Motilal Nehru first became Congress Party President in 1919 thereby kicking off the famous Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. His son Jawaharlal Nehru was a freedom fighter and became the first Prime Minister of Independent India.
Indira Gandhi formed the third generation and took over the PM’s post after being Nehru’s unofficial chief of staff and also Minister of Information & Broadcasting.
But after that the fourth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has been around for what seems like ages, has been the least experienced when the particular person took charge and probably has been the most destructive.
Let me explain.
When Emergency was imposed in 1975, Sanjay Gandhi was just 28 years old. That’s like being a baby in the old and aged world of Indian politics. Yet Sanjay virtually took charge of the nation.
He became an extra-constitutional authority and made the entire Cabinet virtually report to him instead of Prime Minister Indira.
He did what he wanted and roamed around with his goons. He forced scores of men into forced sterilization and bulldozed slum areas with great impunity.
In the words of journalist Mark Tully, he used the Emergency to “terrorise the administration, setting up what was in effect a police state”.
When the legendary Kishore Kumar refused to sing at a party function, he was banned from All India Radio. Kissa Kursi Ka (which showed him in bad light) was not only banned, but all the prints were picked up and burnt!
In fact Sanjay was in his early twenties when he took over Maruti Udyog. The closest personality one can think of in today’s world is North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, who was just 28 (like Sanjay!) when he took over his country.
But the fourth generation of the dynasty wasn’t done yet. In 1984 Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world. What was his experience? An airline pilot, he entered full-time politics in 1980.
You can make PM with just four years’ experience if you are born into the right family.That inexperience showed. Despite getting the largest mandate in India’s history, Rajiv bungled from one disaster to another. Even before the elections, he mismanaged the Bhopal Gas tragedy along with the anti-Sikh riots.
Once in power, Golden Temple in Amritsar was targeted yet again. Bofors became a huge scandal that is remembered to this present day. He tried to muzzle the press and the IPKF saw great casualties in Sri Lanka.
Pranab Mukherjee was expelled and VP Singh rebelled to topple him in 1989. In the same year even PV Narasimha Rao challenged him to the leadership of the party and lost by voice vote.
In 1991, the Congress party decided to break all records by offering the post of Prime Minister to Sonia Gandhi. That would have been a dark day for India’s democracy indeed for she had zero days experience as Minister/CM/MP/MLA/bureaucrat/official…
In terms of pure experience, it was like picking anyone on the street and offering her the post of PM. Sonia wasn’t even born into the right family, merely married into it.
However a similar day came in 1998 when Sonia became party President. The post had been occupied by freedom fighters and seasoned politicians but for the first time it was given to a rank outsider (in terms of “politics” and not in terms of “family”.)
Sonia immediately was handed Leader of the Opposition on a platter and she led the party to an abysmal record low abysmal 114 seats in the 1999 elections.
The 2004 elections saw the NDA get more seats than the Congress, but the hatred of BJP led the Congress to come to power.
What followed was probably the worst decade of rule in Independent India’s history. We had the weakest Prime Minister in the form of Manmohan Singh and the number of scams made the average Indian citizen’s head spin.
Files in the Defence Ministry moved as a snail’s pace and one populist scheme after another ruined the economy at the cost of votes. In the end the electorate was so fed up that they handed the Congress a miserable 44 seats.
It looks like the era of the fourth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which began in 1975 may finally end after 40 years. That is for the country and definitely not for the party, where Sonia continues to rule with an iron fist.
India will count the damages of the fourth generation troika of Sanjay-Rajiv-Sonia for many years to come.