Geopolitical notes from India
M D Nalapat
Friday, January 03, 2014 – The day this column gets printed, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to announce what has been obvious since 2010,that he will not be in consideration for a third term as PM, even should the Congress Party do a Hat Trick and return to office in the 2014 polls. Since 1969,the party has in effect become the personal property of one or the other branch of the Nehru family, with Sanjay Gandhi (the son of Indira Gandhi) becoming the effective supremo in 1974,after a series of nationwide strikes and electoral defeats had led his mother to lose confidence in her advisors and to turn to her youngest son. The elder boy, Rajiv, was happy piloting an Avro propeller aircraft around selected regions of the country, usually chosen carefully so that he could return to Delhi in the evenings to be with his mother, children and wife. It was Sanjay who took charge, until his death in 1980.A few months later, Indira Gandhi asked her eldest son and sole surviving child Rajiv Ratan Birjees Gandhi to resign from the state-owned Indian Airlines Corporation and “assist” her in politics, and after her passing in 1984,it was Rajiv who got sworn in as PM, despite not having a day’s experience in government, except from 15,000 feet up in the skies.
When Rajiv himself was killed in 1991,there was a clamour from within the Congress Party that his widow Sonia take charge. An ambitious politician from Maharashtra State, Sharadchandra Govindrao Pawar, wanted the job. It was clear that he would push to the sidelines the Nehru family, were he to get the job. Groomed and promoted by a regional satrap, Yeshwantrao Balwantrao Chavan, and not by one of the Nehru clan,Pawar had no reason to feel a sense of loyalty to a family that had taken over a party which till 1969 had vestiges of collegial functioning. His mentor (Y B Chavan) had himself wanted to see the Nehru family replaced, rebelling when it was safe to do so, but coming back later once Indira Gandhi re-asserted her dominance. Sharad Pawar himself walked out of the Congress Party in the 1970s in order to become the youngest Chief Minister of his state, a show of independence which led Sonia Gandhi to quietly lobby for the ageing Pamulaparthy Venkata Narasimha Rao to take over as PM after the 1991 elections.
Her influence was far greater than that of Pawar, and although he had much more support within party than Rao, Sonia’s voice prevailed and he lost out. It had been expected that Narasimha Rao would step down after half his 5-year term was over, thereby enabling Sonia Gandhi to replace him with a trusted retainer, Arjun Singh. However, Rao refused to quit, signalling in mid-1993 that he would accept a fresh term as PM, should Congress return to power in 1996 Sonia Gandhi made sure that the Congress Party would get defeated, by encouraging a group of dissidents to form Congress (Tiwari) and contest against the Rao-led Congress Party in general elections.
The splitting of the vote ensured large gains for the BJP, which however had to cede ground to an alliance of smaller parties supported by both the Left parties as well as by Congress. In 1998,this ramshackle outfit collapsed, and this time, the BJP was able to lead a coalition government. National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, who was in effect the Executive PM because of ill-health of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, felt insulted when AIADMK (a major coalition partner) leader Jayalalitha made her secretary reply to his missive, and showed his petulance by blocking even inconsequential requests of the AIADMK, such as the appointment of favourites to boards of nationalised banks. Finally, Jayalalitha had had enough of such insulting treatment,and she withdrew support to Vajpayee, thereby forcing an election in 1999.
Fotunately for Vajpayee, then Chief of General Staff Pervez Musharraf chose that time to launch a military adventure in Kargil.War usually rallies people to the side of the government, and Kargil was no exception. Even though the war had been caused by the carelessness of Team Vajpayee in securing the frontier, the spoils of war ensured that he got re-elected, only to get defeated in the next election, in 2004,because of his failure to curb corruption within his team Manmohan Singh took over in 2004 because he was handpicked by Sonia Gandhi as an individual with a zero political base of his own, and therefore no threat to the family’s control of the Congress Party. Had Singh focussed on doing his duty by the country rather than appeasing his political master (or,in this case, mistress), he would have established his grip from the start by sacking a few ministers and officials off his own bat.
Instead, from the start, he allowed Sonia Gandhi and her Political Secretary Ahmed Patel to control both personnel as well as policy. This resulted in a steady diminution of the Prime Minister’s Office. Were Manmohan to give an order and Ahmed Patel a contrary command, it would be the latter who would prevail, because it was obvious that ministerial appointments were made not by the PM but by the Congress President. The boost given to the economy by liberalisation since 1992 helped cover up the maladministration caused by the post-2004 government, until by 2008,it was becoming obvious that the cocktail of high taxes, high regulation and high interest rates was slowing down India significantly. Since Manmohan Singh came to power, the freedoms given to the people have been sharply reduced. Small wonder that by 2010,a popular movement against corruption and maladministration blossomed, l ed by Anna Hazare. His disciple Arvind Kejriwal has now become Chief Minister of Delhi.
The rise of Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party sounds the deathknell of the Congress Party. Although Rahul Gandhi can be expected to work hard at reviving the fortunes of the pary he has inherited, it is unlikely that he will succeed. Indeed,should the BJP defeat the Congress and annoit Narendra Damodardas Modi as Prime Minister this year, the Congress Party is likely to go the way of the dinosaur. It will fragment into splinters which get absorbed by other parties, notably the BJP and the AAP. Mahatma Gandhi sought the dissolution of the Congress Party once India became free in 1947.Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, by not offering the slightest resistance to pressure from his party leadership in deals big and small, has fulfilled the wishes of the Mahatma. He will probably be the last PM from the Congress Party.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.