Saturday, March 10, 2012

There's writing on the wall for dynasties; will the desirable meet the possible?

In our elections, nobody is voted in; always somebody is voted out and somebody else steps into the vacancy by default.

This was the pattern since the Emergency. Indira Gandhi was so dictatorial during those two years that she was thrown out humiliatingly. The Janata Party then took office, but performed so miserably that it could only last two years. In the 1980 election people threw out that lot. And who came in? The only available alternative, Indira Gandhi.

More graphic is the see-saw history of Tamil Nadu. Jayalalitha, considered autocratic and corrupt, was voted out in 1996. Successor Karunanidhi, autocratic, corrupt and dynastically obsessed, was voted out in 2001. Jayalalitha came in again, and was voted out in 2006. Then Karunanidhi came in, only to be voted out in 2012.

In mature democracies the system functions in a self-renewing way. A capable politician, Neil Kinnock, led the British Labour Party in the 1992 general election. Labour lost. With that Neil Kinnock left politics and went into jobs like university president. In the US presidential election of 2000, Al Gore lost to George Bush. With that, Al Gore left politics and went into environment campaigning and business activities.

When a leader withdraws following a defeat, his party gets a chance to make a fresh start with a new leader, new ideas. Tony Blair did not hang around as ex-prime minister waiting for another chance. Nor did Bill Clinton stick on after his term was over. He retired, Barack Obama came in, and Americans got a chance to try out a new Democratic Party.

When Mulayam Singh was defeated three times in the past, he did hang around until he got another chance last week. Mayawati will not now go into the sunset. She too will hang around. The UP voter is condemned to choose between earlier rejects. Voters in the rest of the country are on the same page.

In this election no one has been defeated as roundly as the Congress. Yet the Congress does not have the slightest chance of renewing itself. The same discredited leaders and discredited attitudes will present themselves before the people again. They may get into office as and when some incumbent is voted out. But the country will not gain because it will only keep going in circles, not forward.

The Congress is simply incapable of analysing its performance objectively because its basic position is one of servitude to its ruling dynasty. Look at the predictable pronouncements of the courtiers. Digvijay Singh declares that “Rahul has huge support among the people.” Rajiv Shukla points out that “the organisation has failed.” Ashwini Kumar wants the word 'dynasty' to be replaced with 'charisma' and proclaims: “you cannot take the Gandhi family's charisma away from them.”

Voters of Rae Bareilly and Amethi did just that. In Rae Bareilly, Sonia Gandhi's alleged pocket borough, the Congress lost all five Assembly seats. In Amethi it won only two of the five seats. These were the stamping grounds of Sonia, Rahul, Priyanka and the very charismatic Johny-came-lately Robert Vadra. Nothing worked. Ashwini Kumar would have had more charisma if he had campaigned there. The big news of the UP election is not the rejection of the Congress, but the rejection of the Sonia parivar.

Hop across to Goa. The dynasty principle was applied there with a vengeance by the Congress. In a state the looting of which had brought shame to all of India, notorious Congress dynasties cornered one-third of all available party tickets. Churchill Alemao's family put up four candidates. Voters threw all of them into the dump.

This five-state election, following the Tamil Nadu election, is the first decisive indication that people have had enough of dynasties. The most sensible thing for the Congress to do is to encourage Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi to leave politics. That of course will be like expecting Karunanidhi to tell Kanimozi to take to fulltime writing. The desirable and the possible seldom meet. But they can.