The Congress Party got a new president last week. The first after two decades whose surname is not Gandhi. And this caused me to get embroiled in a spat with Congress leaders and supporters that needs some explaining. This has become necessary because an official of the Congress Party wrote me a menacing letter that he put on Twitter as soon as he sent it to me. In legal language it said that I had “knowingly and deliberately charged the former Prime Minister of India and senior leader of the Indian National Congress party, Dr Manmohan Singh, falsely of violating the Official Secrets Act, 1923 by sharing ‘secret’ government files during his tenure as Prime Minister”.
It was something of a revelation to discover for the first time that this law of official secrecy is a hundred years old. I accepted publicly that this antiquated law was not breached as soon as I learned what it was through Congress leaders and trolls who attacked me viciously on Twitter. The truth is I did not even mention the Prime Minister, leave alone charge him with treason. I was only trying to say that Sonia Gandhi was allowed access to government files without swearing an oath of secrecy. And that she was involved in making government policy.
Senior ministers in Dr Manmohan Singh’s government have publicly admitted this. And her ardent admirers credit her with giving us MNREGA and the Food Security Act, so there is no question that the former Congress president did much, much more than deal with party affairs. Why should she not have since it was she who gave Dr Manmohan Singh his job?
When he took office for the second time, one of the first things he declared publicly was that whenever Rahul Gandhi felt ready to lead India, he would happily vacate the Prime Minister’s Office. So clearly was he acting as regent and not prime minister that it surprised nobody when at a press conference Rahul tore up an ordinance passed by the UPA government. It is my considered opinion that had Dr Manmohan Singh been allowed to function properly as prime minister, it would have been much harder for Narendra Modi to win in 2014. It was no secret in government circles in Delhi during his second term that he could not take serious decisions or make policies without consulting his boss. This column has been an open admirer of the good doctor’s economic policies and I have said more than once here that I believe that the reforms he brought when he was Finance Minister under P V Narasimha Rao transformed India. I remain an unabashed admirer of Dr Singh.
Not so much of Sonia Gandhi because I disapprove of political leaders who wield immense power without accountability. I believe that when she listened to her clever little ‘inner voice’ and turned down the prime minister’s job when she won the Congress Party the general election in 2004, she set an unhealthy precedent. One reason why Narendra Modi is admired as a ‘strong prime minister’ is because Indians are proud that he answers to the people of India and not the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party. There are those who say that he answers to the RSS chief, and they are wrong. He has shown twice that he is too popular in his own right to depend on RSS help to win an election. If he has appointed people in high positions who have been schooled in RSS ideas, it is because he went to the same university. This is no different at all to the Congress Party having appointed officials who believed in Nehruvian socialism.
It has been my experience that prime ministers who win more than two terms start behaving like autocrats, so I am eager for the Congress Party to become a real political party again instead of being a courtiers’ club. I do not believe this can happen if the party is run not by its elected president but by the family that turned the party of our freedom movement into a private limited company. There is no point in pretending that Mallikarjun Kharge did not win the election only because he was seen as the official candidate of the Dynasty. In his first speech as president, he said clearly that Sonia Gandhi would continue to be his ‘guiding light’.
Another revelation that came from my ugly spat with the Congress Party’s officials and admirers last week was that despite having lost two general elections and nearly every other election in the past eight years, Congress leaders have lost none of their arrogance. They continue to believe that it is the birthright of the Dynasty to rule India and that Modi is just a usurper who will be booted out as soon as Indian voters discover this inalienable truth.
My own view is that the more Congress leaders and Dynasty devotees behave this way, the fewer chances there are of the Congress ever being able to recover its former glory. When Congress Party spokesmen say that the Gandhi family is the ‘core’ of the party, do they understand what an insult this is to the values this party once represented? It remained in power for seventy years because it represented ideas and an ideology that were devoid of dangerous religiosity and violent hatred. That is the Congress we need today.