The Terminal Decline


Does Sonia Gandhi have the will and the leadership qualities to reverse the current inefficient execution of the country’s developmental objectives? Indeed, with her authority on the decline, does she have the vision and the capacity to bring in bold reforms, stop offering ‘coalition politics’ as an excuse, set the note once again for tapping India’s vast potential for the future, not just at home, but globally?


To say that the UPA Government has lost direction is an understatement. Ironically, this understatement highlights important questions at both the political and the national levels. Are we now seeing the beginning of the end of the influence of the Nehru-Gandhi family on Indian politics? Are the impressively large sections of people who have always been unquestioningly loyal to the Gandhis now moving away and considering other options? Certainly, there has been a perceptible decline in the authority that Sonia Gandhi, the UPA Chairperson, wielded and a marked erosion in the solid, almost ‘traditional’ support the Gandhi family once enjoyed in its own bastions – Amethi and Rae Bareli. Amethi, for instance, has been represented by a member of the Gandhi family for three-quarters of the last 29 years. Sanjay Gandhi was elected from Amethi in 1980, Rajiv won a by-election in 1981 and elections in 1984 and 1989 (he also won the 1991 election posthumously), Sonia won in 1999 and Rahul in 2004 and 2009. But the results of the recent Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP) brought to a climax murmurs of discontent which had been emanating from both Amethi and Rae Bareli with increasing intensity over the last few years. These murmurs of discontent, it must be noted, were largely ignored and proved to be a costly mistake because their neglect led to a disconnect between the people and the Gandhi family. It would be worthwhile to look at a sampling of these murmurs of discontent from Amethi and Rae Bareli which led to an unprecedented debacle for the Gandhis and the Congress :

‘Rahul cannot pass on the blame to Mayawati and relax in Delhi. He must come here and solve the problems. He comes here only once in a month, sometimes once in three months, and we all suffer. People will oust the Congress from Amethi and Rae Bareli this time ….’
‘Rahul makes much of coming here and talking to the grass-root workers here, then goes to have tea at some Dalit home. Does he think that people are fools? They know that he is only showing off.’
‘The Congress hasn’t done anything for Dalits and poor people in the last 50 years, what will they do now? The people of Amethi and Rae Bareli know this and therefore they want change ….’
The results of the recent Assembly elections in UP certainly brought about this change in dramatic fashion – so much so, that Rahul Gandhi, whose high-profile leadership had been lauded on every possible occasion, disappeared from the political scene after the results were declared, and till date, has not really re-surfaced. The UP Assembly results drew attention to other striking elements as well related to the Gandhi family’s much vaunted leadership appeal. Priyanka Gandhi was as articulate as always, but failed to enthuse the crowds. Her so-called ‘magic’ had apparently faded. Sonia Gandhi too, in the few campaign visits she made, appeared noticeably jaded and as the results showed so emphatically, failed to retain support in her own stronghold. It is this list of failures connected with the Gandhi family which has been steadily over the last few years.
Nobody has forgotten the non-impact that Rahul Gandhi made during the Bihar Assembly elections. Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, Robert Vadra’s handling of situations while campaigning alongside the family in the recent UP Assembly elections can hardly be termed ‘favourable’. Along with the growing list of failures, there is a growing list of questions too. For example, ever since 2004, when Rahul Gandhi became a Member of Parliament, has he made any constructive contributions to the functioning of the august House? During the Lokpal Bill debate, his ‘game-changer’ terminology was viewed more as a ‘game-clanger’ by many seasoned politicians. What are Rahul Gandhi’s views on say, India-China relations, the Indo-Pakistan ‘dialogue’, Afghanistan, developments in the Middle East and so on? More important, what are Rahul Gandhi’s views on the economic and other shocking woes, like a string of scams and so on, which have slowed down India’s once robust growth story? Except for a couple of controversial remarks which emerged from ‘Wikileaks’, nobody really knows the mind of Rahul Gandhi – the man dubbed ‘the future leader of India’ by many in the Congress.
To switch back to Sonia Gandhi, when UPA-I completed 3 years in office, somebody made a comparison between the Indian cricket team and Sonia Gandhi. Here is an interesting extract:
‘1. Sonia Gandhi and Greg Chappell: Call them coach, mentor or the guiding personality – these two have everything in common. While no one doubts their professionalism, the fact remains these two are foreign-born and have distinct disadvantage in dealing with Indians, especially given our myriad combinations, nuances and attendant complications that are so peculiar to India and Indians.
The similarity does not end here. They seem to have one more thing in common – in the selection of the head of the team. While Dr. Singh must owe his elevation to the post of the Prime Minister to Sonia Gandhi, Dravid is suspected to have been favoured by Greg for his elevation.

