The Congress has been arguably extremely successful in maintaining its stranglehold on India despite — and perhaps because of — its evident failures of governance. At the time of India’s political independence from British rule, the Congress inherited a very poor country. Roughly speaking, around 80 percent of the 300 million Indians then, or 240 million, were desperately poor. After 66 years, today that number of the desperately poor in India has more than tripled to around 900 million. For much of that time, the Congress has dominated the political control of India at the center and therefore has dictated those central (and state) policies that are directly responsible for this abominable state of underdevelopment. The Congress’s inability to provide good policies is matched only by their ability to hang on to power. How they manage to do that is fascinating and instructive.
The Magic Word: Gandhi
The first and perhaps the most critical factor that contributes to the Congress’s success is just one word: Gandhi. None of us can remember when we first heard about Gandhi, the man who is reportedly the “Father of the Nation.” All Indians imbibe the idea that Gandhi was responsible for India’s “independence” with their mother’s milk.
I use the scare quotes to signal that my understanding of independence differs most dramatically from what is generally understood by India’s independence. I have written about that on this site elsewhere. (Note to self: insert reference here.) Speaking of independence, here’s another pet peeve of mine. Why do Indians have to ape the West, especially the Americans, so slavishly? Hollywood/Bollywood is a trivial example. The most serious offense is aping the Americans in the matter of “father of the nation” nonsense.
The Americans refer to a group of people as “the Founding Fathers” — a large group who signed the declaration of independence, or framed the constitution, etc. Notable among them are such worthies as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. The Wiki says, “Warren G. Harding, then a Republican Senator from Ohio, coined the phrase “Founding Fathers” in his keynote address to the 1916 Republican National Convention. He used it several times thereafter, most prominently in his 1921 inaugural address as President of the United States.”
Anyway, I suppose someone somewhere first proclaimed Gandhi as the “Father of the Nation”. It seems that it could have been Subhas Bose in 1944 in a radio broadcast from abroad. It tickles me to note that Gandhi hated Bose’s guts (of which he apparently had plenty) and Bose calls him the “father of the nation.” In any case, the preeminent ignoramus Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister, is reported to have declared at Gandhi’s assassination that “the father of the nation is dead.”
You may note that the Americans have “the Founding Fathers” and India has only “the Father of the Nation.” Clearly, you may argue, Indians didn’t ape the Americans in this case. I concede that point but I wish they had done so. I wish Indians would recognize that many people worked selflessly to free India from British control and they need to be praised and their contributions acknowledged widely.
Now here’s the point I am laboring to make: Gandhi is promoted as the FotN because it matches Indira’s and her descendants’ last name. Now you and I know that Indira Gandhi nee Nehru is not related to Mohandas Gandhi. But I bet you dollars to donuts that a certain percentage of people do not know that.
I generally conduct informal surveys when I can. I have asked a few dozen uneducated working class people from rural India this question: how is Indira Gandhi related to Mahatma Gandhi? About half of them guessed that she was his daughter. When informed that Jawaharlal Nehru was her father, they said that they don’t know the exact relationship but she was certainly related to Gandhi.
If I had the capacity to do so, I would conduct a real randomized sample survey of rural uneducated voters in India to figure out what percentage of them don’t know that today’s Gandhis are not related to the original Gandhi. But my conjecture is that the Congress honchos do know that a large segment of their core constituency (the illiterate poor) mistakenly believe that Mohandas Gandhi and the present-day Gandhis (the Antonia Maino-clan) are related. And they make use of that misunderstanding — and how!
Not willing to let things alone to chance, the Congress names every conceivable public welfare scheme, roads, ports, schools and other institutions with the name of a Gandhi. Around 4,000 of them so that even the most uninformed voter knows one thing for sure: the name Gandhi is the fountainhead of all that is great and good in the land.
That is why the Congress has to have as its supreme commander, their Dear Leader, a Gandhi. As long as they have a Gandhi — Indira, Sanjay, Rajiv, Sonia, Rahul, Priyanka, the Gandhi family dog, whatever — they are sure to get those votes.
It is a matter of branding. I call it the “McDonalds Effect.” In an unknown place, where one does not know the quality of the restaurants, the safe bet is to grab a quick bite at a McDonalds. There must be better eating joints around but you just don’t know. Given limited information and risk aversion, the prudent thing is to go with the familiar.
So the strategy for the Congress is simple and elegant. Keep the voters ill-informed. Easily achieved since most of their voters are illiterate. Then add “Gandhi” to everything. Daniel Kahneman calls it the “priming effect.” At the polling booth, driven by risk aversion and limited information, the voters choose the party that has a Gandhi face attached to it. Of course, they have to make sure that the face appears in every campaign billboard in every corner of the country.
