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A duo's anti-republican roadshow - The Pioneer

Sudheendra Kulkarni ()
February 6, 1998

Title: A duo's anti-republican roadshow
Author: Sudheendra Kulkarni
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 6, 1998

Does the Congress party have the right anymore to observe
Republic Day? The question may sound outlandish. After all, who
can deny that the Congress made the maximum contribution not only
to the struggle for India's freedom but also in the endeavour to
give this ancient nation a republican Constitution? Almost all
those who drafted the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly,
including stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru, Babu Rajendra Prasad,
and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, were Congressmen. Even the other
luminaries, like BR Ambedkar whose pen gave the Constitution its
progressive orientation, were associated with the Congress in one
way or the other.

In short, the Indian Constitution bears an Indelible signature of
the Congress movement which, in any case, was the mainstream of
our national movement. It was thanks to the vision of the
towering Congress leaders of the day that the Constitution
uniquely harmonised the universal wisdom of the ancient Indian
civilisation with modern republican values of liberty, equality,
fraternity and institutionalised democracy. For a maddeningly
diverse country like India, to have adopted such a forward-
looking Constitution so quickly and peacefully after
Independence, was an achievement unparalleled in world history.
Therefore, we have a duty to salute the memory of all the
Congressmen and others who gave us this proud statute.

Why then do we raise the following questions: Does the Congress
party have the right anymore to celebrate Republic Day? What is
it in the present-day conduct of the party which goes against the
grain of republicanism? The answer can be summed up in one name
with two words: Sonia Gandhi. Ever since she entered active
politics with her so-called "pilgrimage" to Sriperumbudur on
January 6, she has personalised the Congress party with not a
whimper of protest from the obsequious flock of Congressmen. In
all the meetings she has addressed so far, the common and
overriding refrain has been the "dynasty". By emphasising, indeed
overemphasising, her association with the "dynasty and its real
and claimed sacrifices, she has sought to re-establish a
criterion for natural leadership succession, which may be in
conformity with monarchist traditions, but which is an affront
to, universally accepted values of republicanism. Indeed,
nothing is more nauseous to a republican mind than the ongoing
Sonia-Priyanka roadshow.

In a matter of a few weeks. the self-definition of the party's
identity, as also its definition by those outside its fold. has
changed suddenly. The new definition-"Congress is Sonia, and
Sonia is Congress"-is as simple as it is sinister. From here on,
it is only one step for the Congress sycophants to change India's
identity: "India is Sonia-and-her-family and Sonia-and-her-family
is India."

How ominously similar this affirmation of the dynastic principle
sounds to Congress sycophants' Emergency panegyric: "India is
Indira and Indira is India". But then, it is not only the
similarity that has foreboding implications for the Indian
Republic, but also the stark differences. After all, even Indira
Gandhi, the person who mounted the most hurtful assault on our
republican Constitution during her draconian Emergency rule, had
to spend nine long years during her first tenure as Prime
Minister before a sycophantic Congressman like Devkant Baruah
could minister the courage to concoct the offensive slogan:
"India is Indira and India is India". By then, Indira Gandhi had
also spent nearly two decades in active politics, having been
elected Congress president as far back as 1957. More to the
point. even Baruah could coin that slogan only because of the
presumed safety of the Emergency regime which had virtually
killed dissent and democracy, the central pillar of our
republican Constitution.

But look at the vastly differing circumstances in which today's
sycophants have begun the chorus: ongress is Sonia and Sonia
Congress. Ms Gandhi's political career is only a few weeks old.
Unlike Indira Gandhi, who had an elected post in the AICC long
before she became Prime Minister, he daughter-in-law has suddenly
been anointed as the party's unelected upreme leader. Again,
unlike Nehru and Indira, she has never interacted with the
partymen, except those who visit her residence at 10 Janpath, as
durbaris. As for her interaction with the less-fortunate plebians
in their own homes and hearts and streets across the length and
breadth of the country, it is non-existent in the best tradition
of the haughty monarchs of yore.

But the biggest difference between Indira and Ms Gandhi, of
course, is that that former, with all her negative contribution
to the country's and Congress party's politics, was an Indian by
birth, upbringing and conviction. Ms Gandhi is an Indian by
convenience and circumstance. She opted for Indian citizenship
only after her husband became Prime Minister.

Yet such, is the mental slavery and political infirmity which has
gripped today's Congress party that with not a moment spent on
inner-party debate, it has projected Ms Gandhi as its super-
leader. The party's jettisoning of democratic and republican
traditions has not stopped there. It has rooted for the
restoration of monarchic values with a recklessness that it truly
galling. It chorus is: f Sonia is Congress today Priyanka is
Congress tomorrow=94. And what are the credentials of this fifth
generation member of the ynasty=94? Well, this 20-something has
not even, like her mother, from a prepared script produced by
others. Yet, every veteran Congressman whose heart at some time
or the other harboured the dream of becoming the party president
or the Prime Minister is swooning over the fact that the "Queen",
by taking her daughter along on the campaign trail, has solved
the party's leadership problem: "After Sonia, who?" The ND
Tiwaris and Ajun Singhs are unanimous in hooraying that a smiling
and waving Priyanka is the best thing to have happened to the
Congress party and the country in the twilight years of this
century. Such is the bankruptcy of the Congress leaders that Ms
Priyanka Gandhi is suddenly being viewed by, them as a better
vote-getter than their own elected president.

The greatest virtue of republicanism is its equality principle.
Irrespective of which parents have given birth to us, and
irrespective of what caste or creed or class or colour or sex we
belong to, republicanism gives all of the same right and
opportunity to pursue chosen path in politics and public life.
But if any, self-deprecating Congressman tells us that the Sonia-
Priyanka duo has a natural right to lead this country, for the
sole reason that the former is her mother-in law's daughter-in-
law and the latter her grandmother's granddaughter, then it is
time to save India from this dangerous trend.

It is against the backdrop of this sudden self-imprisonment by
the Congress party inside the dungeon of dynastic principle, that
its commitment to republican values is being questioned. If the
Congress has adopted a new unwritten party constitution whose
first canon lays down that only a member of the Nehru-Gandhi
family can become its natural leader, how can the rest of the
country believe in its continued commitment to India's republican
Constitution? The Congress cannot protest that this is an
internal party matter and that its right to choose its leader in
its own chosen way cannot be questioned by others. A party that
does not follow democratic and republican principles within its
own fold can make no claim to upholding them on the larger canvas
of governance.

(The writer is a member of the BJP National Executive)

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