Sonia Gandhi must decide if she puts the party before her son. India needs the Congress party.

Did you hear that huge sigh of despair on Sunday evening? At about 8.15 pm? It was the collective anguish of Congressmen.

They had just heard Congress leader, Digvijay Singh, say on TV that Rahul Gandhi would join the Government in September, and take up a higher responsibility in the party.

Congressmen have greeted the announcement in glum and depressed silence. They are wondering if all is well with Sonia.

Many, I am told, are now hoping that Mr R will say “Thanks, Mummy, but I think I’d rather not. You know I am a big boy now.”

If he says that 77 per cent of Indian voters, or those who did not vote for the Congress, will applaud his good sense, he would have saved a wonderful institution of Indian democracy, the Congress party, by recognising his limitations.

But Congressmen must ask: Does it need the Gandhi family to run it? Most Congressmen are beginning to think “perhaps not”.

But if Mr R says “Yes, Mummy, whatever you say Mummy,” the voter could — with some joy not untouched with regret — consign the Congress to the dustbin of history.

“For God’s sake, go”

As some are asking of Sachin, has the time come for the Gandhi family to bow out as well? Rest on its laurels, so to speak? Take a bow? Trot gently away into the sunset?

This is a question that the Congress party must also ask. That it won’t, not just yet anyway, is a given. But make no mistake, it is waiting like the diver at the edge of the diving board. But eventually, it must take the plunge.

As Oliver Cromwell told the Rump Parliament of England in 1653, “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately... depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Cromwell evicted the Rump Parliament by force. But since then, throughout the world, many personalities who have outlived their usefulness to their parties have been asked to retire.

Like Margaret Thatcher, to name just one. Or Harold Wilson, Tony Blair, Willy Brandt, Golda Meir, to name a few more.

In India, Gandhiji retired Jinnah in 1920. Indira Gandhi forced Kamaraj, Nijalingappa and S. K. Patil, D. P. Mishra into a quiet contemplation of the wide canvas of things past.

Since it’s been done before, it can be done again. The Congress party is bigger than the Gandhi family. India needs it, but not necessarily the Family to run it.

Congress Constitution

But though I am not a hundred per cent sure of this, I think the party may have shot itself in the foot.

This is because in 2006 or so, the Congress party constitution was amended so that only the Congress president could remove the Congress president! If you go through it, you will find that while it lays down the procedure for electing the President, there is no procedure for removal.

Not just that: Since the President can pack the electoral body, re-election is guaranteed.

Stalin, it will be recalled by students of history, had pulled the same stunt on Lenin in 1922, thus ensuring not only that only he had the power of appointment but also the power of removal, including his own. He remained in power for another three decades.

That said, the issue for Sonia Gandhi is a straightforward one: Does she put the party before her son or not?

If not, she must explain how she is different from the North Korean first family.

As that TV fellow says, “The nation wants to know.”

(This article was published on July 18, 2012)
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