How do we view the election of Mallikarjun Kharge, a Rajya Sabha member hailing from the Mala community of Karnataka (equivalent to Jatavs of north India), as the national president of the Congress? There is no doubt that caste has been the pivot of power politics in India. It is caste that determines whether you will be the ruler or the ruled. Maintaining or seeking to change this reality has been the basis of political struggles. The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 to mobilize the masses in support of self-rule. But on the pretext of Indian nationalism those who formed the basis for the real existing State power were kept away from the centre stage of politics. Ambedkar drew up the contours of the political struggles that would take place once the British left India by pitting the reality of Indian society against the slogan of Indian nationalism.
It is said of the Congress that it helped build national institutions. But it is also true that it developed an expertise in keeping the majority of Indians deprived at different levels. The result was that the Congress could not widen its appeal and reach, something that was essential for the success of parliamentary democracy, and instead was accursed to basking in the glory of one family. Social engineering, which it developed, became pervasive. There is a difference between using social engineering to perpetuate your rule and using it to transform society. A doubt still hangs over the party about its intentions.
The Congress, dominated first by Jawaharlal Nehru and later by Indira Gandhi, faced its biggest challenge around the 1970s from anti-Congress and anti-dynastic politics. That led to those sections forming the majority in society drifting away from the Congress, and the deprived majority coming together. To counter this, Indira Gandhi allowed Jagjivan Ram, who represented the weakest section of society, to lead the war aimed at dividing Pakistan. She handed the leadership of the party over to him in order to lend credibility to her slogan “Garibi Hatao” (Eradicate Poverty). This is just to illustrate how, when faced with challenges, the politically dominant forces use social engineering to perpetuate their rule.
Indira Gandhi grew up in Indian society with Western ideas. She could never get rid of the idea that her family had inherited State power and had the right to hold on to it. That served to weaken the Congress organization, and to her losing grip on social engineering. The ideas that had helped the Congress establish its dominance over Indian society started shaping other organizations – so much so that Rahul Gandhi, who represents the fourth generation of his family, had to face the slogan “Congress Mukt Bharat” (Congress-free India).
Unlike Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi’s politics is not about the immediate future. With a long-term vision, he wants to play the long innings in Indian politics and is in no hurry to grab power. That may be because of the influence of his mother Sonia Gandhi. Of late, Indian politics has been characterized by a desire for immediate gains. That is why the influence of the parties is shrinking, and caste equations have become synonymous with power. Against this backdrop, we need to understand why the Gandhi family is loosening its stranglehold on the Congress and seems to have decided to bank more on its charisma.
How do we define the current state of India politics? To begin with, it is based on social engineering of different hues. Giving the deprived sections a fair share in power, or creating an impression that this is being done, is at the centre of this politics. To change its fortunes, the Congress needs a solid organizational base. It is Rahul Gandhi’s decision to play a long innings in politics that seems to have led to Kharge being appointed as the president. In parliamentary democracy, it is common for the leadership to keep the organization under its control and preserve its limited social base. This control is exercised either directly or through proxies. That is happening in the Congress. But the party knows very well that proxies cannot help build a solid organizational base.
Rahul Gandhi is expanding his influence by pitching for changes that gel with the heritage of the Congress. What is clear is that there can be no Congress without the Gandhi family. Thus, the future of the party lies in expanding the influence of the family and at the same time, accommodating different sections of society in the organizational set-up. Mallikarjun Kharge’s appointment as party president following the resolutions passed in Rajasthan’s Udaipur is a long-term strategy which may inaugurate an era of expansion of the Congress organization.
(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)