3 June-2014, Sandip Roy: The Gandhis, in defeat, have managed to turn Abraham Lincoln on his head. Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” We have seen the Gandhis in power. But the real test of their character seems to be right now as they grapple with adversity. And India’s so-called First Family is flunking that test repeatedly.
Test 1: To resign or not to resign Right after the Congress rout in the polls, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi went through the resignation charade. It’s called the offer-and-feint move. Both accepted responsibility for the debacle. Both “offered” to resign. The resignations were immediately rejected and everything returned to business as usual.
Earth to Gandhis: You can just resign. Here’s how to do it. You say “I resign” and leave. That’s it. Getting a job depends on others. But resigning from a job can be your decision alone. Just as there is no force in Congress that can deny a Gandhi a place at the helm of the party if they so desire, there is no force in Congress that can keep a Gandhi at the helm of the party if they do not want to be there. And yes, it is possible to resign your post of power and still remain a member of the party. Yogendra Yadav just did that.
Test 2: To SPG or not to SPG After the new civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju Pusapati made noises about removing Robert Vadra’s special status at airports while traveling with his wife, Priyanka Gandhi decided to fire an emotional salvo. She shot off her own huffy letter to the SPG chief asking that the withdrawal of privileges be implemented for her entire family.
Earth to Priyanka: Your privileges are really privileges by association, not due to any post you personally occupy. And any privileges accorded to Robert Vadra are by association once removed. The airport security issue has always been about Robert Vadra. This dramatic wholesale renunciation of privileges that were not deserved in the first place is just another passive aggressive way of acting out.
Test 3: To lead or not to lead Now comes the news that neither Sonia nor Rahul will lead their rag-tag party in the Lok Sabha. That baton has been passed to the Karnataka veteran Mallikarjun Kharge. As always mother and son have felt no need to issue any public explanation for their decision so we only have rumours to go by. The more charitable say Sonia’s health is iffy and Rahul wants to concentrate on building the party. The less charitable say the duo have no desire to lead a party so diminished they are not entitled to even Leader of Opposition status and leading the party in the Lok Sabha will require Rahul to be actually present in Parliament, an onerous responsibility for the Congress VP.
Earth to Gandhis: As the colourful saying goes you must do your business or get off the pot. Now we have a situation where the Gandhis in opposition replicate the Gandhis in power – a parallel seat of power that can exercise authority without real accountability. The Congress, as it has amply proven, is not the BJP where Sushma Swaraj could lead in the Lok Sabha while a Rajnath Singh led the party outside. The Congress revolves around the Gandhis and the Gandhis have chosen to neither get out of the way nor lead the party in one of its bleakest moments.
The new scarlet letter next to the Gandhi name is a big fat F. What their recent actions show is a gross sense of entitlement that has thus far remained discreetly cloaked in the accoutrements of power. In public they were not a family given to the usual bloated displays of entitlement – shooting blackbuck, running over pavement dwellers, drunken brawls at plush nightclubs, slapping a traffic cop or two.
But now that the chips are down, that sense of entitlement is sticking out like a sore thumb. It’s clear the Gandhis live utterly disconnected from reality. Indira Gandhi might have thrust her son Rajiv down her party’s throat in her efforts to ensure a dynasty but at least both Rajiv and Sanjay rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty. However mixed their eventual legacies, both brothers regarded their positions as jobs not as hobbies they could flit in and out from. When Rahul Gandhi, already a low-performing MP in parliament, says he does not want to lead his party it sounds like he is open to playing the heir to the family business but just cannot be bothered to go to the office. Being the leader of his party in the Lok Sabha is a job. But Rahul seems to view everything he does for his party as a favour – whether it’s addressing election rallies or meeting the families of rape victims in Badaun.
This kind of lofty self-indulgence reflects a deep misunderstanding of their own value whether to their party or their nation. As of now they have personally done nothing to warrant their no-frisking VVIP status at airports or their hallowed status in the party. Everything is thanks to the afterglow of their famous last names. That last name offers them enormous privilege in India and especially within their party but the Gandhi siblings just accept that privilege as their due, not as something to be earned or even lived up to.
Sonia deserves credit for having led the party as long as she has, facing down the challenges she encountered both as a political neophyte and a foreigner. Many say she avidly studied her mother-in-law’s videos to develop her own persona. But she clearly was not able to crack the whip with her children the way her mother-in-law did with hers. Indira Gandhi, for all her flaws, never allowed her children to treat their political responsibilities as a pet cause they could dabble in whenever the mood struck them.
The few in the Congress who have dared to say a word or two about meritocracy or suggested the emperor has no clothes have been firmly put in their place. Bhanwar Lal Sharma has been suspended for saying Rahul Gandhi is “the MD of a team of jokers”. Before that another Congress leader T H Mustafa was suspended for saying Rahul Gandhi depended on a coterie and acted “like a joker”.
Of course, the real joke is on the Congress for having yoked its fortunes to these failing stars, a family business which is all family and not much business.
As the Sondheim song goes:
Don’t you love a farce?
My fault, I fear I thought that you’d want what I want, sorry my dear
But where are the clowns? Send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here.
(Input source: FP)