Punjabis are shrewd people and excellent psychologists. They can easily predict who will emerge the victor in a battle of egos. True, there is a thymotic aspect to the Punjabi politician who might persist in a doomed struggle but that is a tribute to the Punjabi character.
Shruti Kapila is Punjabi but, sadly, she was brainwashed at JNU and now teaches nonsense to cretins at Oxford. She write in 'Print' re. the Tharoor/ Karge contest that she was initially disappointed at the lack of juicy gossip leaking out but
I am a historian who takes politics all too seriously.
Yet her political journalism is unintentionally hilarious.
In that vein, and from the comfort of my distant university spires, a different view emerges.
It is a cockeyed view.
It is curtains for the Congress party as moulded by Indira Gandhi.
Only if Kharge becomes the dictator of the Party- which is unlikely. An 80 year old can merely be a figurehead. Morarji was 81 when he became PM. He presided over a shitstorm.
If Tharoor wins, which is very unlikely, he will need the dynasty to intercede for him with Northern leaders whereas if Kharge wins, everybody will be going straight to the dynasty with their grievances. Either way, the dynasty will be 'backseat drivers'.
It is true that Narasimha Rao, and- later on- Kesri- tried to flex their own muscles. But, at that point, Rahul was out of the country and Sonia couldn't be sure it was worthwhile assuming the Regency herself. Still, such was the chaos, she herself had to takeover. It is noteworthy that, once Bofors charges were dropped and Rahul had returned to India, Sonia immediately clarified that she would build the Ram Temple, if that was what the Courts decided, and she roped in a Shankacharya (who had previously performed Griha Pravesh ceremony for her family) to legitimize this. In other words, Sonia had put Congress back on track to be the default National Party. The high price of onions brought tears to the eyes of Vajpayee. Then Sonia played her master-stroke. She put in Manmohan who won two terms. There was a clear time-line for the succession. First Rahul would take charge of the Commonwealth Games, as his Dad had taken charge of the Asian Games. Then he'd bring in young, charismatic, candidates. Finally, he'd shoulder Manmohan aside- complaining of corruption or lethargy- and would lead his party into the 2014. The BJP would put up Advani- who was twice his age- and the Lion of Gujarat would have to be content with roaring once or twice. But Rahul would win by a landslide. Even if he was subsequently brought down by corruption and intrigue- as his father was brought down by V.P Singh and Arun Nehru- he'd have acquired gravitas. Congress would remain the default National party.
It is only because Rahul was gun-shy and useless that things have come to the current pass. But, whoever becomes President of Congress- an 80 year old Dalit, or a posh 'outsider' who has recently written somewhat disparagingly of Ambedkar- the Dynasty remain the backseat drivers. Sadly, this means a car-crash of one type or another.
Yes, you read that right. Many of the party’s current stalwarts, especially but not exclusively those huddled under the so-called G-23 faction, cut their young teeth in her (Indira Gandhi's) era or have been mentored by leaders of those decades. This includes Ashok Gehlot.
Only Kharge could be said to have entered politics in Indira's era. But he rose by merit within his own State. That's why he would have been a good choice- but for his age.
Obviously, slightly younger Congress leaders could only have 'cut their teeth' in Sanjay's era. Gehlot was pushed up by Rajiv and later by Sonia. That's what makes him more of a loyalist than Azad. The case of Manish Tiwari- who was an MP from Punjab- is most interesting. He seems to have risen by merit. But Congress is wholly without merit. There is little point being in the driving seat if the car will inevitably crash.
This end is not merely a generational shift.
Sonia is 75. Kharge is 80. What 'generational shift' is Shruti talking about?
But rather a shift that has been demanded by India’s new political reality today.
But this 'political reality' is likely to give BJP a third term. Now, as eight years ago, Congress has no Prime Ministerial face. Kharge can't be PM- or even CM of Karnataka. Tharoor can keep his seat because he is an excellent constituency MP and he will retain his hold over the rising, aspirational, English-learning and increasingly English-speaking class. He deserves to. He has worked hard and has an attractive personality. But he can't be CM of Kerala and is too much of a nice guy to achieve anything within Congress's Augean stables.
For one, the Congress party, as remade after Indira Gandhi split it in 1969, was overwhelmingly concerned with the pursuit and maintenance of power.
Because previously it was concerned with the pursuit of nice flower- right?
