1. Rahul Gandhi Congress President nomination: What made Grand Old Party a Gandhi family fiefdom

Rahul Gandhi Congress President nomination: What made Grand Old Party a Gandhi family fiefdom

What made the Gandhi family more significant than the party itself?

By: | Updated: December 4, 2017 11:21 AM
 Rahul Gandhi as Congress President: What made Grand Old Party a Gandhi family fiefdom Rahul Gandhi will be the 5th person to serve as Congess President from Gandhi family after independence.

Rahul Gandhi Congress President nomination: Neither it was a norm, nor it was a tradition to have the same person as the chief of party and it’s prime ministerial candidate in Congress. And though Jawahar Lal Nehru remained at the helm of affairs in Congress much before independence, the Gandhis never worked as the only fiefs for the party. Then what made the Gandhi family more significant than the party itself? In  November 1969, a number of Congress stalwarts like Morarji Desai, K Kamraj and S Nijalingappa initiated a revolt and expelled Indira Gandhi, the serving prime minister from the party on charges of going against the partyline. Indira had pitted VV Giri against party candidate Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy for the then Presidential elections. While the Congress had directed lawmakers to cast a secret vote in favour of Reddy, Indira asked them to vote on the ‘voice of the conscience’. Giri, riding on the support from a Congress-expelled Indira, was elected President of India. It was this moment that call of Indira turned out to be greater than call of the party. The incident ultimately resulted in the split of the old Congress. Later, the faction led by Indira was named as the actual Congress by Election Commission of India.

Taking lessons from her bitter experience, Indira either herself remained the Congress chief or appointed some of her very close aides for the position till the time she was alive. Even at this point it was not expected that party will turn into ‘Gandhi family fiefdom’ in the coming years. Indira appointed Jagjivan Ram as the president of the faction led by her for a short period of time. Later came Shankar Dayal Sharma and DK Baruah. Sharma later became the President of India. While in Baruah’s case, his quote – “Indira is India and India is Indira” – became popular as it showcased his loyalty towards the leader. After Indira’s  assassination, the top leadership turned to Rajiv Gandhi to take charge of the party. At this point, that Rajiv became the prime minister and also the chief of Congress just like it happens in some family organisations. Rajiv too kept the office of Congress president with him till his assassination in 1991.

Read | A look at careers of all Congress party presidents since Independence

After Rajiv’s death, it was considered that family’s control over the party had come to an end and the party will be run by non-family politicians in future. Same happened as well. PV Narasimha Rao was elected as the party president and the prime minister of India. He served as party president until 1996. Several media reports say that there was evident conflict between Sonia Gandhi and Rao all these years. In fact, a number of flamboyant Congress leaders like ND Tiwari, Arjun Singh and Sheila Dikshit were able to smell the same and even formed a separate party with the name of Tiwari Congress. Depite their detachment from Congress, they remained loyal to the Gandhi family. Political pundits, who have covered Congress closely all these years, say that Rao was mistreated ‘for not remaining loyal to the family’.

After Rao, came Sitaram Kesri. Termed as ‘an old man in hurry’ by former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, Kesri took the reigns of the party in its most difficult time since independence (Not to consider party’s current position in Lok Sabha). Feeling helpless, the party leadership later showed doors to Kesri and once again turned to the family – this time Sonia Gandhi, the Italian origin daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, was appointed as the party chief. Her candidature was challenged by Jitendra Prasad. In later years, Prasad’s presence was too decimated in the party. Since 1998, Sonia has remained the president of Congress. She is now making way for her son -Rahul Gandhi.


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