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Chorus grows from Congress-mukt Bharat to Gandhi-mukt Congress. But where will the family go?

Gandhis will be judged by how well they facilitate the end of their own dynastic hold on the party, while remaining on call should the need to step back in arise again.

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The slogan ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’— Congress-free India — was coined by the Bharatiya Janata Party to win elections by targeting its main rival and the only other national party in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi famously used it in the debate on the President of India’s motion of thanks. Addressing both Houses of Parliament on 7 February 2018, he claimed that it was Mahatma Gandhi who had coined the phrase because it was the Father of the Nation who wanted the Congress Party disbanded after Independence. In fact, it was Gandhi’s ‘last will and testament,’ penned three days before his assassination on 30 January 1948.

If ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ was conceived by no less a historic personage than Mahatma Gandhi and popularised by no less a political heavyweight than PM Modi, to whom should we attribute the idea if not the catchphrase ‘Gandhi-mukt Congress’ – Gandhi-free Congress? The credit should undoubtedly go to Padma Bhushan Ramachandra Guha, one of India’s leading historians and political commentators.

Also read: In Congress after Ahmed Patel, Rahul Gandhi needs to play the bigger person, call for unity

Guha wants Gandhis out

Claiming to support the original Congress that led India’s freedom struggle, Guha wrote an opinion article published on 10 December, boldly titled Why The Gandhis Must Go Now. He openly called for the retreat or removal of the first family of Congress from active politics. He argued, “In the interests of their party, and of their country, the Gandhis should go now – go not merely from the top leadership of the Congress, but from the party entirely. For, if they stay, they shall represent an alternate centre of authority, serving only to fuel intrigues and dissension.”

What makes Guha’s diatribe against the Gandhi clan even more remarkable is his earlier appeal against its stranglehold on the party: “Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka may think they owe it to the Congress to stay in politics. They owe it to the country to go.” Likening the dynasty to a family-owned company in that op-ed of 25 July in the Hindustan Times, he added, “The longer the Congress remains a Family firm, the easier it will be for Narendra Modi to deflect criticism of his policies and remain not just in power, but in control of the political narrative.” Guha’s courage must be lauded. Unlike the sycophants, who are not merely part of the inner coterie of the Gandhis but are also spread wide and deep in important positions in various walks of life, Guha has called a spade a spade and put his cards on the table, so to speak.

Guha stands in stark contrast to those shielding and protecting the Gandhis from criticism. “Thinking that the cause of Congress’ decline is Rahul Gandhi alone is foolish. The problem is elsewhere. The Congress party needs to be a party of movement rather than ruling. For revival, it should focus on movement mode,” says JNU historian Aditya Mukherjee, typically. With the use of deflecting epithets – “movement mode,” “sacrifice for a cause,” “Hindutva politics,” “caste and communal politics,” and so on, he shields the ruling family of the Congress from honest introspection or criticism.

Also read: Rahul Gandhi’s liberal supporters do him great disservice

But where would the Gandhis go?

Now that the group of 23 prominent dissenters within the party is openly in revolt, the genie of party democracy cannot be put back in the Congress bottle. Since the group wrote to interim president Sonia Gandhi in August, the issue of the party’s functioning and elections has been brewing, even if it has not been allowed to come to a boil. The fact is that Rahul Gandhi, who was elected the 87th president of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in December 2017, is not seen as a decisive or even fully committed leader. His election itself, many contend, was a farce. Anointed heir apparent long back, he had full powers and backing, but little responsibility or accountability. To prove that he was not interested in clinging to his privileged position, he resigned in May 2019, after the Congress defeat in the general elections.

While the Congress has started the process of conducting its polls by announcing the list of some thousand AICC delegates who will elect the new party president, the dissenters also want a reconstitution of the all-powerful Congress Working Committee (CWC). According to Rasheed Kidwai, “In the good old days, too, the Congress had a chequered history of murky party polls, dissent and defiance, such as Mahatma Gandhi’s rejection of Subhas Chandra Bose’s victory and Jawaharlal Nehru easing out PD Tandon. But can a tottering Congress, facing an existential crisis of sorts, afford an inhouse showdown? The late Sitaram Kesri used to say, ‘Bina vidhvans ke nirman kaise hoga?’ (Can there be construction without destruction?).”

But here’s the rub. Jayen to jayen kahan? Even if they wish to, where would the Gandhis go? Unlike a family firm, which can be sold to a competitor or international buyer, the Gandhis cannot simply exit from the Congress or the country’s politics. Sonia Gandhi and her two children, Rahul and Priyanka, have been reluctant rather than eager politicians. Even Rajiv Gandhi did not show any great inclination to don his mother’s or grandfather’s mantle, being content as an airline pilot till the last decade of his life.

