Years ago, waiting at Chennai’s Meenambakkam airport for a flight, I was discussing the political situation with some locals. The DMK , in power, was facing a big challenge from AIADMK in the elections just around the corner.
The locals said corruption was the main issue as people were fed up with paying bribes for getting anything done.
A few months later I was there again and the locals I was talking to included one who was present earlier. I asked how the AIADMK rule was. “The DMK people took money for everything. The AIDMK people take money and do nothing,” was the reply. Both were same. Personalities alone counted.
The silly comedy now playing
out in Chennai made it a political tragedy. Sasikala, housekeeping for Jayalalithaa being her main qualification, insults and sacks the CM, O. Panneer Selvam, who then stages a melodrama at “Amma’s memorial.” Palace coups, abusive, unprintable jibes at each other, sacking of office-bearers and hiding of MLAs in a resort, a spate of jokes and memes about OPS as a UPS, Jayalalithaa’s niece entering the scene – all add to the drama. They are not rivals but enemies now.
And this culture is the Congress party’s biggest contribution to India’s political system, a ‘Congress culture’ most parties follow. Different ideologies were a part of the umbrella Congress which fought for Independence and yet the INC claims it alone and its ruling dynasty liberated the country and ‘not a dog’ from other parties did anything. There is more bitterness and less ideology. Personal attacks and attacks are the norm.
The Congress never believed in democracy. When (Netaji) Subhash Chandra Bose was elected democratically, Gandhiji said it was his defeat and the party replaced him with Pattabhi Sitaramayya at the 1939 Tripuri session near Jabalpur.
Jawaharlal Nehru became the first prime minister because Gandhiji said Nehru was his political heir. Since then the party High Command made it a practice to appoint chief ministers in the states and make the state Congress legislature parties ‘elect’ them.
I remember being a witness, in 1973, to one such ‘election’. Faced with grumbling about leadership in Bihar the party asked the then External Affairs Minister, Swaran Singh, to resolve it. As we (the Press) all gathered at the Congress party headquarters, he told us., “I am a very patient man. I will meet all the MLAs individually, one by one.”
As he went on conducting the one-to-one meetings, we all stood under the trees in the compound, talking to the Congress leaders present. Then a very senior journalist, known to all top Congress leaders, whispered in my ear the name of a possible CM which he came to know from one of the high ups.
Bhagwat Jha Azad, a Central Minister (father of cricketer Kirti Azad, now a BJP rebel) was with us. So I asked him, “How about Abdul Ghafoor as next CM?: Bhagwat Jha, known for being loud, guffawed, :”Ghafoor mia? Are you joking?” Other Congressmen there .joined the laughter.
Sometime later Swaran Singh called us and announced that all the Congress MLAs wanted Gafoor as the next CM!
In most states Congress has been imposing chief ministers. Gandhiji and other central leaders were unhappy with Dr N. B. Khare (later a Hindu Maha Sabha leader) as CM in CP and Berar state (now Vidarbha and MP). Kailas Nath Katju, an outsider from Allahabad (UP) was brought in as CM there.
In Karnataka, years ago, the Congress Legislature Party was anxiously waiting for the High Command ‘observer’ to ‘elect’ its leader to be the CM. Everyone knew whom the majority supported. The observer came with an envelope in hand. The party bosses had made their choice. He was not what the one the majority wanted. And still he was ‘elected unanimously.’
Congress, being the oldest party which ruled longest had the responsibility of evolving the country’s political culture.
It chose dynasty over democracy.