, you need, luck, you need pluck, and a whole load of other qualities to keep succeeding. Your name may give you brand recognition, even a support system created by your dad, but ultimately success is dependent on talent in a competitive world. Your dad’s world is often not yours. Mulayam Singh may not have done as well without an Akhilesh, who represents the new.
Of course, if you own all the gold mines in a country, generations can remain rich without being particularly good at mining, but these are “natural resource exceptions” – as the Saudi royal family knows all too well. Take the oil wealth away, and few members of the Saudi family will look royal or particularly worthy of admiration.
Take the Tatas. Ratan Tata has had to look outside the family for a successor. He could also have looked outside the Parsi community – where the talent available is even greater. But Parsi sentiment – where the Tatas are seen as one of them – carried the day in his choice of successor: Cyrus Mistry. He might be a good choice, but I am sure Ratan Tata could have found an even better successor if he had looked outside his community.
The family that runs The Hindu was, till recently, stuffed with family members in all key editorial and managerial positions. It still is. However, the newspaper is facing the heat of competition from The Times of India and has willy-nilly had to professionalise. Dynasty is pulling back in the third generation. The moral is clear: if you want institutional longevity, the family must exit.
Or take the Ambanis. Dhirubhai was the genius – he created the Reliance wealth machine. But already between his two sons one is doing better than the other. I have no doubt that by the time the third generation enters the picture, the two Reliance groups cannot be run like family enterprises.
In the west, this process happened naturally because the creation of joint stock companies automatically forced the controlling family to dilute its stake when seeking more capital for growth. By the third or fourth generation, the family no longer has the shareholding needed to control the company and institutional investors decide how it should be run.
This has not happened in India so far because of crony capitalism: Indian businessmen have, though fair means and foul, managed to retain their stakes at high levels by diddling minority shareholders of their dues and by using benami companies to play the markets and generate wealth by insider trading and other dubious practices. But as we clean up our act, what happened in America will happen here too.
Let’s cut again to the Gandhi family. We are now into the fifth generation – from Motilal, Jawaharlal, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, and now Rahul. In between, we sometimes get sideways moves within the same generation (Rajiv to Sonia, or Rahul to Priyanka), depending on circumstances.
But does not the longevity of the Gandhi family in politics prove the three-generation rule wrong?
Actually, no. If we take Nehru as the first big mover and shaker (rather than Motilal) in the family, Indira was the consolidator and Rajiv Gandhi the third generation weakling who should have presided over its decline. He actually did, but we are not willing to acknowledge it.
Why did this not happen?
Two cataclysmic events seemed to change the three-generation rule. The death of Sanjay Gandhi – who would have been Indira Gandhi’s possible choice as successor – brought a super-incompetent politician (Rajiv) into the picture. The assassination of Indira Gandhi made his entry almost a no-brainer, since there were enough sycophants telling him this was the time to capitalise on a bereavement.
We all know Rajiv Gandhi did the same callous thing as Narendra Modi in 1984 to win a sectarian landslide in 1984 (Read this). But within three years, he was exposed as a disaster. It wasn’t Bofors that was his undoing. It was the way he handled the Bofors scandal that was his undoing.
The dynasty should have ended with Rajiv, but his assassination more or less pushed Sonia Gandhi into the picture. Despite what Congress sycophants will tell you, Sonia Gandhi is an incompetent politician propped up behind four walls by sycophancy. If there were not a million self-serving bootlickers in the Congress telling her she was the only one who could save the party, she would have lived a happy, healthy domestic life.
And if she had done so, we would not have a Rahul Gandhi (another incompetent politician, as the UP elections show) trying to take over the Congress after Sonia. We now have the media discussing a post-Rahul Congress, where there is a Priyanka to pick up the threads. If pretty faces made for good leaders, maybeAishwarya Rai should enter politics.
Congressmen are living in a fool’s paradise. In fact, they are doing themselves an injustice by giving the Dynasty so much importance when it is they who are investing the Dynasty with the aura and the authority they claim they are deriving from it.
