India's Gandhi family: Sonia (R), Rahul and Priyanka (L) Image Credit: AP

“As some imperial corpse preserved for age in its dead seclusion, crowned and armed and still majestic, yet falls to the dust at the breath of heaven, so fell the Empire of the Mughals when the great name that guarded it was no more.”

Stanley Lane Poole wrote it when history was much more poetic than the prosaic version we the students of history learn today.

And, you dear reader will ask why your political columnist is dragging in the history of the great Mughals today? The reason is three-fold.

Your columnist is a student of history, the stunning Taj Mahal — the zenith of the great builders the Mughals were, is a matter of dispute today and the Congress party — India’s oldest political party is having a chintan shivar (a party conclave).

Lane Poole’s lines keep springing to mind when I think of the Congress party and its current shambolic disarray. The Gandhi family, which leads the Congress, are also fifth generation dynasts as was Aurangzeb (if you leave out Emperor Humayun) when the collapse of the Mughal empire began.

And, finally the Taj Mahal is being contested now by extremists and not one leader is calling out the madness.

Secularism is something no party likes to flaunt today but, such incredulous laughable claims should have been challenged and dismissed by the country's political leadership.

The fact that all are mum tells you a lot about the state of the opposition with two years to go for the general elections in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) potted revisionist history is being accepted and the party now sets the tone of politics to the Hindutva barometer.

The downward spiral

The Gandhi family has become a pale shadow of Nehru, Indira Gandhi and even Rajiv Gandhi (prime ministers all) and seems unable to win the party any elections (the only thing that matters in an electoral democracy).

All three family members — Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — are in politics and call the shots in the Congress but, as the party reduces its political footprint from pan-India to barely one state, loud questions are being raised about their political acumen.

In a predictable run of lather, rinse, repeat as needed, the Congress loses yet another election, one of the family step forward and in an empathetic fashion say they have learnt the lesson and a party meeting happens. The only thing of note that emerges is that the party has full faith in the family and Rahul Gandhi must take over immediately.

Rahul Gandhi, former Congress president, has presided over the party as it lost two general elections. He likes to call the shots without the responsibility of any party office. Mother Sonia Gandhi has been the “interim” president, who is performing a holding operation for Gandhi jr till he takes over again.

And, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who was described in hushed whispers as the party’s “Brahmastra” (ultimate weapon), proved to be a dud in Uttar Pradesh where candidates chosen by her lost.

Yet the Gandhis only fail upwards in the Congress party without any accountability for losses. Sonia Gandhi started off the proceedings with a grim warning that the party had done enough for the leaders and now was the time for them to make a contribution to the party.

Party leaders ask sotto voce what contributions can they make when they have no power and authority all of which rests with the Gandhi family. They cite the case of Punjab and Prashant Kishor and question the wisdom of letting Kishor publicly shun the party by refusing to join and the big fight of the Gandhi family with Amarinder Singh, which contributed to the loss of Punjab.

The supreme irony

The irony is that if the Gandhi family signs off on big changes in the party, as suggested by Kishor, they would be seeking action against themselves.

The Gandhi family has a healthy appetite for power and are unlikely to consign themselves to history, so the usual cosmetic changes will be discussed. The Congress has been shrinking since 1985 and it is time to rebuild the party.

The real trouble is that the Congress party does not know how to behave like an opposition after long spells in government. Currently the ideological commitment it displays is to back the Gandhi family and keep blaming Modi.

People have no clear idea of the alternative policy options Congress presents, if any. Endless negativity is frowned upon by voters who want to know exactly what is the alternative that the opposition has to offer.

Consider this the bravest prescription the 'high command' — as the Gandhi family is called — might showcase in Rajasthan: one family, one post. But, leaders ask can they even do that? 

Whitewashing a broken column will never work. The Gandhi family needs to come to terms with its own irrelevance in politics today and perhaps become trustees of the party with new empowered leaders.

Not the empowered group constituted by Sonia Gandhi, where a seat was offered to Prashant Kishor and he publicly declined. The group has vanished and not even met once. Exactly mirroring the state of the Congress party.

And, could one of the Gandhis call out the faux history that is currently attacking the Taj Mahal — India’s marvellous, timeless wonder.