Pragmatism or the belief that ideas were only good if they were successful and practical created a distinct and arguably a brutal new polity in India’s history.
This stupid woman does not seem to understand that Indira turned sharply to the Left because she quite genuinely was of the Left. Later, disillusioned by the utter failure of Leftist panaceas, she became pragmatic. But so did a lot of other Socialists over the course of the Seventies.
Good or bad, authoritarian, or populist, some of this is now being debated about her era, at least in scholarship.
It was debated long ago. There is now no such thing as 'scholarship'- just affirmative action for the victims of epistemic self-abuse.
In terms of the Congress, what was key is that there was little to no distinction between Indira Gandhi’s massive persona and the party.
No. What was key was that there was a massive difference between Sanjay's & his Mummy's persona. She called elections in '77 to cut the fellow- and his goons- down to size.
This in turn created a new kind of politician who was marked by savage self-interest.
The 'aaya Ram, gaya Ram' politician- i.e. strategic defector notorious for corruption- was a well established stereotype of the late Sixties. Indira was trying to make Congress a full blown Socialist Party with a Defense Pact with the Soviet Union etc.
Indira’s Congress overturned the idea of political work as sacrificial duty that had defined the earlier generations who had transited the party and indeed India from colonial rule, to national self-government.
This is nonsense. There was municipal corruption from 1923 onwards. After 1937 the thing had become a scandal. It worsened after Independence because of the arbitrary power of officials tasked with regulating the public distribution system and licensing system. Only by lifting all such controls could politics have been purified. The thing never happened. Nehru's centralizing drive made New Delhi the center for extorting money from the private sector to finance the Party. Indira's husband, Feroze, could be considered the foremost anti-corruption campaigner of the period. He forced TTK's resignation much to Nehru's displeasure.
The all too aggressive power-plays in the Indira era overwhelmed idealism or the pursuit of political principles.
No. Idealism was in plentiful supply from JP & Co. It was the disastrous decision to make an 81 year old crank, whom everybody hated, Prime Minister which destroyed idealism. Better a dynasty than anarchy.
The Congress party with Indira Gandhi morphed into a system of patrons and clients
which is what it had always been
as politicians divvied up factions, or sections of society that they represented.
Factionalism within Congress was at its most intense at the time of 'Lal, Bal & Pal' heading the 'Garam Dal' which fought tooth and nail with Gokhale's 'Naram Dal.
Power emanated from her and ended with her.
As had been the case with Nehru after Patel's death.
Above all, this arrangement was only possible as the Congress party was the party of power.
A leader can have an iron grip over her party even if out of office.
In the forty years since Indira Gandhi’s violent death, India’s democracy changed dramatically. Not only has political power been pluralised
It was always plural- that is why there was partition. In1957, Nehru's Congress retained 45 percent of the vote but JP's party got over ten percent and the Commies got about 9 percent.
it is now distributed along several parties, social groups, and regions.
That transition occurred in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Janata's victory in 1977 was actually a victory for a Kaleckian 'intermediate' class. The future lay with vernacular, caste based, regional outfits. Brahmin/Kayastha domination was over though this was not apparent so long as the BJP could appear to be a Brahminical outfit. But it was the 'casteless' Advani whose 'rath yatra' opened the gates to power for them. Rahul's 'pad yatra', foot-journey is supposed to reverse the outcome of the 'chariot' journey. But Rahul could have been Prime Minister. He chose to get out of the chariot and hand it over to Modi who, it must be said, has used it to some good purpose.
To be sure, the challenge to Indira’s Congress came from
Sanjay's Congress. Indira could lock up everybody except her own son. This was the Mughal dilemma replayed in family descended from a Mughal-era 'kotwal' (police superintendent).
highly mobilised social movements of caste, religion, region, and sometimes even just sheer anti-Congress-ism.
There were rival Congress parties- Congress O, CFD, etc. You could say this was a battle for the soul of the party. Then, in 1980, it became dynastic. But autocracy is tempered by assassination. Rahul prefers that the dynasty die nasty only in a political sense. He doesn't himself want to end up like Daddy or Granny.
The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party came precisely as it pursued its exclusive ideology but crucially created a social mobilisation for itself.
This is nonsense. The fact is Lohia and then JP brought in the RSS and Jan Sangh for their own purposes. But a price had to be paid. The Janata Morcha fell apart on the 'dual membership' issue. Thanks to Advani's rath yatra- and Vajpayee's charisma- it was the BJP which inherited the Janata mantle. Modi got his start by publishing a book about his subversive activities during the Emergency. But it was Advani who lifted him up so as to make his rath yatra a success.
