Wednesday, February 1, 2023
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What Rahul Gandhi & Congress can learn from Indira Gandhi’s Belchi elephant ride in 1977

The Belchi visit at once changed the public perception about the Gandhi family and the Congress.

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Rahul Gandhi gets a barrage of advice every day, urging him to do several thousands of things to improve the Congress party. There is indeed a vast industry that is churning out such advisers. Their advice or suggestions are largely well-meaning, with some showing genuine affection for the party and the Nehru-Gandhi family.

They give suggestions on how to build the party network or how he should dress. Or, that he must marry and settle in life, and/or lead the party like his grandmother did.

The fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family, Rahul Gandhi carries the burden of expectations, and is constantly compared with Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi. Anybody would collapse under the weight of such comparisons.

I would rather not advice him, as if he has no mind of his own. However, it is necessary to take a look at the party, which is facing a deep existential crisis.

The Congress is trapped in its own image of a past, which was turbulent but glorious. It now faces the challenge of coming out of that trap. And this is possible only by winning the confidence of the people again.

Also read: Even if you want to quit, quell dissent in party first: Veerappa Moily to Rahul Gandhi

Now, this may seem like an empty statement because most Congress workers and leaders are disconnected from their constituencies and some have turned into loose cannons. Many of them now suffer from smugness and complacency.

Lessons from the past

Jawaharlal Nehru had pulled the Congress out of a similar morass by introducing the Kamaraj Plan. It made the party fat-free for a while. The plan had forced ministers to resign and go back to their constituencies and work among the people.

But soon, the ‘old guard’ got reorganised and took over the reins of the party. Indira Gandhi, after the big setback in the 1967 elections, (the Congress lost in eight states and got a thin majority in the Lok Sabha), confronted the status-quoists and reactionaries within the party. This led to a split in the party, with the ‘old guard’ or the ‘syndicate’ eventually being reduced to irrelevance.

Even Rajiv Gandhi had publicly spoken against the “broker” culture and vowed to rid the organisation of such people.

But in the last 20 years, the Congress leadership has not taken any steps to cut the flab and make the party fighting-fit despite a gradual decline in its vote and seat share. In fact, the Congress-led UPA’s 2009 victory made the party leaders all the more complacent.

In this context, it would be interesting to look at how the Congress bounced back from extremely hopeless situations in the past.

Also read: Should Rahul Gandhi get rid of Leftist aides or is it still not enough to revive Congress?

Indira Gandhi & Belchi comeback

Today, nobody would remember a tiny, nondescript village called Belchi in Patna district of Bihar. But in August 1977, it made headlines when Indira Gandhi decided to visit the village. The Belchi visit changed the course of Indian politics and the fortunes of the Congress party.

The village was inaccessible but Indira Gandhi, undaunted, walked through slush. A local villager saw her determination and brought an elephant. She climbed on the elephant and finally reached the village after a nearly four-hour journey. She again undertook the same trek to reach Patna airport.

What was the tearing hurry to visit this remote village in Bihar?

A few weeks ago, in a flare-up, eleven people, including eight Dalits and three from other deprived communities, were brutally killed allegedly by upper caste landlords.

The detailed news regarding the tragedy had reached other parts of the country rather late.

There was no hyper-active media, no private TV channels, and no social media back then. But when Indira Gandhi came to know about this act of violence against ‘Harijans’, she decided to personally meet the families of those killed.

Except for some Patna-based reporters and a couple of Delhi journalists with local photographers, no one could undertake the adventurous trek to Belchi.

The visit created a sensation and grabbed headlines. This was possibly the first time Indira Gandhi had stepped out of her house to meet people following the Congress’ disastrous defeat in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections in March. Both Indira and her son Sanjay lost from their home constituencies of Rae Bareli and Amethi.

After the Congress’ defeat, which came on the back of public outrage against Emergency, the general consensus was that the country had become ‘Congress and dynasty-mukt’.

And yet five months later, there was this rousing welcome for Indira Gandhi, all the way from the Patna airport to Belchi.

The Belchi visit at once changed the perception about the Gandhi family and the Congress. After Belchi, Indira Gandhi just marched from one place to another, emerging as a ‘saviour’.

Also read: How Rahul Gandhi could have defeated Narendra Modi

The Congress soon realised that what was missing during the Emergency years was mass connect. The Janata Party had filled that vacuum.

Forty-two years later, it is not enough for only Rahul Gandhi to build a ‘connection’ with the people. It is the Congress party, which really needs to see itself as the inheritor of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy. The party and its leaders need to connect with their base and inspire confidence among the supporters.

The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.

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  1. Rahul Gandhi had de pared, way back in 2007 itself, that the main problem of the Congress party was ghar they lacked a connect with the people.

    A doen of years later, here we are, reading this article from Mr Ketkar!

    If Rahul could do it, he would have done this a long time ago.

    But he hasn’t. And that’s because he can’t.

  2. Shri Kumar Ketkar is learned man , he must be made Congress party president as he has wisdom to bring life in party by his wit and skill.

