Tuesday, September 21, 2010


"The more it changes, the more it's the same thing." When Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote these words, he did not know that more than a hundred years later in far away India the Congress party would prove him right. When a fresh, dimpled Rahul Gandhi presented himself to the nation as the voice of the youth, the face of a new, modern and truly democratic India -- "My aim is to change how politics is done, we want to take it to the politics of the future" -- there was great hope that the old, creaking Congress would finally change. Today no one, not even Rahul, talks about change.

The future of the Congress is locked in its past, its dynastic past. Nothing else defines the Congress anymore. No ideology, no objective save power which it believes only the dynasty can deliver. Inner-party democracy, the one big change that Rahul Gandhi promised when he returned to India after years abroad, is more dead than ever but no one in the Congress can raise a voice.

The grip of the dynasty is now stronger than it ever was, perhaps even more than during the Emergency. Then it was fear at work, now it is greed.

No one, it seems, is surprised or dismayed by the fact that Rahul's mother has managed to re-elected herself unopposed as the President of the Congress party for a record fourth term and that she has already been in that post longer than anyone in the GOP ever was. When there is stifling autocracy at the head, can there be democracy in the body?

A few months back, state units of the Congress in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Meghalaya unanimously asked Sonia Gandhi to nominate office bearers, including state chiefs. Maharashtra has now gone even a step further by asking her to pick even city heads. In Madhya Pradesh, most of the 502 PCC delegates elected are from prominent regional camps and the "list teems with the wives, sons, nephews, brothers and brothers-in- law of prominent party leaders." Rahul Gandhi, on his part, has left no one in any doubt that no inner party democracy, except at inconsequential levels, is to be experimented with: his micro-management of party affairs has led him to personally pick candidates even for the Delhi University Student Union Elections. Let us not even go into many other cases where he has directly chosen state level leaders solely on the basis of loyalty to the dynasty, and political lineage.

The signs that Rahul Gandhi had no clear idea of how he was going to replace the old politics of patronage with that of empowerment were always there, but the media threw a blanket over them. When all that he could achieve was holding of elections at the level of secretary of local units, no one asked why there were no debates on policy and ideology that would guide the party of the youth in the 21st century When he said "What I'm trying to do is create through the Youth Congress and NSUI thousands of Obamas running around in this country," as if Obama was an assembly line mass product, the media hailed him as India's Obama instead of questioning his intelligence. When he once betrayed his shocking grasp by saying that terrorism could defeated in fifteen minutes by empowering villagers, there were no gasps of horror or follow-up questions to gauge the depth of his ignorance.

For obvious reasons, no one has had the guts ever since to ask what views he has on the burning issues that he will have to grapple with once he gets to Chair That Matters. On his part, he keeps harping about the achievements of his ancestors to the exclusion of all other leaders of the Congress and has, of late, even started taking their socialist ideological language, drawing much praise from Maoist supporter Arundhati Roy. The flag bearer of the new generation now dons the garb of the humble sipahi who will protect tribals and, as a consequence India, from the bad boys who talk development and progress. More are sure to follow.

In short, no one is privy to his views, much less his vision, on any subject. In fact, more than a decade after he joined active politics, no one knows if he has any to share with India. To make matters worse, no one knows even where Sonia Gandhi stands on critical national issues. All that the we can see is that mother and son are enjoying absolute power without even the pretence of responsibility or accountability. If the government screws up, they express their imperial annoyance and displeasure; if it does well, they appropriate the credit and an obliging media sells it as their achievement.

The wine is the same, the bottle that looks new is of the same lot and the objective remains unchanged. Harish Khare, media advisor of the Prime Minister, says of the Congress -- now defined by and wholly dependent on the dynasty -- that it is a "status quoist" party that "doesn’t believe in convictions. Its only conviction is how to win elections." Power -- plus the pelf that comes with it -- is the sole driver.

That is why no change is possible. That is why, in addition to murdering even the semblance of democracy within the party in so far as the dynasty is concerned, the Congress has got, as Khare puts it, too many camels into its tent. That is why caste is back; that is why reservations, this time for Muslims, are back; that is why the Women's Reservation Bill that will even further empower a few hundred political gharanas is so close to Sonia's heart; that is why the fissiparous and explosive strategy of banking almost wholly on Muslim and anti-Hindu Hindu votes is being pursued with fatalistic vigour.

The more Rahul's Congress changes, the more it's the same thing. The way it is going, fifty years down the line the only thing that will change is the colour of the hair of dynastic leaders who are young today.