However, the BJP in Gujarat was as faction prone as Congress. Modi was brought in as a trouble shooter. His intelligence and hard work did the rest.
By contrast, in the intervening period and despite being in government for ten years, the quintessential Congress party politician remains, with few exceptions, someone who is
either a parasite or a paranoid nutjob. Merit has quit the party. Which way will Manish Tiwari jump? What of Sachin Pilot? They know they can't join Kejriwal because he will pump and dump them. Perhaps Nitish has a plan. Mamta may decide to concentrate on Bengal. People are looking across the border at what Sheikh Hasina has achieved. West Bengal must catch up. Hasina's new trade initiative sends a clear signal. The entire region can rise rapidly through inter-industry trade. Calcutta's glory will be restored. Economically, it remains the most promising metro because of its unrivalled status within its hinterland.
adept at factional fighting and pursuing and gaining patronage.
But, Punjab has shown that this talent is useless. Factionalism and intrigue are useless if your entire party is wiped out. Instead of sitting in the C.M's chair you may be grinding corn in jail. Look at the brilliant Sidhu!
Therefore, Congress MLAs, whether in Punjab or Rajasthan or Goa, are prime if not easy targets for the party’s opponents. After all, the question remains what is it that they stand for, now that the grand old party is no longer a power machine?
Their constituents know the answer. So long as the MLA does a good job for his voters, he can be re-elected. Ultimately, all politics is parish pump politics.
From transactional patronage to ideological faith
Congress has always been a big tent affair. No 'ideological faith' was required. Party discipline was sometimes very lax.
Whether or not you want to dismiss them as romantic or useless, principles, in fact, make and break politics.
Only if those principles translate into benefits- 'deliverables'- for the voters. In the short run, people may believe that the 'principled' man will deliver what he promised. When they discover otherwise, they drop the fellow like a hot potato.
Principles create power.
No. Expectations of achievement create the power to attempt turning promises into reality.
Arguably and in a perverse manner, this is the singular lesson that the ruling BJP has given to Indian democracy.
No. The BJP has shown that hard work and organizational cohesiveness is all that matters. Focus on booth management and last-mile delivery. You must always bend your principles so as permit salutary developments. Politics is the art of the possible. If you are stupid and useless, go be a professor of Political Science somewhere far far away where students won't immediately be able to spot you for an ignorant cretin.
Its ‘principles first’ project for Hindu nationalism has also identified the average BJP party worker as a ‘committed’ political actor.
No. The RSS and some BJP activists work hard in a self-abnegating way. But then AAP was able to mobilize people of this sort of diverse classes first in Delhi and then in Punjab. Let us see if they can succeed in Gujarat.
Whilst I am all too aware that it is a cadre-based party with a complex structure in alliance with other organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, at least in popular perception, the typical BJP politician is not up for sale nor in any danger of becoming a turncoat.
Shankarsinh Vaghela turned his coat twice or thrice. There is nothing unique about the BJP. It's a different matter that people get behind a leader of exceptional skill. But that is a function of public spirit and desiring what is best for the country.
It has little to do with power. The many now benched ministers and Rajya Sabha MPs of the ruling party seem to be holding their nerve quietly.
My guess is that Modi finds them something useful to do. This may not always be possible. Still, to have served under a great Captain is itself some consolation. Problems arise where merit is replaced by sycophancy.
This should give the Congress politician a pause and cause for concern.
It has done more. Many have quit. Congress must allow CMs to get on with the job rather than spend all their time fighting off intrigue.
The transacting of patronage between different levels of the party hierarchy is now a withering game of diminishing returns.
And that’s true for all in the party, regardless of their position— from the very top to the regional brokers, the media darlings of Delhi, to the faceless backroom operators in party offices.
No. Congress still has some very talented and inspiring people who can tap into the huge reservoir of public spirited people of all walks of life which exists across the length and breadth of a nation on the move.
Suppose Rahul, at the end of his yatra, says 'look, I'm not smart. But I have a good heart and will work under orders of anyone who has ability. We should not be concerned with who is President. We only care to serve the nation.' Then Congress will revive. Rahul himself will feel happier and a burden will be lifted from his family.
