The bond between a mother and her child is one of the most intense human bonds. Today, one such bond controls the destiny of India, land of 1.3 billion people, or one-sixth of humanity. This is the bond between Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress party, and her son Rahul, who in her (and probably only her) opinion is the best person to lead our country. I don’t normally write columns about individuals, and almost never about their personal relationships. This piece does not intend to undermine or judge a personal bond between family members. However, it is fascinating to see how this particular mother-son relationship controls the fate of our country today.
Since Independence, we have managed to create some semblance of democracy in India. We have two main parties, especially at the central government level. This is not unusual in other democracies in Europe or the US. The right-wing and left-wing, Conservatives and Liberals, Republicans and Democrats or whatever names you give them, two opposing ideologies usually tussle and create a vibrant democracy. Sometimes one side wins, while the other learns its lessons, improves and tries to come back the next time. This gradually improves both parties, and eventually the government and the country. If one side becomes too weak, democracy gets lopsided, excessive power accumulates to one side and chances of things going wrong increase. A weak Congress creates that threat for our nation.
In 2014, people punished the Congress and elected the BJP. The Congress licked its wounds, saw why it was rejected and made some attempts to come back and win people’s faith. However, it failed to notice or pretended to ignore the one key message to come out of many recent elections. You need a strong leader at the top to make people vote for you. In the media-intense times we live in, a face that people like, trust and believe can perform is extraordinarily important. Whether it is Modi or Kejriwal or Nitish Kumar, people want to see a person who can articulate well, seems passionate and can convince people he or she means business.
What has Congress done about it? Well, it has pushed Rahul Gandhi to the forefront again. This despite most ground-level Congress workers being fully aware that he may not be the best guy for the job. This, is not a criticism of Rahul, but at times it seems he doesn’t even want the job. Although the stakes are much higher here, all this seems awfully close to the Indian middle-class situation of parental expectations and the poor child desperately trying to fulfil them.
When parents force you to become a doctor because they feel it will make you secure, and the child forces himself/herself to become a doctor only because his/her parents will feel happy. Both are doing things for each other, but in the end nobody really wants to become a doctor. What kind of doctor will we end up with in such a scenario?
This year, Sonia Gandhi will turn 70. She has been Congress president for 18 years, longer than anyone else. Is there a succession plan? Is the succession plan only ‘if and when Rahul decides to take over’? Has she ever acknowledged that he is actually reluctant to take over? Don’t the Congress workers, and frankly India, deserve better?
The opposition often targets Sonia Gandhi unfairly due to her Italian origins. In her political career, she has rarely been openly praised or loved by India. However, her biggest moment of glory was in 2004, when she won the election for the party and could have been Prime Minister. She appointed Manmohan Singh instead, displaying the ultimate Indian virtue of ‘tyaag’ or ‘renunciation’. That the new PM she appointed would still firmly be in her control is a separate story. Overnight, Soniaji became the selfless bahu who wanted it all for the party and the nation and nothing for herself.
Ironically, she doesn’t seem to have the same tyaag bhavna now. She seems all too keen to pass on this power-is-poison (her words, not mine) baton to her son who, to put it in the nicest way possible, is not quite what the people want. Instead, she can groom other young leaders of the Congress, who may not be her own DNA but have worked hard and actually have a shot at reviving the Congress. Aren’t they her sons too?
Right now, the party has abysmal vote share (lowest since Independence) and is losing its grip on the state governments as well. If nothing is done, Congress will weaken further, damaging not only the party but our democracy. The time has come for Sonia Gandhi to show that she is not just Rahul ki mata, but also Bharat ki mata. And if she can be that, well, then she too may deserve the slogan we all know by now — bolo Bharat Mata ki…!
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.