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A self-created political decline

The Congress’s ‘first family’ is precipitating the fall of a party it was charged with safeguarding

With Jyotiraditya Scindia’s defection, the Congress Party has advanced further on the path toward an apparent self-fulfilling prophecy of political irrelevance. It is easy to blame Mr. Scindia for a lack of morality, ideological commitment and loyalty to his party but such blame only scratches the surface of the problem. Lack of morality and party loyalty and the absence of ideological commitment among Indian politicians are on display every day. The Congress leadership should have factored this into its calculations, especially when it comes to relatively young, ambitious and capable members.

The Congress high command’s inability to take seriously clear indications of Mr. Scindia’s unhappiness, especially over the party high command’s dithering over his nomination to the Rajya Sabha, shows a shocking degree of political ineptitude. Moreover, Mr. Scindia’s recent statements on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), dissenting from the leadership’s views, and his call for greater inner-party democracy should have also rung alarm bells in 10 Janpath.

Despite the façade of ideological division between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political culture of the two parties is quite similar. As the Scindia affair — and it is not the exception but the rule in Indian politics — clearly denotes, the objective of most Indian politicians is power and more power. The Ajit Pawar episode in Maharashtra and the blatant luring by the BJP of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs in Karnataka in exchange for ministerial berths were recent demonstrations of this phenomenon.

However, there are three major differences between the BJP and the Congress. First, the BJP, thanks to its parent organisation the RSS, is a cadre-based party with organisational discipline instilled into the psyche of its members. Two, loyalty to the party and to its residual ideology among Congress members has plummeted as the party has turned into a family enterprise. Three, the BJP has been in power for the past six years and is far-better equipped to attract potential defectors through the offer of perks and offices.

However, these factors by themselves do not provide the full explanation for the defections from the Congress of ambitious politicians such as Mr. Scindia. Although the RSS-BJP leadership may be authoritarian, the political environment within the Congress seems to be far more stifling of dissent. The decades-long vice-like control of the party by the Gandhi family and its sycophants is the main reason for this repressive atmosphere. Bright and gifted second-rung figures in the party are afraid of expressing disagreement with the Gandhi family’s views, leave alone criticise them, even in private. One wonders how these talented politicians, many of whom have been denied their due place despite their capabilities, have continued to remain within the fold despite the clearly oppressive atmosphere.

Speculation is rife that Sachin Pilot, passed over for the Chief Minister’s position of Rajasthan, may be contemplating following Mr. Scindia’s footsteps. Some observers believe that one of the reasons why Mr. Scindia and Mr. Pilot, both in their 40s, have been passed over for the positions they coveted and possibly deserved is because of Sonia Gandhi’s apprehension that they may outshine her son, also in his 40s, and capture the party’s leadership.

If true, this is an example of the worst form of nepotistic behaviour, and it has likely written the political death warrant of India’s Grand Old Party. The Congress seems to have become so organisationally decrepit that it is difficult to imagine that it can revive itself. Over the years, it has become increasingly clear that the ‘first family’ is precipitating the decline of the very institution that it was charged with safeguarding. Mr. Scindia’s defection has brought the party closer to such an end-game scenario.

Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 8:47:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-self-created-political-decline/article31043571.ece

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