We can understand why Modi wants to be PM. He genuinely is good at the job in all its aspects. Most importantly, he has a personal narrative which by itself goes a long way to defeat some prejudices older Indians still have.
Suppose Rahul gives up dynastic privilege to become a humble svayamsevak or volunteer of the party- then he can rise in spiritual and moral stature thus safeguarding his family's legacy.
The two contenders for the party’s official mantle — Kharge and Tharoor — have little in common
Except one thing. They can't control the party. The dynasty will remain an 'obligatory passage point' fostering factionalism and intrigue. Sonia had a good adviser and appealed to Indians as a pativrata widow safeguarding the interests of the family and its loyal retainers. Rahul initially had even greater appeal. But he wouldn't step up to the plate. It may be in taking leave of power, he will gain moral authority. But, only if he actually does take leave of power. As a 'backseat driver' he will have 'power with responsibility' which is 'the prerogative of the harlot'.
. Ultimately, it is inconsequential who takes over the vast if now largely hollow Congress party machinery.
No. It is highly consequential. The machinery will fall into other hands- perhaps anti-national ones of a yet more mischievous type.
Without the redefining of the Congress politician, in this era of little power, the task to helm will be fiendish.
A Congress politician is defined as an Indian politician competing with other Indian politicians of other Indian political parties. Any other definition or redefinition is pointless. The more Rahul kept bleating of 'vichardhara'- ideology- the more people thought him a moon-calf without an idea in his head. By contrast, Bhutto's grandson, Bilawal, now Foreign Minister of Pakistan, appears smart and confident. He is 34. Rahul is 52. Why couldn't Rahul have joined the Cabinet in 2004 when he was 34? What was his major malfunction? Stupidity is no bar to high office more particularly if you are an aristocrat- that too one with an Ivy League education.
The leadership election is a tipping point for the Congress. No, not for its death as that prophecy is as old as the party itself.
No it isn't. There was a theory that Congress would remain an elite talking-shop. But as, Viceroy Landsdowne noted, the Arya Samaj led anti cow-slaughter movement had given it a mass contact vehicle. That was back in the 1890s.
Instead, it is a critical moment to adjust the party’s default settings to its original inheritance.
Cow protection? Mahatma Gandhi and Prasad and so forth got that into the Constitution long ago. Congress, as the Mahatma said in 1939, was the High Caste Hindu party. It delivered power into the hands of the 'learned' Brahmin, Kayastha and other similar castes. It began to falter with the rise of 'dominant' supposedly 'educationally backward' groups. From 1967 onward, these castes gained control in the regions. But they could not establish hegemony at the Center. The BJP was Brahminism's B team. It was 'Mandir vs Mandal'- i.e. the need for Hindus to unite rather than squabble over reservations- which gave them salience. But the Ram Mandir should have been Rajiv's legacy. Sonia, the pativrata Sita to Rajiv's Ram, staked her Party's claim to build the Temple 20 years ago. Now Modi has got the credit. This was pure luck. But, had Shah mishandled the building of the Temple, it could easily have been a poisoned chalice. Modi & Shah aren't miracle-workers. But they can seize any opportunity presented to them and profit by it.
It is early days for the long Bharat Jodo yatra which seems to be channelling the Mahatma’s ideas of mass contact for the pursuit of principle.
The Mahatma led the Dandi march. He highlighted an issue- symbolic perhaps- of relevance to the masses and thus showed them that Congress was unlike other parties. It was not concerned with the spoils of office. It wanted to reduce the tax burden on the poor.
By contrast, Bharat Jodo is a stunt. The country is already united. Why pretend it is divided? The other problem with the pad yatra is that it has already angered the CPM. When the need of the hour is 'unite the opposition'. Congress should be trying to build up a 'States' Rights' Coalition in which Regional parties can feel confidence. This is particularly important for the South which has had demographic transition and which would lose representation if seats are redistributed according to population.
Can the Congress politician sacrifice the search for patronage?
If, like Tharoor you can get re-elected on your own, then- sure. But a Congress heavyweight can always create his or her own party and ally with the National Party when convenient. Sharad Pawar and Mamta are examples- though it seems Sonia's rapport with Mamta has been disrupted.
The plain fact is that a politician who needs patronage is likely to be corrupt or incompetent. Since Congress is becoming unelectable, its leaders will neither be able to give candidates money to campaign nor a charismatic leader who can attract votes.
