Shekhar Gupta is working against India's interests


Manuela Kessler

To person

Manuela Kessler studied Sinology and Journalism. She was responsible for the Far East as a political editor at the Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich and headed the foreign department before moving to Singapore as a correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Tages-Anzeiger. It reports on the political and economic development in South and Southeast Asia.

The Nehru Gandhi clan has dominated politics since independence

Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira, Rajiv, Sonia and now Rahul Gandhi - the Nehru Gandhi clan has dominated Indian politics since independence. And the family will continue to determine the fate of the country in the future.

Sonia Gandhi (2nd from right) with son Rahul (left) and daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadhera (right) at an election campaign event in 2004. (& copy AP)

Rahul Gandhi, the ancestor of the family that ruled India two thirds of the time since independence in 1947, passed the first test as a politician. It was a special kind of test - and it spoke volumes about the political culture in what has been called the world's greatest democracy. Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the ruling Congress party, sent the 36-year-old son to campaign in her stead. The most powerful woman in the country had to run for a by-election in the lower house in May 2006 after she had resigned all seats - attacked by the opposition for accumulating offices.

The surprising resignation confirmed the moral greatness of the Italian-born politician - the general public agreed on this. In May 2004 Sonia Gandhi rejected the formation of a government and proposed Manmohan Singh as prime minister. The reason was a hate campaign. The Hindu nationalists tried by all means to prevent the Catholic, who was naturalized in 1983, from leading the majority Hindu people of billions. Now, for the first time, the country has a Sikh head of government, and Sonia Gandhi, who apparently gave up so selflessly, is almost venerated by the people as a saint. What irony.

So "Madam" didn't have to convince the electorate of her qualities. The 60-year-old politician's son Rahul took on the arduous grassroots work. Committed to the family. For two weeks he crossed the constituency of Rae Bareli in a Toyota Landcruiser, an arid stretch of land in the Union state of Uttar Pradesh, which sharp tongues refer to as the "domain" of the Nehru-Gandhi clan: the local parliamentary seat was inherited from one generation to the next. Grapes from farmers and women in shining saris received him like a crown prince. They wreathed Rahul Gandhi with marigolds and showered him with praise. He had little more to do than conjure up his ancestors in a crisp white cotton robe. The appearances were enough to give his mother one of the best election results in Indian history. The Gandhi myth keeps the dynasty alive.

Nehru established democracy in India

Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru during a session of the All-India Congress Committee, August 1944
Jawaharlal Nehru would not have liked that: The cult around his clan contradicts the spirit of the founder of the state. The Cambridge trained lawyer saw religion as the greatest danger to India. As an atheist and democrat, he was so suspicious of any form of worship that he even wrote an anonymous article warning of the danger of giving him too much power and praise: "We don't want Caesars!" However, his autocratic tendency to trust only a select few inevitably made him the measure of all things.

The contradictions that united the Anglophile scion of a Brahmin family from Kashmir are reflected in the state that he formed. Already Pundit Nehru, as he was called because of his origins, inherited the presidency of the Congress party. It was 1928 when he took over the leadership of the nationalist party from his ailing father, Motilal, one of the founding members. He led the non-violent movement for Indian independence from Great Britain together with Mahatma Gandhi, although he did not know what to do with his belief in traditional values.

His vision was to develop India into a modern state, a great power. And Nehru was the first prime minister to be synonymous with India from 1947 to 1964. The idealistic aristocrat, who saw himself as a representative of the masses, practically single-handedly laid down the cornerstones of the nation: democracy, the separation of state and religion, non-alignment and socialism. Blinded by the large conglomerates of the Soviet Union, he subjected India to a planned economy, which resulted in an inflated and often incompetent bureaucracy. A gap opened up between intention and result. Many noble projects, such as the abolition of untouchability in 1955, remained on paper. India took a stance on many foreign policy issues, but was unable to defend its own interests. Nevertheless, Nehru's legacy is not to be valued highly enough: at a time when other founders of the state in Asia rose to become dictators - Mao in China and Jinnah in Pakistan, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and Sukarno in Indonesia - he established democracy in India.

Indira Gandhi: "The only man in a cabinet of old women"

The fact that the only daughter rose to head of government after his death was not because he had set the course accordingly. Not at all: Nehru simply missed making provisions for her future at all. After dropping out of history, Indira Gandhi knew nothing but politics. The campaigns and a total of nine years of her father's imprisonment had shaped her from childhood. Her earliest memory was that in protest against British colonial rule, her family had burned all western clothes and she herself with a heavy heart burned her imported doll. No wonder the precocious child was the Mahatma's avowed darling.

