By Prashant Sood
New Delhi, Oct 30 (IANS) Thirty years after it lost its charismatic leader Indira Gandhi to the bullets of assassins, the Congress appears a much weakened political force, appearing rudderless and leaderless, with defeats in election after election and reduced to almost a rump party with a highly shrunk presence in the national parliament and in power only in four states.
Analysts say the Grand Old Party needs to learn from Indira Gandhi’s tactics, skills and style of leadership to meet the difficult political challenges ahead.
The Congress won a three-fourths majority in the Lok Sabha in 1984, the year Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her guards at her prime ministerial residence. The party has never won a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha since then, has witnessed the emergence of the BJP-led NDA as a national alternative and has had to accept the constraints of coalition politics.
Being led by Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi since 1998, the Congress was able to dislodge the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from power in 2004 and also win another mandate in 2009 to form a coalition government. However, the party registered its worst performance in the Lok Sabha polls this year, winning only 44 seats.
Political analysts say the present Congress leadership needs to learn from Indira Gandhi who was a decisive leader, never averse to taking risks.
Opines Mridula Mukherjee, professor, Centre for historical studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU): “Indira Gandhi was a strong, decisive leader and a hard-headed politician.
“Leadership means you have to be prepared to take risks. Unless you do things in a bold way, you cannot win (elections). The Congress certainly needs that,” Mukherjee told IANS.
She said political leadership was not about doing everyday routine things but about dramatic and symbolic gestures.
“You need bold ideas. She (Indira Gandhi) rose from the ashes. She came back by picking up people’s issues,” Mukherjee said.
She said Indira Gandhi’s revival after the 1977 election debacle started with her visit to Belchi in Bihar where Dalits had been massacred.
Referring to the recent communal clashes in Trilokpuri in East Delhi, Mukherjee said the top Congress leaders had not even visited the place.
“Trilokpuri is happening under your nose… Start becoming visible,” she said.
Mukherjee added that Indira Gandhi gave a leftward turn to Indian politics and was not inherently authoritarian as she herself revoked the Emergency imposed in June 1975.
The JNU professor hoped that Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi will take some dramatic but meaningful steps to revive the party.
Indira Gandhi, who became prime minister at the age of 48 after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966, faced many challenges in her political career from both within the party and outside. She is credited with the abolition of the princely privy purses, nationalisation of banks and providing a strong leadership during the 1971 war with Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
However, her decision to impose internal emergency in 1975 following a court verdict unseating her drew widespread criticism.
Adds political commentator and senior journalist S. Nihal Singh that the peak of Indira Gandhi’s achievement was the 1971 war and she was compared to Goddess Durga even by some of her opponents.
“The other aspect is imposition of Emergency. It is a mixed legacy,” Nihal Singh said.
He said Indira Gandhi was a decisive leader and there was nostalgia for her following the dismal performance of the UPA-II government under Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
“Judging by the performance of the UPA-II government, there is a measure of nostalgia for her not only in the Congress but among the general people also,” Singh said.
Concurs Aswini K. Ray, a former professor of political science at JNU: Indira Gandhi revived the Congress from its internal problems and the present Congress leadership should learn from the way she connected with people, he said.
“She is a role model of populist politics. She was able to effectively communicate her message,” he said.
According to political commentator and senior journalist Kuldip Nayar, Indira Gandhi’s term would have gone down well if she had not imposed the Emergency.
Nayar said that Indira Gandhi was a determined leader who revived and restructured the Congress.
“One thing they (present Congress leadership) can learn is that she never gave in, doggedly pursued (her goals),” Nayar said.
Born on Nov 19, 1917, at Allahabad, Indira Gandhi was the daughter of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. She was prime minister (1966-77) and (1980-84). She was shot dead by two of her own Sikh security men Oct 31, 1984.
(Prashant Sood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)