What seems more likely than a lock-stock-and-barrel vacation from the power centre is some sort of compromise formula or gradual devolution of authority. Whatever the way forward, there are winds of change blowing about. India’s oldest political formation cannot afford to self-destruct. Congress still has a host of experienced and active leaders whose collective wisdom should be able to steer the party from its present state of torpor if not moribundity. Given the need for a strong and viable opposition in any vibrant, functional democracy, the Gandhis will be judged by how well they facilitate the end of their own dynastic hold on the party, while remaining on call should the need to step back in arise again.

The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.

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  1. “Jayen to jayen kahan? ” What sort pf question is this guy asking? Why can’t Rahul, Priyanka work fully in their business organization. Even Rajiv Gandhi could’ve insisted on remaining the airline pilot; why he had to join politics? If the Congress party depends so much on the “Gandhi” family, then Congress deserves to lose in all elections where the family is involved.

  2. Rahul Gandhi is not old. He can afford to wait out two election before putting his all out effort to become PM. Only thing he needs is to preserve his control of Congress party and enjoy life while still young.

    But most important thing for him is to prevent attempts by assorted secularists led by Ramchandra Guha to leave Congress stewardship. These guys, for their own hidden agenda, want him to relinquish party leadership typically “Chadhha ja beta Suli per Bhagvan tera bhala kare” He should take example of Ajit Singh, who retained control of RLD, until now, after the death of his father.

    Ramchandra Guha & Co are like Lutyens gang & Promod Mahajan who lead Vajpayee to garden path. So Rahul should be wary of them.

    He should also take note of how Congress came back to power in MP after out for three terms.

    Meanwhile he should enjoy life, after all he may get power back but not his youth.

  3. Congress minus Gandhi name is in-conceivable. It will disintegrate into various regional satraps. The way out appears, Priyanka and her kids should be barred from politics, Rahul be made titular head of Congress ably assisted by an upcomming , energetic Working President, say, Sachin Pilot.

  4. Before Clinton they asked who is Clinton.After his term they ask where is Clinton. Lincoln was assassinated but his family never claimed any benefits nor would they ahve been given any on that count.From where did this man Boris Jhonson come No body knows But he came He will be replaced In due course But here in India this can never happen .Theya re still discussing how Rahul Gandhis skills,looks etc can be improved.What a pity Our colonial rulers have succesfully planted that servilty in our DNA. Why should we worry where one family go ?Allow Sachin Pilots, Scindias , Tharoors to fight it out Results will flow

  5. Mr.Rahul like his grandfather is a great leader, liberal and astute politician. He needs to be the leader of congress and he will give a befitting reply to the likes Ram Guha in 2024 by becoming the PM/ Ram Guha , who is a atheist Dravider Kazhagam stooge hating all north Indians. Rahul will lead the country and party in a spectacular way. What does this DK stooge know about politics, integrity etc. He might make all these statements to endear himself with BJP to get some award. Modi is aberration and Rahul is the shining light.

  6. Gandhis will not go anywhere. They will remain in Congress and live within India since they are citizens of this country. Their detractors may say many things. Gandhis have really developed this country with the help of great economists like Manmohan Singh. They have sacrificed their personal lives and their dear ones like Indira Gandh and Rajiv Gandh for the sake of this country. Hence they have every right to continue their lives in this country and participate in its political activities as far as the political system in this country allows them.

  7. Guha has spoken boldly and clearly. The writer has also articulated his points clearly, as have some of the commentators. The point really is that the nation is greater than the party and the party is greater than the family. What happens to the family is tertiary for the nation. Senuior Congressmen like Azad, Sibal, Tharoor and Chidambaran must bell the cat.

  8. With billions of dollar at their command and thousands of SERVANTS, Gandhis can live fabulously anywhere in world.
    How about Saudi Arabia, place of second abode for many disgraced politicians.

  9. Where will they go? They have looted so much, have so many fat bank accounts in some countries. They can easily leave for the foreign green haven.
    Sonia has been telling her family in Italy that she’s the queen of India, so she cannot go back there with a blackened face.
    Perhaps Switzerland? Vatican City is also an option.
    As for Ram Guha, he’s a historian without proper knowledge. He knows India from what the British have written about India, but not what the Indians have written about Bharat.

  10. Only way Congress can persist is if any strong and pro majority leader assumes leadership of Congress and undertakes pro progress policies.If Rahul continues to be leader of Congress he will self destruct himself and destroy Congress party. There should never be one party rule and a strong but pro nation party always exist for healthy decisions for governing the country.

