Column: The Gandhis should resign
Congratulations to Narendra Modi and BJP for not only registering a historic victory for themselves, but also for India as well. This election will be a significant departure from history in several other dimensions as well, as historians and political scientists will discuss it over the coming weeks and months and years. For example, the curtain has not yet been dropped on caste politics, but we are near to that dream reality: Mayawati – zero seats, Mandal Lalu Prasad Yadav – 3 seats, Mandal Mulayam SinghYadav's Samajwadi Party – 5 seats. This is the demise of the Mandal politicians and it is poetic justice that Narendra Modi, a lower caste OBC, and one who has never played the caste card, and indeed vehemently argued against it, should be the one to provide a death blow to
Mandal politics. The Congress has been saying forever to just wait and see, and that a week is a long time in politics, but don't bet any of your hard-earned money on caste politics not declining significantly in India's future.
What has nearly ended is Communist politics. The Left parties managed to obtain only 10 seats, half their 2009 amount, and ended their masquerade as a national party.
But the real political story of this election is the near complete decimation of the Congress party. The party has had two humiliating defeats in the pastthe first in the old India of 1977, when Indira Gandhi was punished for destroying institutions, most importantly for destroying the institution of democracy by imposing the Emergency in 1975. The second great loss was in 1999, when the Congress obtained only 114 seats. And Election 2014 is witness to the Congress hitting its lowest ever seat count, 45. There is more ignominy to this than just the low, low number. This number is barely 8 seats more than that of a regional party, Jayalalitha's ADMK. Just a little bit of push and Congress could have ended as the third-largest party.
It was refreshing to see Tarun Gogoi resigning as the head of the Congress in Assam after his heavy defeat (only 3 seats out of 14 for Congress vs 7 for the BJP). Unfortunately, at least at the time of going to press, the Congress party was still in sycophantic denial. They uttered the usual platitudes"we have seen defeat before, we have bounced back", "we have full faith in the High Command", etc.
The reality is that the Congress as we know it, and have loved and hated it, is destroyed, and it is the political death of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. When will the leaders realise that feudalism is over, that monarchy is over, and that India has moved significantly forward, and changed? When a 130-year-old national party obtains less than a twelfth of the total seats on offer, and barely makes it as the second largest political party, regional or otherwise, it cannot, should not, and for its own survival, must not remain the same. Also, note that the Congress, with this debacle, ceases to be recognised as the official Opposition party! Thus, it is time that the Gandhis realised that their reign is overand acknowledged that none of the three Gandhis is a political leader. The Congress must accept the brutal fact that Sonia Gandhi has been vastly overrated as a political strategist, thinker, or leader. Indeed, all the evidence suggests she has been a failure in politics.
Consider the following. Shortly after the second consecutive debacle of the Congress party (140 seats under Narasimha Rao in 1996 and 141 seats under Sitaram Kesri in February 1998), Sonia Gandhi assumed the presidency of the Congress party on March 14, 1998. In the next parliamentary election, after 20 months at the helm, for the first time, Sonia's Congress registered a historic low level of 114 seats. Five years later in 2004, in the second election fought under her, the Congress managed to repeat the Rao-Kesri low level of 145 seats. Thus, it was not because of Congress's popularity that Gandhi had the chance to listen to her inner voice and install Manmohan Singh as the PM; it was the coalition marriage of convenience that gave UPA the chance to rule the country.
Five years later, in 2009, Sonia's Congress-led UPA did register a convincing Lok Sabha win, with Congress alone obtaining 206 seats, some nine more than even Rajiv Gandhi had obtained in 1989. However, the jury is very definitely out on how much credit should go to Sonia Gandhi for her political acumen, and how much to Singh for helping India register 8.5 %-plus GDP growth rate for five consecutive years. And five years later in 2014, again under the leadership of
Sonia Gandhi, the party has just 45 seats.
So, was it the inept leadership of Rahul that made Congress lose this election so badly? Hardly. I have maintained for more than a year that Rahul is the wrong choice for a political leader because while politics is in his blood, it is not in his soul. His mother thrusting the leadership on him is like a feudal, conservative, old-fashioned, son-preferring parent wanting her son to be a dentist, when all he wants to do is play the guitar. And what happened to the much advertised Priyanka Gandhi effect? Though it will take some time to analyse the data, the possibility is real that her entry into the campaign probably lost some seats for the Congress. The writing is crystal clear on the wall, if only the blind and obsequious Congress-wallahs would see itthe days of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty are over. Finito.
More than a year ago, in an article entitled 'Message to Sonia: reform or perish' (goo.gl/lE8vIJ) I wrote: 'Recall that Annie Besant became president of the Congress party in 1917. If Sonia Gandhi does not change, then she risks the following obituary of the party she heads: "It took a white, European, socialist, woman to help create the Congress party and it has taken a white, European, socialist, woman to destroy it more than a hundred years later."' Sometimes, but not often enough, one does get a forecast right!
Surjit S Bhalla
The author is chairman, Oxus Investments, an emerging market
advisory firm, and a senior advisor to Zyfin, a leading financial information company. Twitter: @surjitbhalla