Gossip or no gossip, the answer to this question will indeed determine the future of India’s oldest party.
No. The question is whether talented people will come to Congress or remain in Congress. A politician can't decide to be talented. In a meritocratic party, the sycophants and parasites will be deterred from attempting entry.
The question facing Congress is whether it will join an Opposition coalition and accept a non-Congress Prime Ministerial candidate for 2024. If it doesn't do so, its potential allies will seek to cannibalize its votes. It is one thing for Modi and Shah to take potshots at Rahul. It is another for all parties across the spectrum to start attacking Rahul for backseat driving his Party to disaster. Consider how much the BJP was damaged by the allegation that the RSS leader was pulling its strings. Congress will now be in that position. Sonia is gone. Rahul says he is gone. Priyanka (and thus her son) have also been ruled out.
What comes in with Kharge? To answer this we need to look at Kharge's role in Karnataka- where a Congress/ JD (S) coalition was recently brought down and BJP secured its 'gateway to the South'. In the process, Kharge lost his seat in the Lower Houseto a Congress turn coat. It stands to reason, that Kharge's first priority will be to bring down Bommai by hook or crook because the nightmare for Congress is that the rapidly urbanizing Dravidian States will see a decline in casteism and their intrinsic Hindu identity will reassert itself. Stalin, in T.N, is well aware of this possibility- remote as it might seem. The problem, of course, is that Bommai has an incentive to poach more Congress MPs so as to show up Kharge as a senile fool. Stalin, who suffered torture during the Emergency, may decide that the UPA is as dead and buried. His peers are Mamta and Naveen. I think he is the same age as KCR who, having pumped and dumped Congress in 2014, made a feeble attempt to create a 'Federal Front' in 2019. In fact he is still talking of creating a new opposition party. Maybe Stalin will see some profit in throwing a lifeline to the ultra-religious KCR if only to send a signal that the Southern CMs need to work together. It is better that a regional satrap cannibalize Congress while projecting a 'States Rights' candidate who has a chance against Modi. But this still means that BJP gets momentum in urban areas while picking up support from disaffected castes- especially Dalits. Some fresh thinking is required but it requires ideographic knowledge.
In my opinion, Kharge, who rose by merit and is considered clean, would have been a great choice but for his age. People see him as a guy with a legitimate grudge of a more than politically partisan type. Why was he denied the Chief Minister's post? The answer, I am sorry to say, is caste. Kharge represents the old 'Brahmin-Dalit-Muslim' strategy which only elderly folk like me can recall. What opposes it is the 'Janata Parivar'- represented by the Gowdas in Karnataka. This includes Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar, Akhilesh and Lalu Prasad Yadav, Chirag Paswan etc. If Kharge fails to unite Congress, Indian politics, at the Center, might become Sangh Parivar vs. Janata Parivar. In other words, Congress will be marginalized as two offshoots of the Janata Morcha square off against each other. On the one hand, casteism; on the other hand 'Hindu consolidation'. Which way will Gehlot jump? He understand anti-incumbency in Rajasthan. He can hang on as CM for now. But if the Janata Parivar can cobble together a PM candidate and Congress does not join in, his best bet is form his own Regional party and go to the polls on that basis. Even if he loses, he has staked his claim for the next round.
The problem for the Janata Parivar has always been that the Jan Sangh was the only non-wholly shite component of the Janata Government. Under Modi the BJP has greatly improved over what it was under Vajpayee. But we can't say Akhilesh is a great improvement over Mulayam. As for Nitish, he is back in the arms of Lalu. Congress, of course, is in a completely separate category. There has never been anybody quite as stupid and useless as Rahul.
Perhaps Congress will become a 'B' team- i.e. something kept around to split the other party's vote. Whose B-team will it be? That of the Sangh or the Janata Parivar? Will it matter? Like Congress politics, Janata politics is passe. Without casteism, Hindu consolidation too is passe.
AAP took Punjab easily enough. It only came into existence ten years ago. Prashant Kishore has started his own party. It may be that by the end of this decade, a 'youth-quake' will wholly reconfigure Indian politics. I hope so. The next Modi can't arrive soon enough. Rapid economic growth is what takes hysteresis out of politics. That means 'historians' get disintermediated. Ergodicity permits 'economia'- not the rule of economists- who are only marginally more hysterical than historians- but ecumenical rule based on a common oikeiosis.