Rahul Gandhi's credentials as a prince were beyond doubt, because he just had to be the son of a king or a queen. His father Rajiv Gandhi was a king in the Congress party, and his mother Sonia Gandhi has been a queen in the party for long – very long.
A prince arrives from the day he is born, because of his parents' status. Nothing much is expected of him, except to be happy and charming. But when he becomes a king, the security and prosperity of the kingdom are in his hands, and he has serious obligations. How does Rahul appear, by past record, as the new king in the realm of the Congress party – as its new President? Not much to hope or talk about. Even the bigwigs in the party do not seem to worry, and they could stay satisfied for self-preserving reasons.
Wearing the king's crown in due time is the birth right of the eldest son of the king, or queen. With a prince-in-waiting, no one else is expected even to imagine ascending the throne in place of the prince. If the prince has average attributes and is conceited, other persons of diverse talents and abilities, not wanting to be suppressed or slighted, will keep themselves out of the royal circle or restrain themselves, wherever they are, going unnoticed. Then it appears to the undiscerning public that the prince-in-waiting is the most gifted in the realm and that it is a blessing he will be the next king. The king or queen who gives up the throne in favour of the prince will be elated and relieved, out of natural love and affection. Don't think you could be biased if you feel this is the scene in the Congress party with Rahul Gandhi becoming its President to succeed his mother - you have viewed things dead right.
Let's be clear about one thing. The terms king, queen and prince are not employed as derogatory references to the family of Rahul Gandhi to show dislike for the Congress or for anyone in his family. These words fittingly describe the attitude, demeanour and image of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi within the Congress during more than nineteen years and nine months (March 1998 to Dec. 2017) when Sonia was its President, and hence these words. Congressmen, especially its other leaders, have been playing the role of dutiful subjects, or reverential officers of the royal court, holding the queen and the prince in awe all along.
Here is some proof that the analogy of queen and prince is not out of place. You know that when a dear prince – perhaps a spoiled child too – acts funny or does things topsy-turvy, all around him watch respectfully or even sing his praise if they sense that the reigning queen would not relish any disapproval of the prince. This does not happen within a responsible political party in a mature democracy. It happens within the Congress party.
In September 2013 Ajay Maken, chief spokesperson of the Congress, was at a press meet defending a draft ordinance – an ordinance is a law brought into force by the government without parliamentary approval, such approval to be secured later. The central government’s cabinet had earlier cleared the draft ordinance and it had been sent to the President of India for him to sign it into law. That draft ordinance was meant to save convicted legislators from disqualification for the legislature, and it was framed to overcome a Supreme Court judgement which blocked the election of those tainted legislators to the legislature. Finance minister P. Chidambaram and law minister Kapil Sibal had endorsed the proposed law. A core group of the party, of which Sonia was the member, had also consented to it. No fool would believe that party vice president Rahul Gandhi was unaware of or was opposed to the ordinance. Still Rahul, on some rethinking, suddenly appeared at the press meet of Ajay Maken, tore up a copy of the draft ordinance and thundered, "I'll tell you what my opinion on the ordinance is. It's complete nonsense. It should be torn up and thrown away.” No doubt, it deeply embarrassed prime minister Manmohan Singh, but as expected he was game for it. What do you think poor Ajay Maken did? He is also a true Congressman. So after Rahul left the scene, Maken changed his tune saying Rahul's views were the party's views. Maken grinned and said, "He is our leader and when he has aired his views those become the views of the party". That was the end of the ordinance, and later the government withdrew it.
Leaders of the Congress party speaking about Manmohan Singh, who served as a nominee prime minister of the party for ten years until 2014, refer to him as an upright and respected leader. They don’t point to any other Congress leader as possessing those qualities. Manmohan Singh is an economist and was a former Governor of Reserve Bank of India. As prime minister, he did enormous disservice to himself and to the Congress party by being stationed as a smokescreen for all ignoble faces and shady deeds and deals of central rulers and their handlers and accomplices. He was willing to be a puppet if he was held as an emperor puppet, so he could finish as India’s prime minister. During those ten years, Prince Rahul Gandhi was growing up from his age 34 to 44. Hard to believe that Rahul didn’t seem to grasp this nonsense of backseat driving of India’s foremost government authority. Oh yes, Rahul himself was one of the backseat drivers. He is the one who has now become king, and such is the kingdom he takes over.
You won’t be surprised no other candidate contested Rahul Gandhi to become President of the Congress. When Sonia Gandhi held the post for nineteen years surrounded by enigma and sycophants, there were no protests within the party that transparency and true democratic spirit were lacking. If she had wanted to continue for a few more years, the party would have passed a resolution urging her on that. After all, when the party had elected Manmohan Singh as a front man – at Sonia’s command – to work as India’s prime minister from his age 72 to 82 the party would have endorsed Sonia continuing as party President for a few more years, if she was for it. Sonia is 71, not in the best of health and she wanted to quit in favour of her son. So others in the party naturally fulfil her wish and Rahul Gandhi got elected as Congress President, assuming office on the 16th of this month. She still retains influence in the Congress, which could help cement Rahul’s place in the party as its next long-time party head.
Senior leaders in the party know that if they perceive the preferred views of Sonia and Rahul and go along with them, it helps to entrench themselves in the party and appear as trusted advisors to the mother and son, earning them respect among lower level leaders and gaining other rewards too. The lower level leaders in turn do the same thing to the senior leaders more unabashedly and flaunt their connections to become popular among party workers. Sycophancy, thy name is Congress.
True, many times Rahul Gandhi has also been more than a prince. Sometimes he had played a king while Sonia played a princess. Now, after induction of Rahul as President of the Congress, Sonia has become a queen mother. We don’t know if she will now occasionally play queen. And poor Congressmen don’t bother about a family arrangement within revered royalty. Will God help the glorious Indian National Congress to breathe democracy again?
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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2017