Nobody really believes that Raul Vinci aka Rahul Gandhi is the sharpest tool in the Congress shed. Among its second tier leaders, the Congress has more educated, more competent, more shrewd operators than Raul. I would venture to say that practically anyone who is not obviously retarded would be better than Raul — leave alone accomplished people such as Jairam Ramesh or Shashi Tharoor.
But the likes of Ramesh and Tharoor have to play second fiddle to Antonia and Raul because they use the Gandhi last name. Ramesh and Tharoor know that their lunch depends on how strenuously they promote the Gandhi name. At some level, I understand that they prostitute themselves for their personal gains. But at another level I am repelled by that idea and feel revolted that people sink to such levels for material gains. I love stuff as much as the next man but I draw the line somewhere and refuse to prostrate myself to others just so that I can have another million to my name.
Antonia is the Dear Leader not because of her accomplishments (which appear to elude those who attempt to investigate the matter) but because the voters have been primed to believe that Gandhi is magic. Not to put too fine a point on it, the trivially true fact is that ignorance is the biggest friend the Congress has. And they do their best to cultivate their friendship with ignorance.
The greatest weapon in the Congress armory is ignorance. Strike that. The two greatest weapons in the Congress armory are ignorance and fear. Actually, among the greatest weapons in the Congress armory are ignorance, fear and endless repetition. (Cue the “Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition” skit by Monty Python.)
Aversion and attraction are polar opposites of basic human emotions. The Congress understands that viscerally and uses it with deadly effect. I use the word “deadly” advisedly since the consequence is literally deadly for millions of poor Indians.
The person whom the Congress most fears is Shri Narendra Modi. Why? Because only he spells the undoing of the Gandhi-Maino dynasty and by extension the Congress party. The Congress worthies know this and know it only too well. Many people mistakenly believe that the BJP is the Congress’s mortal enemy. Not so. It’s one man: Narendrabhai Modi who is enemy numero uno.
For over a decade, the more Modi has delivered, the greater has he become a threat to the Congress. The greater the threat, the more the opposition to him. In their fight against Modi, the Congress has enlisted every weapon they have. The main stream media is fully bought and paid for (with tax payers’ money.) Even Modi’s enemies within the BJP (they are legion but I will not name them here because I don’t want to insult your intelligence) are enlisted without the least hesitation in the fight against him.
Everyone who has an interest in the status quo is against Modi. Anyone who wants India to change tack and progress is looking for an alternative and recognizes that the best we have is Modi. Of course, Modi is not perfect. No mortal is. But he is the best we have got. I have been keenly observing Modi for nearly a decade and I am convinced that no one else in India has what it takes to bring about the change that India needs.
The change that India needs. That’s precisely the problem that the Congress sees. The distress that India has today is entirely due to the Congress. (Of course, there is a root cause which leads to the Congress as a consequence. I will have to put that off for a future post.) So the Congress has to go if India has to prosper. So India’s prosperity is antagonistic to the Congress: you can either have the Congress or you can have a prosperous India but not both.
For the head honchos in the Congress, the choice is clear: if for it to survive, India has to suffer, so be it. For me, for India’s prosperity, I will do what I can to give the Congress and its leaders a quick burial. I wish the BJP had the same goal as I have.
To me it appears that the BJP has the same goals as the Congress. The first bit is of course to gain power for the simple reason that being in power gives them the opportunity for material gains. The second gain is self-aggrandizement. Completely understandable to me because if I had the opportunity to be rich and powerful, I too would do what they are doing.
But enough of me. I want to figure out what they are doing for material gain. The Congress has the post-Godhra riot. So it does its best to pin the violence against Modi. No investigation has found him to be guilty in any sense but that does not stop the Congress. Repeat an assertion enough and it takes on the mantle of truth.
In the next bit (see link below for the followup post) I will explore the idea of how the Congress is a master in the game of manufacturing “truth” by repeated assertion and why Modi is their greatest threat. I will argue that the many faults of the Congress is actually a fortuitous shield and they use it all the time.
Repetition is a powerful device for persuasion. Successful religions use it all the time. One particular world religion uses it five times a day. One simple idea repeated five times a day by its adherents convinces them that it must be true even though there is no evidence for the truth of the assertion. The Congress understands that idea, the BJP does not. The Congress and the Islamists are natural allies for this reason — but not only for this reason, as I will argue later.
In the next bit I will also explain why focus matters. The short form is this: the Congress’s target is one single individual, while those opposed to the Congress have multiple targets. Paradoxically, the more scams the Congress perpetrates, the less the damage the Maino-Gandhi clan suffers. Like in a chess game, the sacrifice of a few pawns or rooks is no big loss if the end-game depends on whether the king survives.
In this game, the Maino has to lose for India to win.
Followup post: How to Tell a Big Lie: Assertion, Repetition & Contagion