Uttar Pradesh should come as one more eye-opener to Congress sycophants that this Dynasty has far outlived its utility to the country, the party, or even to them.
Here are five reasons why:
Dynasties that continue endlessly deter talent. A little dynasty may be good, but too much of it works against everyone’s interests. The problem in dynasties is that talent faces a glass ceiling. In short, the leadership pool is a mere puddle restricted to a few family members. As long as this puddle is healthy, the Dynasty prospers. Once we end up with a dud or two, the business suffers. In Sonia and Rahul and Priyanka we have three dud leaders. The Dynasty cannot survive their incompetence.
Dynasties attract incompetents and sycophants more than talent and initiative.The coronation of Sonia as Queen of Congress did not happen because of her innate leadership talents, but because Congress is the last refuge of mediocrities and hangers-on. The competent do their own thing, and don’t like to kowtow to mediocrity. But mediocrity loves Dynasty – since the only qualities required to succeed are flattery and intrigue, both common enough talents available in India.
When these are the qualities needed, why would the genuinely gifted – those who will help the party rise to greater heights – want to stay there? Can the Congress name on all-India leader who can replace a Sonia Gandhi? (Answer: there are names, but no Congressman will name them)
Dynasties are feudal and retrograde. They can preserve their aura only by pretending to be omnipotent, benevolent. In the political context, they feed of the poor and gullible while pretending the feed the poor. When royalty ruled the world, the King or Queen had to show omnipotence and benevolence by an occasional show of great charity. Thus a King would gift a courier who brings in good news by handing him a gold chain – and the story would be told and retold a thousand times on the grapevine to give the poor hope that they too will get their chain of gold if they get lucky.
Dynasties that are on their last legs behave like feudals. This is why while a Nehru had no use for a Food Security Bill or caste and religion-based quotas, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhineed them badly: it is the only way they can retain their feudal hold. A Vajpayee is able to create real jobs (92 million between 1999 and 2004) merely by running a government, but a UPA creates all of 2 million in the next five years despite running a job-creating NREGA scheme.
Dynasties fail because they stay insulated from reality. When you are surrounded by retainers and time-servers who will only tell you want you want to hear, you cannot listen to what the UP electorate is really saying. You land up in a Dalit basti for a photo-op, mistaking it for the real thing. An Akhilesh Yadav, who is not separated from his people, is able to make development his theme-song and trundles along on his cycle for a year giving this message and receiving the people’s feedback. A Rahul Gandhi, with his Z category security and walled thinking, has to meet the people under cover of darkness, and in highly artificial circumstances. And the Rahul Gandhis have their Digvijaya Singhs promising them they have made a huge impact – when they may not have generated anything more than curiosity value.
Dynasts never seem to know when to quit or say “no thanks”. Rajiv Gandhi should have been the last Nehru-Gandhi Dynast. But Sonia Gandhi felt compelled to enter the hurly-burly of politics since she must have been told by sycophants that the party needs you. A child may need parenting, but a mature adult is quite capable of handling herself. After all, in 1991, the Congress – even with its dubious selection process – produced a non-charismatic, non-Gandhi PM who changed the course of India’s economy destiny. Even Indira Gandhi could not do that. If Nehru and Gandhi brought India political freedom, Narasimha Rao brought India true economic freedom. Not Sonia or Rahul.
But soon after the Congress lost the 1996 elections, Sonia Gandhi did not find the courage to say, no thanks. And Rahul Gandhi, who too does not have it in him to say no, is soldiering on in a profession he does not quite relish.
The greatest service Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi can do for India is to retire into private life. The Congress will flower after them, once the family’s glass ceiling is removed.
In fact, one of the main reasons why the Congress is growing weaker by the day is its inability to produce strong regional leaders. This is why it is irrelevant in UP. Or Gujarat. Or Bihar. Or anywhere.
To make the Congress relevant, the Dynasty must opt out. Go on, Rahul, get a life. And take Priyanka with you. You will do yourself and the party a favour.