On its 125th birth anniversary, the Congress put up a hoarding to focus attention on five leaders: Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Party president Sonia Gandhi's love for her dynasty is understandable. But the limelight on them distorts history.
No doubt, Nehru was from the dynasty. But he loved all and did so much for the country that his imprint is still fresh on the institutions he built. A democratic, pluralistic constitution was his gift to the nation. He wielded all the power but never misused it.
The three others, Indira, Rajiv and Sonia, have used the Congress as an instrument not of betterment and reform, but of power which has degenerated into the techniques of deceit and smear. All the three do not merit the distinction that Nehru commands.
Indira has to her credit the suspension of fundamental rights and the detention of more than 100,000 people in jail without trial. During Rajiv's regime, the authorities and many Congress leaders connived at the killing of 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi. Sonia Gandhi presided over the meeting of top party leaders who exposed the country to the balkanization with the decision to create a new state of Telangana.
True, Rahul is making waves. But putting him along with Nehru gives us peep into the thinking of the powers that be. It is unfair to him as much as to the party.
Jumping the gun
He would like to earn his position and be judged by his performance, not because of his dynasty ties. The projection of Rahul Gandhi forecloses other options in the Congress. By showing Rahul at the head of five leaders in the hoarding presupposes his qualities of leadership which he has yet to prove.
Indeed, the Congress has come a long way from the days when it was founded by a Britisher, A.H. Hume, in 1884. Yet the person who converted the Congress into a people's party was Mahatma Gandhi, but he was not in the hoarding. Even otherwise, the Mahatma would have been out of place except with Nehru.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad figures nowhere on the Congress radar. His photograph is seldom displayed at Congress sessions. He was called ‘a show boy of Hindus'. But this did not bother him.
Over the years, the values of the Congress have changed. It was once austere in its approach. Today, the five-star culture has taken over. There was zero tolerance to corruption. Nehru famously shunted out K.D. Malviya from the Cabinet because he accepted money in the name of the party and did not inform about it.
Lal Bahadur Shastri, mentioned the least in the present Congress set-up, made Punjab chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon resign because the Justice Das Commission held him guilty on a trivial charge.
But neither Rajiv nor Sonia found anyone guilty in the Bofors gun scandal. Madhu Koda, who has made more than Rs4,000 crore illegally, in less than two years, was the Congress nominee to head the Jharkhand government.
The Congress has also converted public functionaries into instruments to carry out the party's orders. And they, bureaucrats, have played havoc with the country.
But other political parties that have ruled at the Centre and in the states are no better. The BJP is most to blame. Its Hindu Rashtra policy, dictated by the RSS, has tried to sink the minority communities in the sea of communalism in a pluralistic country.
The Left is still licking its wounds. There is a strong emergence of opposition in West Bengal and Kerala where they rule. The anti-incumbency factor may play a part in the defeat of leftist governments in both the states. Even otherwise, the youth which once provided cadre to the communists is more attracted by the corporate sector than Karl Marx.
Regional outfits like Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party and Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal, are in a shambles. The only regional party that has won the state election is the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa. The DMK in Tamil Nadu and Janata Dal (United) in Bihar are yet to pass muster. Mayawati, the dalit leader who is Uttar Pradesh chief minister, is losing ground.
Therefore, there is no opposition party which can provide an alternative to the Congress. Its arrogance has violated the rule of law irreparably. The party has done very little to check food prices, up 20 per cent in the last six months. Power has corrupted the Congress. Absolute power may corrupt the party absolutely.
There has to be an alternative party committed to secularism and public welfare. A viable opposition is necessary in a democratic state so as to keep the government on its pins. India's graph of clean administration and basic human rights is dipping.
The more the Congress occupies the space the lesser would be the attention paid to the values. The dynastic politics which is embracing the states as well is ominous.
Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.