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It is time the Gandhi family woke up to the reality of a new India which is ready to demand that gaps between non-performance and performance are removed without too long a delay. Will it be a case of going, going, gone, or will it turn out to be a commendable story of strength, vision and courage?

More to the point, both of them wielded enormous power behind the formal authority. And as events post-World Cup show, the failure of the cricket team did not rub off on Greg, efforts are on to carry out a similar exercise with Sonia Gandhi so that the failures of the UPA government are not extended to her.

It is quite obvious that their communication skills are suspect and they are never known to have been the best of communicators. But all of us know for sure that the ‘buck stops at their table ….’
And now, during the run-up to the Presidential nominee selection, the impunity with which Mamata Banerjee upstaged Sonia Gandhi only served to show up the inadequacies, the bias, the tendency to sit over decisions till her hand is forced, the inept handling, of a leader who is no longer really in command when and where it counts. Perhaps Sonia Gandhi’s health has something to do with this, and it must be mentioned that the mystery and secrecy surrounding what ails her has raised new and very real question marks over her authority. This is not to say that her desire for privacy in health matters should not be respected. But it has definitely fueled unhealthy speculation and created new undercurrents within the Congress party. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that several Ministers are increasingly batting according to their own interests and inclinations – a clear sign that their leader is no longer in full control. To make matters worse, there is now a question mark over how long she can continue. And more than that, given the current abysmal state of affairs in the country, the voices of people who count are asking with increasing frequency:
What is Sonia Gandhi – without whose nod the PMO doesn’t act – doing to ensure that India’s derailed socio-political-economic story is brought back on the successful path for which it was once hailed? The Indian economy’s growth fallen from 9 to 6 per cent, so this is a major concern.Does Sonia Gandhi have the will and the leadership qualities to reverse the current inefficient execution of the country’s developmental objectives? Indeed, with her authority on the decline, does she have the vision and the capacity to bring in bold reforms, stop offering ‘coalition politics’ as an excuse, set the note once again for tapping India’s vast potential for the future, not just at home, but globally?
Incidentally, once Pranab Mukherjee occupies Raisina Hill, as is widely expected, there will be a new but very substantial threat to Sonia Gandh’s authority. As a columnist has warned, ‘If Pranab, after moving into the Raisina Hills palace, decides to prove once again that he is the wisest of them all, it will be an ominous signal for the government. It is better to send him to Rashrapati Bhavan as a guide, friend and philosopher of the government, rather than portraying him as good riddance.’
That’s not all. With Mamata Banerjee having shown the way, there is every chance that major regional leaders– Sharad Pawar, Bal Thackeray, Nitish Kumar and Mulayam Singh Yadav – will speak and act more strongly. In this context, even though his father has backed the UPA’s choice for President, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has already declared that the ruling United Progressive Alliance has little future.
With so many question marks surrounding Sonia Gandhi’s authority and the future role of the Gandhi family in Indian politics, is there a reasonable chance that India will be run better than it has been in the last few years? It would seem that the people of India, always wiser than political pundits, have decided to reach out pro-actively, inspired in part by the Anna Hazare movement perhaps, for their rights and an improved quality of life. ‘Deliver or go’ seems to be the new mantra as was evident from the Rae Bareli-Amethi results. In a sense, people are moving with the times. Can the same be said for the Gandhi family? Resting on the strength of their name in the past may no longer take them anywhere. It is time the Gandhi family woke up to the reality of a new India which is ready to demand that gaps between non-performance and performance are removed without too long a delay. Will it be a case of going, going, gone, or will it turn out to be a commendable story of strength, vision and courage?

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