2019: The devil or the dynasty?

Last Updated: Thu, Dec 21, 2017 09:10 hrs
Assembly Elections: BJP celebrates victory in Gujarat, Himachal

The results of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections have made two things very clear: there is strong anti-incumbency against the BJP in some parts of India; but the people have so little trust in the Congress that the former will continue to make gains for as long as the grand old party fails to groom any real leaders.

Sure, the country looks saffron.

The BJP currently rules 19 states as well as the Centre; the Congress is only in power in 4 states, of which two head to elections next year.

But, the results of the Gujarat election – while being historic in that a single party has now held the state for the sixth term in a row – point to something which must quite disturb the BJP. Unlike the previous elections, when the result was a foregone conclusion, this time the saffron party just about scraped through.

Jignesh Mevani, the Dalit rights activist who contested as an independent backed by the Congress, swept to victory in Vadgam.

Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor, and Jignesh Mevani were derided by the BJP because the initials of their first names spell out ‘Haj’, which is apparently worthy of derision.

But this is only one among several pejoratives the BJP, through official and unofficial channels, has hurled at rivals it sees as a threat. Earlier this year, BJP leader Shyamapada Mondal referred to Mamata Banerjee as a “hijra”. The party’s IT cell put out a poster featuring Rahul Gandhi, with Patel, Thakor, and Mevani, alongside the comment, “These four hijras have gone to Gujarat to fight one man”. The Prime Minister follows trolls who threaten dissidents with murder and rape on social media.

When the BJP, which promised good days, has failed on so many counts in so many states as well as at the Centre, India is searching for options. We are not any closer to finding them than we were four years ago.

For all the dog videos and martial arts pictures in kimono, Rahul Gandhi inspires no confidence among the public, and for good reason. It is the rare week that passes without the newly anointed President of the Congress shoving his feet into his mouth.

The Congress will never be able to escape its track record of corruption unless it finds a way out of the dynastic politics that have dominated, even dictated, its functioning over the last seven decades.

The only qualification one needs in order to take over the leadership of the party is to have been born into the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, as if knowledge of politics could be gained by osmosis through birth and marriage. In the absence of heirs for Rahul, the dynasty may now extend to the Vadras.

Some things never do change with the Congress.                    

Just as senior leaders of the Congress pleaded with Sonia Gandhi not to listen to her infamous “inner voice” in 2004, just as a distinguished economist and decorated Finance Minister became a serf while holding the highest office in active politics in the country, sycophancy was rampant during the ceremony in which Rahul Gandhi was promoted to President of the party.

In a cringe-inducing speech, two-time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the ascension of a Gandhi heir to the throne “a unique day in the history of the Congress party” and begged the audience for forgiveness if he were to get “emotional” and “sentimental”. As Prime Minister, he said, he had had the “unique privilege of guidance of Srimati Sonia Gandhiji” and credited her for the “historic decisions” they had made together, and said the Congress must “salute her for her magnificent leadership”. 

All he could say about Rahul Gandhi’s credentials to take over the reins of the party was an ambiguous “He has been looking after many of the activities of the Congress party for many years”. As if realising how pathetic that sounded, he added that Rahul Gandhi had travelled the country and knew of its poverty and disease: “You know these problems that nobody else knows and we trust that under your distinguished leadership, our party will scale new heights of glory.”

Oblivious to the irony, Singh spoke of the importance of depending on a Gandhi heir at “a time when there are certain disturbing trends noticeable in our politics”. To be fair to him, dynastic politics is not a trend. It is simply the way things have always been done in the Congress.

To bring the Congress back into power would show them that they can get away with two terms rife with scams, that they can appoint leaders by birth.

To bring the BJP to power for a second term would show them that it’s all right for “secular” to become a bad word, for promises to be broken – does anyone remember that the party most obsessed with the Aadhaar was once against it? – and for cruel taxes to be imposed without discussion, for money to turn into paper overnight in pursuit of a mirage.

The “good and simple tax” has not been implemented on the one group of products for which it would actually benefit most people in the country – petroleum.

Anonymous donations to election campaigns are kosher, but we cannot make phone calls without surrendering our biometric details to a database which is prone to leaks. People are losing their old age benefits because their fingerprints cannot be read. We live at a time of corruption, taxation, and harassment.

The reason the likes of Arvind Kejriwal and Jignesh Mevani were able to win the faith of the people is that they promise change, and appear sincere. We’re tired of broken promises, and are searching for something in which we can believe.

Will we find that something before 2019, or will we have to choose, yet again, between the devil of religio-nationalist bigotry and the dynasty of corrupt practice?

More from Sify: