The Significance of the Nehru-Gandhi Nexus


Dynastic politics has come across sharp criticism from all sections of the society. It leads to the dynasty assuming a ‘holier than thou’ attitude and contributes to stagnation of growth and prominence of the country’s other leaders and intelligentsia. Something the country has been experiencing incessantly over the decades. It is this phenomenon which has fueled the anti-incumbency of the present UPA regime. India has seen three Prime Ministers from this family and will unfortunately see more. However, it wasn’t like this always.

I have seldom come across a person who endorsed Gandhi’s decision of choosing Nehru over Sardar for the top job. I myself had always been a staunch critic of this verdict of Gandhi. In hindsight, however, I’ve come to view the situation differently. At the time of independence, the Indian National Congress was the sole significant political representative of the people of India. There was no ideological opponent and the INC was the nation’s only hope. Nehru, who ascended the throne in 1947 and continued till 1964, was one of the best peace-time leaders of the country. To guide the country through war, chaos, economic uncertainties etc., required a man with courage. His economic and industrial policies kick started the growth process. Looking back, we realize how tough a job it may have been and to imagine the ascendance of another person is unimaginable, to say the least. He guided the country into an era of peace and his Non-Alignment Policy (of which I’m not a supporter) was quite exceptional.


Upon his death, we saw the coming and going of Lal Bahadur Shastri whose stay was brief. Upon his death, the party was split as most Congress leaders opposed Indira’s anointment. In retrospection, Indira’s appointment by the leaders of the Syndicate was a political masterpiece. Indira was quite inexperienced when she became the Prime Minister and her sole qualification was her relation with Nehru. Indira was decisive and not afraid to take a stand. The nationalization of banks led to a banking revolution as banking facilities were opened to the rural sector as well. Although her declaration of Emergency was the nail in the coffin but the way she emerged after that says something about her. In the brief change in government, we saw a loose coalition of the Janata Party which could not last long and had no set objectives or defined principles. It was the declaration of Emergency by Indira which led to the development of stringent political opponents with various ideologies.

Upon her death, came Rajiv Gandhi. Again nominated based on the same logic that Indira was. He was seen as a youth leader with revolutionary ideas and vision. However, it was his appointment and subsequent death which reveals how the Congress Party was a loose coalition and could never have sustained without a top leadership who were looked upon by the rest with pure admiration because of their genetic superiority. Actually, the party that ran the world’s biggest democracy was a monarchy itself and still remains one. Therefore, at the time of independence and up until the early 80’s, there was no significant opposition and the Congress party wasn’t able to function unless it was ruled by The Family.

Instances of this can be seen in the government of Narsimha Rao when the party was teeming with jealous and ambitious individuals. It can also be seen when two major party patriarchs, Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram, left the party in search of greener pastures when the top leadership either collapsed or was unsuitable as per their imaginations.

Nevertheless, we have now entered a time when significant opposition exists and is capable of forming a stable front, as displayed by Vajpayee. The Congress has become a much more cohesive group but still may go for a tailspin if The Family were to desert the party. The MPs are always vying for closeness to the Gandhis as they run the party with a firm hand. Even today, no leader can claim the Prime Minister’s job unless he/she represents a different party or he/she is ready to become the acting and/or a pseudo-leader of the country under the Gandhi family. Congress may not have officially declared its Prime Ministerial candidate but if by some minute chance they form a government, there are no doubts in anyone’s mind as to who will take control of the THRONE!


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