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Monday, May 19, 2014

Why the Congress Party was destroyed

It’s a bit of a long story, so you will have to bear with me.

In November 1981, I met Rajiv Gandhi, who had just given up his job in Indian Airlines because he had “to help Mummy” somehow. I lived in the US then but managed to get an interview with him. On a crisp November afternoon, my first-ever trip to Delhi; I walked into One Akbar Road.

The meeting was set for 2 pm. I waited in the outer office for a few minutes. He came out wearing a blue-checked shirt and the most perfectly-tailored blue jeans I’d ever seen. Used to buying jeans from the racks of Levi stores, I was struck…what a perfect fit!

“Hi,” he said. It was the beginning of a relationship that eventually brought me back to India after spending the most part of the 1970s and 1980s in the US. We became good friends. In 1987, when he came to the US, I met him.

“So are you a millionaire?” he asked me.

“Huh?” I responded.

“Well, you come to Delhi so often. Just come back and stay,” he told me.

So we moved lock, stock and barrel to Delhi in December 1987.

He was the Prime Minister then and I was giddy at 38 years of age to have unfettered access to the Prime Minister of India. Over the years, he was good to me, taking me on trips abroad and in India on his prime ministerial plane. I saw the world and India from rarefied heights.

And there were more such amazing privileges, including meeting world leaders, being personally introduced to them by India’s dashing new Prime Minister: Ronald Reagan, Hafez Assad of Syria, big guns in Germany, France, Hungary, Pakistan, and the Soviet Union.

Heady times for a 40-year old.

Two decades later, I sit and worry that the saffron party with an absolute majority might make life difficult for me and my family. As a Gujarati, I never bought into Narendra Modi’s impressionist painting of Gujarat as some sort of an El Dorado. And have said so in the newspapers and on television.

Should the new dispensation seek to hound opponents, I am a sitting duck
But what is sad, and which explains why they were destroyed, is the Congress, in the past year, has practiced what a perceptive journalist called “bad faith politics.” The leadership remained inaccessible, surrounded as they were by the palace guard.

From 1997 through 2004, I met Mrs Sonia Gandhi regularly, sometimes even every day, not for any political purpose but simply for professional inputs on how to run an election campaign. She put me in charge of the advertising campaign and at my instance, set up a media committee to address the editorial part of the print media. Later, when television came to the fore, I persuaded Mrs Gandhi to revamp the press conference room into a television-friendly venue.

We struggled through losses in 1998 and 1999. In 2004, I thought I was in the thick of things until some Congress apparatchiks orchestrated a coup to take over. In the American way of saying things, I was shafted.

Even after the 2004 verdict in favor of the Congress, I insisted that that the BJP lost not because of its “India Shining” campaign but because of abundant evidence of bad governance, including the idiotic nuclear blasts in 1998 and the Pramod Mahajan machine of corruption.

The apparatchiks convinced Mrs Gandhi that a “pro-poor” policy was the lesson learned from the 2004 victory.

After that, the Congress lost the plot. Instead of capitalizing on the gains of UPA policies in their first term, they began this errant, arrogant program brought in by Rahul Gandhi, who the apparatchiks saw as their ticket to power for the next decade or more, given he was young.

Trouble was Mr Gandhi brought into his team, bright young sparks from Ivy League universities who had a post-modern view of the world. Imposing policies such as the food security bill, the tribal rights bill, the land acquisition bill that won kudos on highfalutin campuses the world over, Mr Gandhi and his team thought India’s pre-modern voters would buy it and vote the Congress to power again.

It is true that in the West, there is growing intellectual movement against corporate capitalism and questions are being asked the motives and practices of large corporations. In bringing such post-modern issues to the election campaign against the simple message of aspiration Mr Modi purveyed, Mr Gandhi now presides over the ruins of the 130-year old Indian National Congress.

Mr Gandhi and his Ivy League acolytes have presided over the utter decimation of the Grand Old Party founded by Allan Octavian Hume in December 1885.