Shobhaa De | Is Congress totally kaput... What can we expect next?

We are at a fascinating cusp in the country's political history right now. It's still too early to start saying, The Congress is dead"

Just saying: Assuming that the Congress Party disintegrates, shuts shop and everybody goes home tonight. Will it make the slightest difference to citizens? Will India come to a halt? Will people be out on the streets beating their breasts and wailing, “Come back, Rahul Baba… all is forgiven?” No chance! Let’s face it — the Congress has been dead for years. And the young in India don’t give a damn about its great and illustrious history. All they see is a headless, leaderless party that has been self-destructing for a while, is around on the margins, making a little noise from time to time, just to let the public know Rahul Baba has not left the building. As for Sonia Gandhi (Sincere condolences… Sonia’s mother Paola Maino passed away earlier this week), frankly speaking, India never did accept the Congress Party’s Grande Dame. She remained an outsider, a “foreigner”, who tried hard to pass off as a bona fide desi… but few bought into that construct. Besides, the question that was never asked, but always there was this: Sure, Sonia is around and tried bloody hard. But why? What for, and for whom? The most commonly accepted explanation is that she was around for herself… And for her immediate family. Not even the Congress family, forget about India. She was there not out of love for and commitment to India. She was there to safeguard her own fortune and future. This may sound harsh and cruel coming at a time when the party is in tatters. But Sonia and her children are not! In tatters, that is… neither figuratively, financially, emotionally nor literally.

From “those who know” (Delhi is crawling with these types), it is commonly believed that Sonia is an unimaginably wealthy individual who is sitting on a stash that acts as a buffer and an insurance when it comes to survival. The party today barely exists, but some loyalists are rich beyond measure, having feathered their nests over decades after being Madam’s hangers-on. Eventually, everything boils down to money.

What Padma Bhushan Ghulam Nabi Azad has achieved by quitting the party after eons, and bitching out “The Family”, doesn’t show him in a great light. Whether he launches his own party or waits for the red carpet from the BJP, it’s already too late… he is pretty irrelevant. And if anything, he will be seen as a liability wherever he goes. His sole value lies in whether or not he will share secrets about the inner workings of the Gandhis… if he indeed decides to rat on his mentors. Other than the confidential info he is privy to, he is of no value in the current scenario.

From all his “Quit Congress” interviews, the most interesting nuggets were the part where he insists that Rahul Gandhi’s office is being run by his bodyguards, security staff, secretaries and perhaps, chauffeurs, chowkidar, gardeners and assorted chamchas, too. It reminded me of Bollywood in the 1990s, when India’s top stars had a formidable phalanx of heavies guarding access to the “boss”. It is they who decided which producer would get an audience with the star, and often, which heroine would be more “cooperative”, especially on outdoor locations. It was no secret that key decisions were taken by these influential men who ran the show and controlled the star’s destiny.

So it has been with the Gandhis for years now. Except that nobody squealed. They feared Madam’s wrath — and the retribution that would follow. It’s a different story now, according to Azad, who claims Sonia is out in the cold — a toothless tigress who has lost her muscle power. A weakened and helpless Sonia minus clout is no longer a foe to fear for her many adversaries, who have been waiting patiently for years to strike. If Azad’s version is to be accepted, she barely pays attention to the shenanigans within the party of bickering juveniles and fatigue has replaced arrogance. Rahul Baba is in the driver’s seat — but the poor man should never have been given a licence! If he cannot keep the car on the road, and is incapable of steering it safely over political potholes, a major calamity is foreseen. The car will skid… and that will be that. The Congress will then be reduced to a bumper sticker, or worse — a junked khatara in a car graveyard. Scrap sold by the kilo.

Should the BJP strongmen (there are no strongwomen in this party) be dancing on the grave of their biggest rival? No! They should be worried and help prop it up. For their own selfish ends. Get new tires for the old deflated ones, and place their khaas handpicked Formula One level driver behind the wheel. It makes more sense to get this dabba of a car back on the road, dhakka maar ke if need be. If the Congress goes kaput, the BJP will be left without a punching bag. Nobody to beat up and target! It is not the ideal scenario in politics. A visible “enemy” keeps voters engaged. A one-party country (we are pretty close) comes with in- built disadvantages. Citizens need to take sides. Polarity is good for business. Then there is the other, far bigger question of what happens minus the challenge from the only Opposition party anybody was ready to back — till the party itself crumbled like those Noida twin towers. Without opposition in the form of an ogress called Sonia Gandhi, the chances of other, little known regional ogres popping up their ugly heads and causing trouble become very real. What’s worse in warfare — a weakened, debilitated known enemy who is as good as vanquished? Or those harmless looking grass snakes slithering around, which are actually vipers that are ready to strike?

We are at a fascinating cusp in the country’s political history right now. It’s still too early to start saying, “The Congress is dead… Long live the Congress!” But Ghulam Nabi Azad has certainly proved to be the most khatarnak khalnayak, according to Congress loyalists, who are still smarting from his exit. What happens to him, going forward, is of no interest to anyone. What Sonia Gandhi does next is worth watching closely. Assuming she will do something. Unless, of course, Rahul’s bodyguards have a master plan they aren’t sharing?

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