Sonia Gandhi and Narendra Modi have one thing in common. They hate criticism. And, know how to prevent pesky hacks from voicing it by keeping them on a leash, but by different means. Since Modi Raj began, some ‘independent’ news channels have begun to sound more loyal to the king than Doordarshan. As a proud print journalist, it saddens me to concede that most newspapers and magazines (especially in Hindi) have become Modi mouthpieces. The method his media management team has used to whip them into docility is venomous ostracisation.
Sonia Gandhi’s ways were different but worked well. Instead of a blacklist, she had a guest list, and those senior editors and famous TV anchors who were regularly invited to 10 Janpath for tea and chitchat usually ended up silenced and seduced. In the decade that she was de facto prime minister, and in the two decades she has controlled the Congress party, she has hardly ever been personally criticised. Her chosen prime ministers were attacked often and brutally and her son is mocked often and brutally. But, she has managed to remain above criticism not just from political commentators but even from her comrades. In the letter that 23 Congress leaders wrote this month asking for change and introspection in the party, she was not mentioned by name. She should have been.
It is her delusions of eternal succession for the Dynasty that have brought the Congress party to this sorry state. These delusions come naturally to her because she has lived in the Prime Minister’s residence for most of the years that she has lived in India. First, as a daughter-in-law and then as the Prime Minister’s wife. After Rajiv Gandhi lost the election in 1989, he moved his family to 10 Janpath and although this is not officially the Prime Minister’s residence, anyone who covers national politics knows well that in the years when Sonia’s chosen governments ruled, 10 Janpath was the real seat of power.
This caused her to have such a deluded sense of entitlement that when Modi won his first full majority in 2014, she in her brief concession speech could not bring herself to say his name. She congratulated the ‘new government’ although it did not come into existence till later. Her children have inherited that sense of entitlement and it showed in such an offensive way during the 2019 election campaign that it helped Modi win a second term.
As for us who constitute the Fourth Pillar, let me say that most journalists today are too scared to speak for fear of being branded ‘anti-national’ and for fear of losing their jobs. The ‘fearless’ journalists are those you see screeching out their ‘nationalist’ credentials in what pass for primetime debates on populist news channels, who clearly believe that to question the Prime Minister amounts to being ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-Hindu’.
That leaves us with only political parties who can challenge the government. Most are too feeble or too regional to put up any kind of challenge. With the exception of the Congress party. This is why it cheered me up in this very gloomy time when 23 important Congress leaders decided to write a letter to Sonia and son, politely requesting change. It is sad that those who asked for introspection and inner-party democracy were so quickly silenced, first by the party’s Matriarch threatening to resign and then by her pulling out the whip.
If Sonia Gandhi wants the Congress party to continue playing a role in Indian politics, she must start listening. And, she must allow the party she has so diminished, to try and recover some of its former stature by standing up for the values that it claims to espouse. When senior BJP leaders spit and rage against ‘secularism’ and ‘liberal democracy’ as if these were words of abuse, it should be the role of the Congress party to point out that they are not. Instead, the fools that the Dynasty has surrounded itself with advised a turn to soft Hindutva. This has been tried before and did not work because this is a game the BJP plays better.
What will work is to rebuild the Congress party by speaking up for its foundational values and by recruiting Indians who also believe in them. This will only begin to happen when the Matriarch shakes off that sense of entitlement that she has passed on to both of her children. That time has gone when it mattered to voters that you were the grandson or granddaughter of Indira Gandhi. So, to flaunt this as your reason for being in politics is not just futile but stupid.
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