For India’s opposition to recover, the Gandhis should resign

For India’s opposition to recover, the Gandhis should resign

TTHE NATIONAL CONGRESS OF INDIA it is the great party of the largest democracy in the world. Its president is Sonia Gandhi, the 74-year-old widow of Rajiv Gandhi, a former prime minister who was also the son and grandson of prime ministers. Its de facto leader is Rahul Gandhi, the 51-year-old son of Rajiv and Sonia. Priyanka Gandhi, his 49-year-old daughter, is the general secretary. Someone named Gandhi has led the party for all but six of the last 43 years.

It is no wonder that the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) calls the nepotist Congress. He also calls it corrupt and feudal, and this resonates with voters. the BJPon the contrary, it is presented as meritocratic, modern and welcoming to all concerned (provided they are Hindu nationalists). Narendra Modi, the prime minister, constantly reminds his compatriots that he is the son of a humble tea seller.

The Gandhis are not descendants of the Mahatma but of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India. His party dominated Indian politics for decades. He was responsible for major abuses of power (the state of emergency in the 1970s) and major reforms (notably, the economic liberalization of India in 1991). But now it seems exhausted. He received electoral blows in 2014 and 2019, but failed to reform or seek new leadership. (Rahul resigned as party chairman in 2019, but was replaced by his mother.) Far from being a vote winner, the Gandhi family is now the biggest responsibility in Congress.

This is not because Indian voters are allergic to dynasties in general. The top ministers of the prosperous states of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are the sons of former regional party chiefs. Almost a third of the legislators in the lower house in India come from political families. Rather, it is the Gandhis themselves who are the problem. His circle is riddled with venality and selfishness. Worse still, his unwavering presence repels talent. Ambitious guys see no future in a Gandhi-dominated Congress. Dropouts are common.

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It is no longer clear what the Gandhis represent, except a vague secularism and not being Mr. Modi. The most recent manifesto from Congress was full of socialist-era handouts, public sector employment and loan waivers, but woefully light on policies to promote growth or create jobs in the private sector. For all the faults of the BJP, offers a clear vision of what India you want to do, however distasteful that vision may be to liberals or non-Hindus.

India, like any country, needs strong opposition to hold the government to account. Without one, checks and balances are left to citizens, civil society, and street protests. That is a recipe for discomfort. Modi’s biggest recent setback came when farmers furious at his (largely sensible) agricultural reforms rallied outside Delhi for a year.

A huge, diverse and still poor federal country like India is poorly served by an authoritarian central government. the BJP He faces many challengers at the state level, but Congress remains his only plausible national opponent. In the general elections it still attracts 20% of the votes, although these secure only 10% of the seats, a little more than half of the votes. BJPvote participation, but five times more than the next game. You need to do much better.

For this reason, the Gandhis should leave, taking their cohorts of septuagenarian yes-men with them. Rahul, the face of the party, is seen as a decent man. But it is holding back the party, and India, from backing down. The fact that there is no obvious candidate to replace him is a sign of how poor he has done in promoting capable lieutenants.

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With Rahul’s departure, the congressional party could begin the difficult process of radical reform, turning from a club of family servants into a team that attracts the best and the brightest and quickly promotes them to positions of power. There are about three years until the next general elections. It is not too late for Congress to become a great national party, capable of representing all Indians, as its founders intended. The Gandhis face a choice: they can do something honorable or they can drive Congress to extinction. That would give Modi a free hand to shape India more or less as he pleases.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the title “Heir today, left tomorrow?”

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