The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty: Fated to rule India

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 23, 2013 03:53 hrs

Just before 1947, India had four strong organizations: The Indian National Congress, the All-India Muslim League, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Communist Party of India.

Immediately after Independence, the Muslim League went to Pakistan, the RSS decided to remain apolitical and the CPI for some strange reason refused to recognize the new government and its President BT Randive called for an armed struggle, effectively taking it out of the political mainstream.

That gave a total free run to the Congress and it was a virtual one-party rule at all levels for decades.

As far as the leaders went, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 and Sardar Vallabhai Patel died in 1950. C Rajagopalachari and Rajendra Prasad occupied the ceremonial posts of Governor General and President respectively. Even the giant Dalit leader BR Ambedkar (father of the Constitution) was marginalized from the party and quit in 1951.

What that meant was that Jawaharlal Nehru stood alone and became a virtual dictator. That was the case till his death in 1964. But at that time no-one suspected that India would be in the grips of a dynasty.

That more so because Lal Bahadur Shastri took over. He was just 59 and was expected to have a long reign like Nehru. However, he mysteriously died in 1966 and the grand old men of the Congress made a monumental blunder by installing Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi thinking she would be a “goongi gudiya” (mute doll). She proved to be an Iron Lady in the end.

The Congress soon split with all the senior leaders on one side and Indira on the other. The Election Commission recognized Indira’s party as the original and that effectively gave a stamp on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Now Indira had a free run, just like Nehru.

The first chance to break the shackles came in 1977. The Janata Party bagged a whopping 345 Lok Sabha seats. A full term was there for the asking and they could even have had a second term if they did a decent job. But that was not to be. The Janata Party fought itself to its destruction and Indira made a comeback.

The next time that the dynasty seemed to be finished was the period of 1989-2004. The Janata Dal ruled from 1989-91 and 1996-98, but could not sustain itself thereafter. PV Narasmiha Rao was the father of liberalization and made foreign policy breakthroughs. He ushered in total peace in Punjab. He also gave an impetus to India’s nuclear and missile programmes.

However, the electorate booted out Rao and that gave a chance for the dynasty to make a comeback and Sonia Gandhi eventually became Congress President. Dependence on the dynasty became firmly rooted again as top leaders Madhavrao Scindia and Rajesh Pilot died in accidents.

Despite that both the Congress and the dynasty seemed finished in 2004.

The NDA became India’s first successful coalition government at the Centre. They took Rao’s economic reforms forward, conducted the Pokhran nuclear tests to boost their ratings and won a war. Just before the 2004 elections, they were looking to get re-elected.

LK Advani seemed set to take the reins of prime ministership from AB Vajpayee with a strong Narendra Modi waiting in the wings.

The odds were heavily stacked against the Congress and loaded in favour of the BJP.

Then in an amazing turnaround which no-one predicted, the NDA lost. When Manmohan Singh took over in 2004, the stock market crashed and most predicted that the government would all in 2-3 years.

That never happened and the UPA completed its term even after the sordid cash for votes scam. In 2009, the Indian electorate gave a further surprise and gave the Congress an even greater mandate.

Both the dynasty and Congress were firmly back in business. Sonia Gandhi will complete a whopping 15 years as Congress President this year.

If one looks at the history of India, then fate has always conspired to make sure that the Congress and dynasty make a comeback no matter what the odds.

Going by that logic, it seems destined that Rahul Gandhi will become PM in 2014. In case of a badly hung mandate, he could still get his chance in 2016 or 2017.

The dynasty has already produced 5 Congress presidents and 3 PMs. Even members like Feroze Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi had a very bright political future had they not died early. That’s almost a cent per cent success rate.

All in all, it looks like Priyanka Gandhi has a much greater chance of becoming PM one day than say Modi!

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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger.

He blogs at