Not quite Congress’s 1977 moment

December 21, 2015 12:50 am | Updated November 17, 2021 05:01 am IST

The new turn in a long-pending case involving allegations of misuse of funds of the Indian National Congress >to buy Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), a firm that published the National Herald , a now defunct publication linked to the party, has put the spotlight on the Gandhis. For, between them, >Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are the main shareholders of Young Indian Pvt Ltd (YIL), the Section 25 company of which AJL is now a subsidiary. The charge is that the Gandhis, along with other directors of YIL, “fraudulently” acquired assets, largely AJL-owned countrywide real estate. The Congress’s defence is that YIL is a charitable company and that none of its directors has made any profit — in short, that they hold it in trust for the party both for charitable purposes and to restart a newspaper. The Congress has sought to project the legal proceedings as an instance of political persecution by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, by linking it to Subramanian Swamy, who pursued the case. The BJP-led government at the Centre, on its part, has tried to distance itself from the issue, stressing it is part of the judicial process in which it has no hand. Whatever the motivations, if any, the case must now necessarily be settled in court, and the Congress needs to fight it legally. Even so, the National Herald case has today indisputably acquired a political dimension.

With Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s appearance in court on Saturday, >the Congress is seeking to revive memories of the arrest of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in October 1977 on charges of abuse of power brought forward under the Janata Party government. That became something of a defining moment of Indira Gandhi’s stint out of power, and she used it to mobilise her defeated party and revive sympathy for the Congress amongst the people, heralding a political comeback. Today, in the party, even though there is agreement that the National Herald case has acted “as a catalyst for party workers to be activated”, very few as yet believe that it is enough to set it on a path of revival. For that, the entire Congress organisation has to be overhauled, a new and vigorous leadership installed in the States to revive moribund units, and a clear strategy articulated, with a comprehensive national vision and purposeful plan for Parliament. Even the decision on whether Sonia Gandhi will be replaced as president of the party by Rahul Gandhi is on hold, ensuring that the uncertainty in the party continues. The show of party solidarity with the Gandhis when they appeared at Delhi’s Patiala House court was evidently genuine, drawing from a feeling that the future of the Gandhis is inextricably linked to the future of the Congress. It would be unfortunate, however, if the Congress party expended too much political capital on this and restricted its mobilisation to the case against its president and vice-president. Not only were the specifics of the charges against Indira Gandhi in 1977 different, that was a different news ecosystem. The half-life of a political opportunity is now much shorter.

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