2015 is not 1977: Cong. confronts challenge

December 20, 2015 12:47 am | Updated November 17, 2021 05:02 am IST - New Delhi:

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat (in a wheelchair) leads the protest march to the Raj Bhavan in Dehradun on Saturday. — Photo: Virender Singh Negi

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat (in a wheelchair) leads the protest march to the Raj Bhavan in Dehradun on Saturday. — Photo: Virender Singh Negi

“I am the daughter-in-law of Mrs Indira Gandhi and I am not afraid of anybody or anything,” Congress President Sonia Gandhi had said on December 8 when she and her son, Rahul Gandhi, were summoned to make a personal appearance in court in the National Herald case, evoking memories of October 1977 when Indira Gandhi was arrested in the wake of the Shah Commission hearings months, after the Janata Party came to power.

Ms Sonia Gandhi’s object appeared to be twofold: to emphasise that like her mother-in-law, she, too, was a victim of political persecution even as she told her party that if played right, it could be a turning point in the political fortunes of the Congress.

But 2015 is not 1977; the accusations made through the course of the Shah Commission’s hearings relating to allegations of abuse of power very different from the charges of financial impropriety in the Herald case and Sonia Gandhi, though certainly a tall leader today, is not quite the mass leader that Indira Gandhi was.

On Saturday, after the Congress went through several consultations since the summons were issued , it was decided that the party should not attempt the sort of show of strength that was seen on the streets of Delhi in 1977, lest it be misconstrued as defiance of the court. But there has been a debate within the party on how to deal with the issue — confrontationist as Mr Gandhi initially wanted to or, while projecting the Congress as a law-abiding organisation, nevertheless portraying itself as a victim of the “machinations” of the BJP leadership.

Within the Congress, while there is agreement that the National Herald case has “acted as a catalyst for the party to be activated”, there is a sense that it does not have the resonance of Indira Gandhi’s challenge to the Shah Commission. The Congress today is a shadow of the party that Indira Gandhi led, and it will need much more to revive it than the show of solidarity that was witnessed on Saturday either at the AICC office in Delhi, outside Patiala House, and inside it where a range of top leaders were present, or indeed, at the various district headquarters.

“Prima facie, it is a case of political persecution as the Herald case is not new. There is also the general impression that the Prime Minister is firing from the shoulders of a party colleague. Simultaneously, the political situation in the country is deteriorating rapidly and Mr Modi’s image is no longer what it was last year,” senior party leader and former union minister Kishore Chandra Deo told The Hindu. “Things are very positive for the Congress,” Mr Singh Deo continued, “ but unfortunately, the credibility of the second rung leadership around Sonia and Rahul Gandhi is not such as to inspire confidence. In the States , the old leadership continues — and their credibility is low. You need to change them to revive the party.”

Of course, there are others who feel the case will arouse sympathy at the ground level: “People are not fools. They will realise that the BJP is not interested in implementing its manifesto — it only wants to finish off the Congress party and by targeting the Gandhis, the party feels it can be successful,” party general secretary B.K. Hariprasad told The Hindu . Of course, had the Gandhis not got bail on Saturday, the Herald case may have taken on a different complexion.

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