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To revive the Cong, Sonia needs to kill its sycophancy culture. - India Today

Tavleen Singh ()
March 30, 1998

Title: To revive the Cong, Sonia needs to kill its sycophancy culture.
Author: Tavleen Singh
Publication: India Today
Date: March 30, 1998

This past week, an imperious missive from the palazzo at 10
janpath marked Sonia Gandhi's transition from purdah politics to
real politics. I am going to reproduce it fully because it is
also the first policy statement from the lady who now officially
controls India's largest and oldest political party.

Madame says: "The nation is passing through crucial times in
which its democratic and secular fabric has been put to test. The
decision of the Congress Working Committee to appoint me as
president of the Indian National Congress enjoins upon me a duty
and a task which has to be carried out with faith and humility. I
appeal to all Congress workers to come together with unity and
determination to once again forge a Congress party organisation
into a powerful tool in the service of the country."

Right, let us begin by analysing the first and most important
line of this historic communique from the person who hopes to
restore the Congress to its former glory and who, if the
endeavour succeeds, could be our first Italian-born prime
minister. India's democratic and secular fabric, we are to
believe, is being put to the test. How?

We have just been through what we like to boast is the biggest
democratic exercise on the planet.
So democracy is clearly in fine fettle. As for secularism, we
have-for the first time since Independence seen at least five
years in which no major communal riot has occurred. Since 1992
and the terrible violence that resulted from the demolition of
the Babri Masjid, we have seen an era of quite extraordinary
communal harmony.

Sonia is new to politics, so her history is probably on the shaky
side. Otherwise she would remember how very fragile our
"democratic and secular fabric " became in those supposedly
glorious years when her late mother-in-law and husband ruled
India. The summer of 1984 is particularly unforgettable. In the
first week of June that year, we had Operation Bluestar. Its
disastrous consequences nearly tore apart not just the secular
fabric but the entire country.

Barely had we recovered from the horror of needing virtual
martial law in Punjab, that Indira Gandhi, in the first week of
July, toppled Farooq Abdullah's government in Kashmir. Thereby,
she destabilised our only Muslim state. Nearly everyone agrees
that were it not for this move, we may have had no Kashmir
problem now. Punjab took 10 years to recover. Kashmir is still
enough of a problem for Pakistan-the irony of it-to continue
lecturing us on human rights.

The secular fabric continued to tear when "secular" Congress
workers roamed the streets of Delhi after Indira Gandhi's
assassination, looking for Sikhs to burn alive. The "secular"
Delhi administration stood back and watched as the dead piled up
on the streets of our capital. By the time Rajiv Gandhi, the new
prime minister, decided enough was enough, more than 3,000 Sikhs
had been killed in Delhi alone.

By some extraordinary miracle considering what we saw in Delhi
were pogroms, not riots-Punjab did not erupt into communal
violence. But the current Congress president's late husband then
proceeded to justify the killings. When a big tree falls the
earth shakes, he said. Correct me if I am wrong but was it not
our current "communal" prime minister who replied, "These are
children. They don't know that it's when the earth shakes that
trees fall" ?

Move to the next line of the Congress president's statement. The
bit about carrying out her onerous task with "faith and
humility". Faith, frankly, she will need a lot of. So we must not
grudge her this. But could she explain this humility business? I
am no supporter of foreigners ruling India and so I could be
prejudiced but humility is the last word I would associate with
Sonia. Was it humility or arrogance that made her refuse to give
any interviews during the election campaign? Was it humility
that made her parade her family from one end of the country to
the other, as if she were taking them on a tour of their future

I certainly did not notice any humility in the manner in which
poor old chacha Kesri was tossed like a cockroach into the trash
can of history. He was ready, poor creature, to scuttle off
anyway and really just wanted to make a graceful farewell speech.
But Madame was not having any of it. So we were forced to
witness the pathetic spectacle of an elected Congress president
being publicly humiliated, while Sonia's sycophants cheered and

Which brings me to a final word about turning the Congress "into
a powerful tool in the service of the country". May I, with all
the humility at my command, offer Madame some advice. In the next
few months, as the Congress bides its time to return to power in
Delhi, she would do well to make a careful study of the annals of
her party.

Even a cursory study would reveal that the Congress began to die
when Indira Gandhi decided what she liked best in the men around
her was sycophancy and what she definitely did not like was
political ability. Every Congress president since has taken the
same approach so the decline has continued. judging from those
cries of "Sonia lao, desh bachao", the new Congress president too
appears not to have noticed that a party can't become a powerful
tool as long as its senior leaders are mere sycophants.

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