Gandhi or No Gandhi, Priyanka Shows the Way — Badri Raina


Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi was detained at Chunnar Guest House in Mirzapur by the district administration. (Source: INC)

BADRI RAINA | Caravan Daily

The Indian National Congress has been in the doldrums no doubt.

The many autopsies that have been airing since the results of the general elections came have tended to interpret the difficulties of the Party variously in mock, commiserative, patronising, terminal terms. There are of course those commentators as well who have wisely observed that the revival of the Party remains crucial to retrieving the descent of the republic into an undemocratic, Bonapartist nightmare. Where some pundits have voiced obituaries with a flourish of finality, these others have noted the fact that some 12.30 crores voters cast their preference for the Party nonetheless. Translated, had the Indian electoral system been grounded in a truly representative proportional order, the Congress would have had many more than the fifty-two members they now have in the Lok Sabha. And the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party far fewer.

Be that as it may, hackneyed analysers have tended to pitch their diagnoses rather exclusively and superficially in terms of a binary formulation — that the Gandhis should or should not be at the helm of the Party. Thus Rahul Gandhi’s magnificently courageous, principled, and relentless campaign has been termed a failure in the end, and Modi complimented for running a smartly canny campaign post the dubious Pulwama episode. Great are leaders who have the ability to drown out issues of real concern to the people by mounting slogans of delirious nationalist pitch and moment. The thought may be pardoned that this degeneration among political scientists who deal in sound bytes betokens the very collapse of ethics that they off and on bemoan.

The infirmity of the Congress has first and foremost been the inability to back its proclamations on behalf of the downtrodden with sustained mass movements of informed resistance. It is that failure which had then brought into critical limelight issues that should have been secondary to its strength and purpose in national life.

That paralyses of purpose has over the last few years expressed itself in the Party’s oscillations between one unconvincing policy- profile and often its opposite. An oscillation that has been interspersed with lame defences of one sort or another.

In doing what Priyanka is doing as we write at Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh, she has revived memories of the Party’s historical immersion in the sufferings of the marginalised millions, and of the satyagrahas that used to be the sine qua non of the Party’s praxis.

As Priyanka refuses to be deterred from meeting the victims of the Sonabhadra killings, she recalls to our mind a long history that runs from Gandhi in Champaran to Indira Gandhi in Belchi. And now that the cadres of the Trinamul Congress are also en route to Mirzapur, one may add to those two episodes the one at Nandigram as well.

In spending a hot night at the Chunnar Guest House sans the comforts of air-conditioning, Priyanka signals a new leadership resolve — one that does not mean to be just proforma but informed by a long-term perspective. It bespeaks the recognition that the salvation of the Party or of the republic does not lie in opportunistic ally-constructed ripostes and action-plans but in once again owning the legacy that gave the Congress such pride of place in the history of modern India. Namely, to be always on the side of the oppressed regardless of identity considerations, however, the propaganda apparatus of the regressive political forces may attempt to deflect the nation’s psyche from the centrality of delivering justice to “we the people” whatever their caste, creed, colour, or gender.

Priyanka’s commitment at Mirzapur has already galvanised Congressmen and women across the Hindi heartland, and brought out numbers as far as in Chennai. The occurrence provides an answer to mourners and swan-song singers: the matter of leadership within the Indian National Congress is not primarily a question of whether or not the Gandhis should be at the helm, but, simply, who it is that has the perspicacity and resolve to wholly identify with the miseries of the wretched majority and to espouse their causes with their full participation, recalling the zeitgeist of the freedom movement itself. If Priyanka has taken up the cudgels, it should be a matter of no consequence whether she is a Gandhi or not. Put simply, she is a Congress leader who is showing the way—one that hundreds of thousands are already participating in despite the calamitous electoral results.

Leaderships in public causes or in political parties do not emerge from structured or academised formulations; they literally happen before the acorn drops from the oak. Let the Congress Party do all the necessary organisational things it must do, but, above all, let it not miss any single opportunity to revive among the Indian masses their resistance to chicanery, double-speak, authoritarian fiat, and, most of all, the denial of what is due to them from the Constitution they have given to themselves.

It is to be hoped that all those who left the Congress at one time or another, and those others who espouse the secular and egalitarian hypotheses of the freedom movement, whichever Party they belong to, will see fit in the coming days to rejoin a pan-Indian movement in peaceful, selfless, and far-reachingly sagacious determination to first salvage the secular-democratic republic from the depredations of inimical political forces, and consider their own sectarian interests of secondary importance.

If Priyanka’s leadership is showing the way to the construction of an Indian People’s Front, nobody who subscribes to the ideals of a pluralist and democratic republic must let the moment be frittered away in lowly calculations.


The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. The article first appeared in Mainstream Weekly.

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