BY JAYANTA GHOSAL
In 1947 after independence, Jawaharlal Nehru asked Dr Bidhan Roy to become the Uttar Pradesh Governor. I learnt from the writings of the late Bengali ICS officer Ashok Mitra that Lord and Lady Mountbatten were physically present on the day Nehru proposed this to Dr Bidhan Roy in Delhi. Lady Mountbatten later told Bidhan Roy, however much the post seems alluring, it is not for you. You will be the face of Bengal.
Bidhan Roy politely declined Nehru’s proposal. Prafulla Chandra Ghosh became the Chief Minister in 1947, although one year later Bidhan Roy had to take up the responsibility. Nehru later gave that ‘alluring’ post to Sarojini Naidu.
Today, all of a sudden, why did I recall this tale? Bidhan Roy was ‘Deshbandhu’, and had taken lessons in politics from Chittaranjan Das and was Bengal’s active leader. Why did Nehru think of sending him off to Uttar Pradesh? Even a bureaucrat like Ashok Mitra felt the same — that Delhi, in all probability, wanted to put him in a cage.
In 1923 ‘Deshbandhu’ joined politics under the influence of Chittaranjan Das. In the elections to the Bengal executive council, he defeated an imperious personality like Surendranath Banerjee. Later, he became the General Secretary of the Congress party. In 1931, he joined Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience Movement and was imprisoned. He became the mayor of Kolkata Municipality. And what happened after he became the Chief Minister is history.
I began with 1947; you’re probably wondering how much time I will take to reach 2020. Actually, to lose a brilliant leader like Sachin Pilot for whatever reason cannot be described as a glorious incident for this century-old party called Congress. This has been felt even by the secular forces supporting the Congress. This shows an extreme deterioration of the Congress party, an acute crisis! Congress is going through a dark tunnel, not a spark of light is visible.
But do you know why I brought up the topic of Dr Bidhan Roy? I did that just to say that there was a time in this unified India, when in state after state there were numerous ‘messiah’-like figures in the party. India’s states were divided on the basis of language. In all these states, such leaders represented the case for the welfare of their societies. V. Shantaram’s film “Teen batti char raasta” (1953) was about a Punjabi householder with a wife from Varanasi and his daughters-in-law were Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil and Sindhi. An unprecedented story of a Punjabi man’s joint family! The Congress party too was a joint family of this kind. In Tamil Nadu it was Kamaraj, in Odisha it was Bijubabu, in Maharashtra there were leaders from Vasantdada Patil to Y.B. Chavan. It was not just Bengal’s Dr Bidhan Roy.
Nehru passed away in 1964. The then controversial Defence Minister V.K Krishna Menon had said that during Nehru’s last rites, beside his deceased body, heated arguments took place regarding who would inherit Congress. Not Kamaraj or Morarji Desai. Choosing Lal Bahadur Shastri as the rightful inheritor practically helped Indira Gandhi. After this, in 1969, the party was divided into two and the Congress formed by Indira Gandhi became the actual Congress. But during the Indira-era, the relevance of the regional leadership suffered a body blow. It was during this period of primacy of the Iron Woman, that a powerful notion of an invisible ‘high command’ was born. Actually, the Nehru-Gandhi family became this ‘high command’. Since Nehru had no sons, Indira Gandhi was the heir. Even today, the Congress serves as the inheritance of the Gandhi family.
Now, let’s come to July of 2020. There was a sandstorm in Rajasthan. Whether Sachin Pilot will join the BJP or not is a separate story. But, as a result of what happened, the Congress has appeared as weak and in danger in front of the entire country, not just in Rajasthan. Prior to this, Kamal Nath’s government fell in Madhya Pradesh. The Congress in this state was divided in two. After the Congress was defeated in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi resigned as party president taking responsibility for the party’s performance. But, when did he truly leave the position? This isn’t abstaining from power. Poor Sonia Gandhi! She was able to defeat Vajpayee-Advani’s BJP and made it possible for Manmohan Singh to come to power. Yet, in spite of Manmohan Singh’s wishes, Rahul Gandhi did not join the cabinet of the day. Even his young friends had pressured him to take on the responsibility.
I got the opportunity to speak with Rahul Gandhi on several occasions. I’ve personally felt that as an individual he is a very good man, in other words a good soul. He was in the classroom attending classes when the SPG came to inform him how brutally his father had been killed. When his grandmother died, he was not at home either. Is this kind of childhood normal? The scared, terrified mother sent both Rahul and Priyanka abroad for education.
I told Rahul: you don’t have an Amit Shah today, this is the Congress party’s weakness. Rahul dislikes and gives no importance to leaders like Ahmed Patel, who could deal with Amit Shah’s politics. How many times does Rahul visit Pranab Mukherjee who, even today, can give the Congress the oxygen it needs with his sharpness? He is not even willing to take suggestions for free! Rahul’s friends, the reputed new leaders, when were they given independent political charge? Gradually, in the mind of these leaders, there has been a realisation that the Gandhi family views them as a threat — and that out of a sense of insecurity, Rahul is not letting anyone move ahead. He himself isn’t succeeding and isn’t leaving space for others either.
In Rajasthan, it had been discussed that power sharing between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot would be in a 50:50 ratio. When did Gehlot do this? Karti Chidambaram had tweeted how organizations like Google have become so successful. The reason is corporate leadership designates the second and the third segment leaders in advance. The view from the Congress is that Karti Chidambaram had taken aim at the Congress high command.
Another issue is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. In spite of being a Roman Catholic by birth, by living in this country for so long, her mother has become a housewife of a Hindu family. From the core of her heart, like every other Indian mother, she wants to see her son in the position of India’s ruler. Meanwhile, the Modi government has started to investigate Robert Vadra in connection with the Haryana land scandal. The moment Priyanka steps into a position of power, the Modi government will increase the intensity of the investigation. The matter is now in court.
Many Congress leaders have demanded that Priyanka be made party president or even Chief Ministerial candidate for Uttar Pradesh. But again, Sonia Gandhi wants Rahul. How can Congress get out of this complex situation? Exactly this question was asked by a young journalist over a Zoom conference. I said, it’s not that every new Congress leader wants to join the BJP, but if this goes on after the Bihar elections, all new leaders can form a newbie party. This too can be beneficial to the BJP and, in future, this party can become NDA’s partner!
If Rahul Gandhi realises the direness of the situation, then there is only one solution — and that is to wholeheartedly give the new leaders a free hand. With all due respect to 92-year-old Motilal Vora, I state that these leaders can be the elderly counsellors of the Gandhi family, but in states a green movement is necessary for new leaders. Modi-Amit Shah are into electoral politics 24×7. They don’t randomly go abroad on vacation.
(Jayanta Ghosal is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal)