When Morarji Desai lay at Lutyens for two years with his grand mandate, he was told by someone, that “there are bitter weeds” in the Congress party. There were certainly a great deal many more since the Congress returned to power in 1979. But here is the same grand old party which has played the most pivotal role in the Indian independence, the most pivotal role in shaping the modern post-independent India, confronting its extinction, not even legitimately a national party anymore.
But I’d disagree with the viewpoint that the Congress party is a threat to India. Obviously if a party singularly rules a democracy for over 60 years of its 70 plus years of independence, it becomes no less of a threat, by its very existence. It is the marked distinction of a democratic country that it has a shared power between its political parties. That power was conclusively handed over after much resistance in 2014, when the right wing party Bharatiya Janata Party came to power. The Congress party however is not a threat to India, but the Gandhi family most likely is. They have always been a threat to Indian democracy and now they are a threat to the very party they once resoundingly ruled.
It is dishonest of us liberals to tag Prime Minister Modi as a dictator (he clearly has such tendencies, and given a chance he would definitely love to be one) while blatantly ignoring the opposition’s long standing and proven tradition of monarchism and dictatorial politics. Calling oneself a liberal, secular and centrist party doesn’t change the fact that the Congress party has always reeked of dictatorial traditions, with our very first ‘benevolent dictator’ Mrs. Indira Gandhi to her grandson Rahul Gandhi. Power not only corrupts, it also reveals, and looking at the many revelations that the Congress party has had over the past few decades, and given that they have still managed to hold strong the helm proves that they are the first dictators of India. A democracy rigged in favour of one family is not a democracy, it is a monarchy and all monarchies are dictatorships, which must be overthrown.
And it hasn’t been just this turn to the right that has forced Indians to rethink their stance on the Gandhi family. Liberals have long opposed and called for the overthrow of the Gandhi family. Ramachandra Guha in 2017 remarked on Rahul Gandhi saying that “the greatest favour he could do himself and to Indian democracy is retire”. Yogendra Yadav during the 2019 exit polls tweeted saying “the Congress must die. If it could not stop the BJP in this election to save the idea of India, this party has no positive role in Indian history. Today it represents the single biggest obstacle to the creation of an alternative.” I think that is born out of his fervent anti-Congress sentiment which is understandable given that he started out with the Aam Aadmi Party. The Congress’ death will be a big blow to Indian democracy and I’m not saying this out of pure historical sentiment for the party. The party has long stood for values which has made India as strong as it is today, values of liberty, democracy and secularism in a country which has always been so deeply divided on the almost all lines of social status, and it is a necessary party for today’s India and to confront today’s right wing forces.
However, the political obstacles don’t remain hidden – an ailing mother, an ambivalent daughter and an incompetent son can’t cure the disease of jingoism that has struck this country, more so when that very family gave rise to this anti-liberal sentiment that is riding waves in India. The Congress party must reinvent itself now more than ever, and when the time is ripe, overthrow and break free from the shackles of the tyranny of the Gandhi family. Lest, it doesn’t want to commit a political suicide. What we have in the opposition is a man of the masses, with a bestselling story and a stellar political record, we need newer alternatives and we need better alternatives. Politics is after all just like business. In the absence of complementary and substitutable alternatives, it paves way for monopoly which is dictatorship. The Congress party must accept the mandate of the people of India and remove its “bitter weeds”.
Swagat Baruah is the founding editor of Catharsis Magazine.