September 25, 2020
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The Higher Moral Ground

The legacy and the lesson NDA leaves is that there is no need for bringing morality in politics. It does not matter what you do as long as you do it decisively and with resolve.

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The Higher Moral Ground
The Higher Moral Ground

One by one, the hopes of Sonia Gandhi supporters for her premiership crumbled. One by one, the chances of Congress survival for the full term in office grew. The question remains whether she was forced to abandon her desire of becoming Prime Minister by the threats from the likes of Sushma Swaraj or Uma Bharati, or had she made up her mind a long time ago?

In the wake of 1998 parliamentary elections, when BJP returned as the single largest party, but fell much short of the magic figure of  272, speculations were ripe that Congress would forge an anti-communal alternative to keep BJP from power. But Sonia Gandhi told me that she had no intention of power-grab by leading the party into a rag-tag alliance in a hurry. She vowed to play the role of a "responsible and mature opposition". In that sense, and perhaps that sense alone, Vajpayeeji has a little of Sonia Gandhi in him.

Accusations notwithstanding, Sonia Gandhi has never shown any interest or intent for power. She never wanted Rajiv Gandhi to enter politics and was not happy when Rajiv was propelled into prime ministership. She has been the First Lady who is extremely well groomed, cultured, polite, gracious and graceful--in short she is truly an ideal Indian woman.

Nehru-Gandhi family is often dubbed as the Kennedys of India. Politics and power run in their blood. There is nothing wrong with that. And if the Indian masses love them for what they are, there is nothing wrong with that either. After all, love and respect do not come by force. We have seen plenty of that lately. It is the free will of a free country.

However, if some of the pressure on Sonia Gandhi following Narasimha Rao’s departure from the political scene included a sense of keeping an opportunity alive for her children to continue the legacy of Gandhi family, it is totally understandable. As a mother, she had an obligation. Whether it is politics, acting, business, or any other profession, one’s flesh and blood following one in the same career is not uncommon in India and elsewhere. But unless the flesh and blood followers are capable of running the show, they could be put out of business very quickly. We have seen that happening too. It is the survival of the fittest.

It is entirely possible, however, that Sonia may also have seen an obligation to resurrect Congress Party--a party that was nourished and raised by her family members, but was rapidly going down the abyss of irrelevancy. She was pleaded to take up the reins and there is no question that she has done a fine job on resurrection.

Time will tell if through its opposition to Sonia Gandhi becoming Prime Minister, NDA has not dug itself into a larger hole. More people now believe that the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin was only a convenient ploy in the hands of NDA, a Jersey cow. If they were serious about their expressed fears of endangering the Indian security by a foreign born citizen, they had more than five years to pass a resolution to plug this hole.

Hindsight is the best sight. "India-shining" and "feel-good" failed to deliver the dividends mainly because when one looks at the performance of BJP over their five years in power, one recognizes that they achieved nothing. They kept no promises they made to us in their pursuit of power. Whether it was constructing Ram Mandir, or scrapping Muslim Personal Law (MPL), or abolishing Article 370, or eliminating Haj subsidies--they have nothing to show for success. Of course, our growth picked up steam during the last five years and India-Pakistan came closer together. But while the credit for the first goes to Narasimha Rao government which initiated deregulation and liberalization in a bid to open up our economy, the latter was dictated mostly by USA and the geopolitical situation following 9/11.It has little to do with BJP, which has largely reveled in demonizing Pakistan, though Vajpayeeji must be given some credit here. But let’s face it, he was at best doing damage-control of his party’s doings.

We all remember when Dr. Manmohan Singh started the process of liberatlization, BJP cried foul that Congress was selling the country short. It campaigned for Swadeshi and vowed that it would reverse deregulation and disinvestments if brought to power. But the only thing they reversed after coming to power was their own stand on liberalization.

One of the oft-repeated excuses given by Sangh supporters for the failure to deliver on BJP campaign promises is that their hands were tied to act because NDA would not have gone with that agenda. And yet, NDA had no problem going with their agenda of propagating hate, deepening communal polarization, playing with the constitution, plaguing our education system--none of which were even on the list of Common Minimum Program. What did NDA do in the aftermath of Gujarat massacre of 2002, which was planned and executed by the Modi gang?

The legacy and the lesson NDA leaves is that there is no need for bringing morality in politics. It does not matter what you do as long as you do it decisively and with resolve. It can help if from time to time you repeat like president Bush "I take full responsibility". As Fareed Zakaria says, taking responsibility in present times means nothing. Public has short memory.

Congress seems to have learnt a few of these lessons already. My recommendation to Rahul, Priyanka, or any one else is just don’t be afraid to face the music if someday you want to lead the band.

Najid Hussain is President, Ahsan Jafri Foundation, a charitable US tax-exempt foundation under 501(c)(3) established in the wake of killing of Ahsan Jafri, the former M.P. from Gujarat, during Gujarat massacre of 2002.

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