Soroor Ahmed analyses the ‘political turmoil’ the Congress has been facing nowadays in historical perspective.
When the Bharatiya Janata Party was in turmoil between May 13, 2004 (that is the day it lost election) and September 13, 2013 (when Narendra Modi became its PM candidate), and many in the Sangh Parivar had virtually been baying for the blood of its patriarch Lal Krishna Advani after his June 2005 praise for the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, while on a visit to that country, none in the media ever dared to claim that it is the end of the saffron party in India. But today they are quick to jump to this conclusion when it comes to the Congress.
With former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee leading a retired life and the third most senior leader of the party, former external affairs as well as defence minister, Jaswant Singh, expelled from the party on August 19, 2009 for holding Jawaharlal Nehru, and not Jinnah, responsible for the partition of India, the saffron brigade was like a rudderless ship.
In between Advani’s fall from grace and Jaswant’s first expulsion – he was again expelled on the eve of 2014 election – the party had lost its most acceptable Genext face, Pramod Mahajan, who was killed by his own brother, Pravin. Pramod, 56, was shot several times at his home on April 22, 2006 and succumbed to his injuries on May 3.
The condition of the BJP in those years was certainly not less chaotic than the Congress now, yet the media never wrote it off.
Instead, an overwhelming number of journalists worked overtime to prepare ground for the return to power of the BJP – in particular under the leadership of the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi – and at the same time queer the pitch for the Manmohan Singh government.
When Anna Hazare launched his agitation in April 2011, the television channels got an opportunity to show the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance in a very poor light. This was so notwithstanding the fact that the UPA government was performing satisfactorily and bailed India out from the global financial crisis of 2008-09.
In spite of the support of the media the BJP continued to lose Assembly elections – the most prominent one being in Uttar Pradesh where the Samajwadi Party came to power by defeating the Bahujan Samaj Party in 2012. In 2009 Lok Sabha poll the saffron party was pushed to the fourth position in Uttar Pradesh.
Exploiting this situation, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, on June 16, 2013, kicked out all the 11 BJP ministers in his cabinet and snapped the 17 long years relationship with it. Mind it, Nitish had on June 12, 2010 cancelled the dinner hosted for the BJP bigwigs in Patna and a week later returned the Rs five crore
donated to Bihar by the Gujarat government for the Kosi flood relief of August 2008. Nitish was furious just because of a Gujarat government advertisement.
In between these two developments Nitish on October 11, 2011 flagged off Advani’s Jan Chetna Yatra from Sitab Diara, the birthplace of Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan. The truth is that Nitish wanted to come in favour of Advani, who was being cornered by the supporters of Narendra Modi within the party. Actually Advani wanted this Yatra against corruption to start from Gujarat but was reportedly cold-shouldered by the Modi faction.
Nitish’s sudden love for Advani has its own reason. In fact he was upset over the way media was giving prominence to Modi and projecting the latter as a PM material, when the Bihar chief minister himself was nursing prime ministerial ambition.
In spite of all these adverse situation and serious infighting within the BJP many in the media never lost hope in the saffron party. And things started changing swiftly after Narendra Modi was declared as the prime ministerial candidate of the party on September 13, 2013. But Lal Krishna Advani was greatly disappointed by this decision as he had lost the last hope of becoming the Prime Minister. Within eight months the whole scenario changed.
So there is no dearth of independent analysts who give more credit to the media, especially the television channels, than to the BJP itself for this return to power after a decade.
Today the Congress may be passing through a crisis. But one cannot overlook the fact that churning is going on within the party. The basic difference is that, unlike the BJP then, the Grand Old Party is facing a
very hostile media. Barring a handful of them the rest are busy writing the obituary of this 136-year old party.
There is another difference between the BJP and Congress. While Lal Krishna Advani fought till his last to remain in the race for the post of PM till he was unseated by Modi, in Congress Rahul Gandhi is called as a reluctant politician by many in the media. Apparently he does not want to lead the party, yet a large
chunk of the partymen and women do not want to see beyond the Nehru-Gandhi family. This dilemma led to the creation of Group of 23. They claim that they are not against the Nehru-Gandhi family, but want this period of uncertainty to go.
On the other hand, Sonia Gandhi, was once again trusted with the responsibility after Rahul Gandhi resigned following the May 2019 Lok Sabha election debacle. But in practice he and his sister, Priyanka, have started playing more decisive role in the party. They are trying to get rid of the old guards – most of the G-23 leaders are senior partymen. The party took a bold decision to send the Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh packing and replacing him with a Dalit Sikh, Charanjit Singh Channi. On September 28 two young leaders, former JNU Students’ Union president, Kanhaiya Kumar and independent MLA of Gujarat, Jignesh Mewani, a Dalit face, joined the Congress.
The brother and sister have been taking keen interest in UP politics in particular. Be it the Unnao, Hathras or Lakhimpur Kheri incidents, they chose to lead from the front. The gesture and posture shown by Rahul in the last few months do not indicate that he is anyway shying away from politics, as many in the media would like to project him.
True, Rahul may not be Modi, who dreams of politics every time, nor the Congress a cadre-based party like the BJP, yet one cannot rule out the revival of any party.
The problem with the media is that if any leader from the Congress party is decent and gives enough space to rivals within or outside the party he or she is dubbed as indecisive and not fit to run the party or government. This had happened to the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi combination. And if he or she is decisive and does not care about critics he or she is likely to be called as arrogant and dictatorial. The example of Indira Gandhi is often cited.
And if he or she is in the BJP, the same person would be praised with the sobriquet of being a strong leader.