  11. Prof Ramachandra Guha is a respected intellectual. However how does he argue in favor of a Gandhi – mukt – Congress? Remember that for over 6-7 decades the definition of a Congressman is ‘Unquestioned obeisance to the first family’. So when there is no first family , there is no Congressman and thereby no Congress. What do Prof Guha and Paranjape suggest as the way out of this strange dilemma?

  12. The minute the all members of the Gandhi family give up the reins s of the congress party,they will be hounded by all and sundry and a million real & imagenary cases filed against on them to fight the life time of the next generation

    • Senior Congress Leaders should come forward and show spine to see that Gandhis are stepping down before the next AICC for a free and fair selection of Congress President. It seems from yesterdays news it is most un- likely., they sychopants will not leave. If they go sooner it will be better for India to see the dreams of Congress Mukth Bharath shattering. Average congressmen is frustrated and depressed the continuance of the Gandhis, see what is happening in Local Bodies elections in Kerala all the upper cast people are moving away from Congress.
      See the body language of Rahul while going to the President on the farmers agitation. In an ideal scenario Captain Amrinder Singh should be selected as Congress President. Sharad Pawar after merging his party with Congress is also a wonderful idea. Ram Guha’s comments are absolutely right so also Mr.Jha’s article on TOI last Sunday. But no comparison between the two players,

  13. Congress party seems to be lost in transit as of now. Thanks to Gandhi Scion Rahul Gandhi for his refusal to attain the much needed political maturity.

  14. The pro Congress media never tires of giving us a list of “sacrifices” made by the Gandhis. However the supreme sacrifice that it can do is to remain in power in Congress, so that the dream of the original Gandhi on dissolution of the party as a political party can be achieved.

  15. Well written but fail to understand the words Jayen to jayen kahan. There this also something called common sense with which the Gandhis can opt out. Party may creak and groan but will survive and should reinvent. Given its miserable condition now they have nothing to lose but give it a try.

  16. The decline of Congress party is NOT post-2014 event . The party won full majority on it own some 36 years ago in 1984 ans since then the voters of India never trusted this conglomeration of opportunist politicians fit to run the country on its own. The party had to enter into alliances with every type of party to capture power. The party was designed, and developed by the Nehru Ji and his daughter to be profitable family owned enterprise and that served as such till 2014. In 2014 voters of India have shown utter disregard for the polices it pursued and shown complete NO-CONFIDENCE in party s dynasic leadership and its family benefiting policies. As most of the leaders of the party were/are part of old corrupt regime and in old age , party s dynasty never felt threatened. No need to name them individually those leaders who still think the family as ” THOU ART THE DISPENSER OF DESTINY OF INDIA.{तुम हो भारत भाग्य विधाता } . The decline of congress party is irreversible. Old leaders will sonn depart to heaven. The young leaders may join new political outfits – BJP or non-BJP parties to pursue the lucrative profession of politics .If some become rebel and then surrender like Sachine piolet , he will only harm his political career.
    Where the dynasty should go is not a valid question. This type of problem is faced by the middle-class people on loss of job or incurring some business loses. The Rich and powerful having tones of money can stay and enjoy the riches in any part of this tiny planet. Even a sojourn to Moon or Mars will be within possibilities , once companies like- Spacex or Company: Orbital Sciences, Company: Blue Origin, Company: Bigelow Aerospace etc start selling journey tickets for Moon or Mars. Till then Italy may be good temporary abode.

  17. Padma Bhushan Ramachandra Guha, is one of India’s leading historians and political commentators but does not understand the ways of political finances. When there is big money and properties created without doing a days honest work, the protection for that comes only by remaining in or on the periphery of power. Once away from that power circle, the legal eagles will start sending their bills for defense in the courts. The life style being enjoyed will come to an end. Isolated leaders have no social circles other than the sycophants who will desert them overnight.
    While there is a control over the organization, the resources and properties remain under command to keep the sycophants happy and hopeful that one day the power may come back.
    The definition of status-co is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

  18. The markhands and guhas are not going to decide . Mungerilals. The Congress party and 14 crores of its voters will decide.

  19. It is unlikely that Rahul will go, at least until his mother is around. After that, he may be just pushed aside. But the main issue is that there is no second leader who can take over and it is unlikely that there will be any consensus on the new leader. So Rahul will continue for now n then Ke sara sara.. whatever will be will be…

    • In addition, people around Rahul will consider the real estate and funds available with the party to have control over n enjoy the benefits. Until keys to treasury of Congress are in Rahul’s pocket, he can’t be dislodged and his cronies won’t allow him to go either. So actually poor Rahul is now trapped in Congress to serve interests of his minions.

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