The decision of Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to rush to Sonbhadra and console the tribal families is seen by family retainers and courtier as a parallel to Belchi visit by her grandmother Indira Gandhi in 1977.
New Delhi: “History repeats itself first time as a tragedy and second as farce,” Karl Marx sardonically said in his famous essay, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. It was a little over 160 years ago. The political philosopher was reflecting on the assumption of dictatorial powers by Napoleon and the later emergence of his nephew Napoleon III while comparing their ascent to office.
We are in 2019 and a similar drama in unfolding in India as its principal opposition, the Indian National Congress (INC), seeks to redeem itself with the electorate after being rebuffed twice in the general elections over the past five years. The growing irrelevance is forcing the once dominant political force to clutch at straws to save it.
The recent massacre of 10 tribal by militia of rising intermediate castes that had become owners of the land through circuitous and dubious means made many in the grand old party see it as a path to its return to political centre stage. The decision of Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to rush to Sonbhadra and console the tribal families is seen by family retainers and courtier as a parallel to Belchi visit by her grandmother Indira Gandhi in 1977.
Belchi in Bihar had also seen intermediate caste men kill scheduled castes in 1977 and Mrs. Gandhi visit became the turning point to her fortunes as people rallied behind her months after they had overwhelmingly voted her out of office. She rode an elephant and then defeated Veerendra Patil of the Congress. Before that, she ensured the win of Mohsina Kidwai against Janata Party and Congress candidates in Azamgarh.
But the similarities end here.
In spite of electoral debacle, the Congress organization in key Hindi heartland was largely intact. In post-Mandal, Kamandal politics of the 1990s, the Congress has been out of office in crucial Hindi heartland States of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for almost three decades. The traditional upper caste vote is now well entrenched in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which continues to set the political agenda despite mounting economic woes.
Since the mass mobilization of the 1977-80, the grand old party has not seen any agitation and galvanization of its supporters across the country. The party does not realize that most of its regional satraps—Ashok Gehlot, Kamal Nath and Amarinder Singh—are products of Indira Gandhi’s efforts in the years that she was out of office. The current crop of leaders like Anand Sharma and Ghulam Nabi Azad, both deputy leaders of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, are products of this very agitational politics of late 70s.
Congress has not spoken of any programme in the idiom of emerging India as its leadership remains surrounded by courtiers who are masters in Byzantine intrigues. Even after two successive routs in Lok Sabha elections, all the party can think of is replacing one scion of Nehru-Gandhi family with another. Physical resemblance to grandmother seems to be the criteria for selection.
In a week, the Congress will be selecting its next president. Today more than 70% of India’s electorate was born after Indira Gandhi undertook the perilous journey to Belchi riding an elephant. Indira’s return to power in less than 30 months after being voted to power may have been a tragedy many of the stalwarts who had got together to defeat her, but farce is now being enacted on the Indian political stage.