  3. 1. Who can save the Congress party at this juncture? Not someone who has become ‘inherited’ membership of the party on account of his birth in the Nehru-Gandhi family or by someone who himself has never enrolled a single new member for his party. 2. If someone wishes to revive Congress party and rebuild it, he must find out why it has been reduced to status of a regional party. He cannot afford to rely what Smt Indira Gandhi did years ago and he must not go by wrong notions about party’s inner strengths which have simply vanished long back. 3. In context of Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as his response to Congress party’s poor performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, citizen-voters wish to know whether Rahul Gandhi and CWC members would show courage to own-up mistakes like describing PM Modi as “chor” made during the election campaign and even earlier. 4. Do CWC members realize that how the citizen-voters have responded to Rahul Gandhi’s insensitive criticism of PM Narendra Modi, by rejecting the party? This is an important question if eventually CWC rejects Rahul Gandhi’s resignation. 4. I think, instead of wasting time on Rahul Gandhi’s resignation, CWC will do well to reassess Congress party’s organizational strengths in all those States where the party has lost very badly. 5. Is it not true that the Congress party has miserably failed to attract new voters, perhaps a majority of whom are in their twenties and early thirties? Who can find out how to get in touch with this class of citizen-voters? Fact is that there are now fewer and fewer takers for Congress party with its so-called secular agenda and vague economic agenda. For example, it was clear that Congress party’s promise of minimum income (of Rs 72,000/-, per year) was an empty promise. But how many Congressmen were ready to face the truth? Citizen-voters were wise enough to realise that such a promise of minimum income was made without any serious calculation of resources required to pay that kind of money to crores of poor citizens; hence they have rejected all such empty promises. 6. My guess is that not all from new generation of citizen-voters are voters of BJP but almost all of them think that it is PM Narendra Modi who can be relied upon to deliver. This is the truth; it is another matter that author of this article has no courage to accept this truth.

  4. The more Shri Rahul Gandhi continues to gift away precious Rajya Sabha seats to political non entities like Shri Kumar Ketkar, instead of giving them to its genuine party workers, the more useless advice he will get. Sometimes I wonder if all these sychophants are planted by Shri Amit Shah in Congress to confuse Shri Rahul Gandhi.

  5. One more unsolicited advise to Rahul Gandhi :
    Stop projecting as if the Congress’ campaign against Modi was a JOINT EFFORT of many Congress leaders, and now those leaders are not coming forward to bear responsibility for defeat. It was a SOLO effort of Rahul Gandhi’s, obviously by his own decision, and other leaders were appearing to be mere bystanders. There must have been many among the common people, like me, who were wondering why even a very good speaker like Anand Sharma wasn’t being pressed into service.

    Now RG should take back his unfair taunt that others have chickened our from taking responsibility. This will only give them an excuse to desert the Congress and drift towards greener pastures.

  6. If Kumar knows that Rahul has mind of his own, he should not have offered any suggestions or advice to Rahul. The Belchi incident is clearly a wrong reference in today’s context. Chances are that if Rahul listens to Kumar and roams around in search of such incidents, he will come a cropper. Kumar should enjoy his good times and privileges as a member of Rajya Sabha for next few years and not bother about writing meaningless articles every week. Instead of dishing out unsolicited advice to Rahul, he should listen to my advice!

  7. Belchi was not a photo op. Nor was it a PR gimmick, although Shrimati Indira Gandhi’s was too astute a politician not to recognise the power and symbolism of the moment. It would be better to end the conversation right here, not drag Shri Rahul Gandhi into deep waters and turbulent undercurrents he is not designed to navigate, despite being a trained diver.

  8. Hahahhahha, no belchi nor some other kulchiiii can save congress, Indira repeated her mistakes after re-election in 1980 which cost her life, so mr kelker pls look for other career than teaching or advising an eternal student who don’t understand anything, pappu has done enough belchis in the last 5 years still no result

  9. Kumar Ketkar sir, you have very well written the incident of Belchi. It was Mrs. Indira Gandhiji affection towards common man of India which made her to cross even some of the most difficult paths.

    Rightly, pointed out that the today’s Congress party had to work upon the ground work and get connected to common man as they were before as because no vindictive based agenda and conspiracy against Congress is on all time high.

  10. Shame on you Mr. Ketkar, what an idea it proposing for political benefits. Really, u had gone below.

  11. Prolonged tutoring of a student who has failed repeatedly in a class may make him pass with third division but not top the class. This is the situation of Rahul Gandhi. To defeat Modi, Rahul has to top the class which isn’t going to happen. Congress is wasting its time on Rahul Gandhi. Again building Congress on old Nehru Indira legacy can add few more seat but it can’t defeat BJP. Not just this one, any other look back approach can’t be a winning approach. Winning approach has to be a lookahead approach. Unless Congress shows the look ahead approach in the states ruled by it, there is no other way to convince people. This may keep Congress breathing and alive for future opportunities beyond 10 years.

  12. Kumar Ketkar feels that people are so deaf and dumb in 21st century that belchi like visit will erase the memory of 10 years of misrule of Khongress under so called Economist PM MMS….. The fifth generation Gandhi’s are born with golden spoon…. If one go by the statements of not only Gandhi Scion but of other top leaders also even Adhir Ranjan Choudhary in Lok Sabha, then one can realise that they have not understood anything by crushing defeat….. Or Ketkar is so naive that he doesn’t himself understand the follies of Khongress being in journalism for so many years before plunging rather forced entry into politics without any say in the party….

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