Indira Gandhi put nationalist duty above all other interests. Heavily pregnant with her second son, she moved in with her widowed father shortly before independence, in order to fulfill his duties as first lady at his side. The arrangement was to remain: the relationship with her husband Feroze Gandhi, who was not related to the Mahatma, cooled off as she developed into her father's closest confidante. After his death in 1964, she was pressured by party officials to take up a government position. She took over the secondary information portfolio and gained a reputation for being "the only man in a cabinet of old women" when Pakistan launched the second war against India.

A little later she was promoted to prime minister. The challenges that she faced as head of government from 1966 to 1977 were enormous: poor harvests and bitter poverty, huge population and small economic growth, galloping red tape and rampant corruption. The woman, who is portrayed by contemporaries as a loving person but an unscrupulous power politician, motherly and destructive at the same time, tackled the problems with a hard hand.

She eliminated her opponents in the Congress Party in cold blood. Indira Gandhi relied on populism and maneuvered the country deeper and deeper into the crisis. When she was convicted by a court of unfair campaigning, her position seemed untenable. The pugnacious prime minister quickly declared a state of emergency. Increasingly isolated, she built up her second son, Sanjay, as her successor. The spoiled favorite son was responsible for millions of forced sterilizations. The outcry of horror prompted the "mother of the nation" to seek confirmation at the ballot box. She was voted out - and in 1980 she fought her way back to the top of the government like a lioness. A little later, her son Sanjay was killed in a plane crash. A severe blow that could not dissuade them from their dynastic plans. She pleaded with her older son Rajiv, who was a professional pilot with Indian Airlines, to get into politics. When he finally consented, his wife Sonia was heartbroken. She mourned the loss of casual family life for days behind closed doors.

Unrest in various parts of the country overshadowed Indira Gandhi's second reign. It countered the centrifugal forces by strengthening the central authority with special powers. She responded to an uprising of the Sikhs in Punjab by storming the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the highest shrine of the religious community. She paid with her life: Two of her own Sikh bodyguards shot her a few months later, on October 31, 1984, in her garden. Her son was sworn in as Prime Minister that same evening.

Sonia Gandhi: "Save the Country!"

Rajiv Gandhi, amiable and reserved by nature, turned out to be a clumsy but honest politician. The outsider surprisingly brought a new wind to the Indian government. He advocated reconciliation with the Sikhs in words and deeds. Obsessed with the achievements of modern technology, he initiated the liberalization of economic sectors. After decades of the dictate of a planned economy, this was tantamount to a revolution. The growth figures soared, but illegal commission payments on a deal with the Swedish arms company Bofors cast a poor light on his government. Suspicion that Rajiv Gandhi himself might be involved in the scandal led to his being voted out of office in 1989. He was on an election campaign - with the best chance of returning to the top of the government - when he was torn to pieces in a suicide bombing by a Tamil freedom fighter in 1991.

Rajiv Gandhi was not yet cremated when functionaries of the Congress Party were already besieging his residence: "Save the country!" They shouted to the widow entrenched in the house. But Sonia Gandhi resisted the pressure. It was not until six years later, when the Hindu nationalists were ruling in Delhi, that she assumed party leadership. The former foreign language student, who fell in love with her husband in Cambridge at the age of 18, practically single-handedly led Congress back to power with a campaign marathon. Wrapped in a saree like her mother-in-law once did, she performed from dawn to dusk in fluent Hindi.

Now she heads the coalition, Manmohan Singh the government. Contrary to expectations, the unusual power-sharing works well. Sonia Gandhi drives to a working meeting with the Prime Minister every Friday evening. Observers certify that she has her back to the head of government by skillfully holding the motley coalition together.

"The communists melt in their presence," says political commentator Shekhar Gupta. "You act like a movie star's fan club." Business representatives are far less enthusiastic. Some of the government's anti-poverty measures appear to have come from socialist textbooks for beginners. The critics condemn the well-intentioned efforts as a throwback to the old days, Sonia Gandhi herself as a walking anachronism. The broad masses, however, revered her as a savior.

The magic of the Nehru Gandhi clan is unbroken. The life path of the ancestor is mapped out whether he wants it or not. Many ordinary people believe that Rahul Gandhi is the rebirth of his father because of the bright eyes and charming dimples on the cheeks. The economic advisor, who has been pushed into politics, may have made more headlines with his Colombian girlfriend than with his two speeches in the two years in parliament - the party comrades want him to be elected General Secretary of the Congress. Saliva plays a part in this. 300 young officials recently had his name tattooed on their forearms. You see this as an oath to remain loyal to the future Prime Minister.

The text was published in August 2006 in issue 32/33 of the magazine "Das Parlament".