Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, was born on 14th November 1889 in now restored Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh.
In 1951, after his initial ’embarrassment’ wore off, Nehru accepted that his birthday be celebrated as ‘Children’s’ Day’ in India, not because ‘he loved children’ as it is widely propagated, but because drawing inspiration from Queen Elizabeth II, whose birthday is celebrated as Flag Day to raise money for Save the Child Fund. So humble.
So humble that back in 1955, when then President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad, who was also a Congress leader, before retiring from Congress party politics, conferred the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, to Nehru, he did not say no. Dr Prasad had done so using his discretionary powers and without consulting the Cabinet.
Nehru, instead of declining the honour while the Prime Minister from his own government, just accepted that he was awesome.
And then he had his daughter, Indira Gandhi, work as his unofficial personal assistant during his time as the Prime Minister of India. Nehru served as Congress President in 1934-35 and from 1951 to 54. In 1959, Indira was made the AICC President. Soon, she moved to Nehru’s official residence to look after his affairs. Kind of like how Donald Trump has his daughter Ivanka helping him out.
Speaking of which, the vanity sort of has had a trickle-down effect. After Nehru, his daughter India, too, believed she was awesome and invincible. Following her father’s death, she was elected as a Rajya Sabha MP and served in Lal Bahadur Shastri’s cabinet. After Shastri’s death, Indira was chosen as Prime Minister of India over Morarji Desai, and she did not say no. She, too, was awarded a Bharat Ratna while in office in 1971. She, too, did not say no to the award.
And if we talk about Indira and vanity, could the Emergency be far behind? The victory over Pakistan in 1971, put Indira on the pedestal. But when economy floundered, the opposition increased. Smelling rebellion, Indira promptly imposed Emergency in the name of national security on 25th of June, 1975. And with Emergency, one is reminded of Sanjay Gandhi and how he almost ran the country in proxy along with his friends and the notorious sterilisation program?
Level of narcissism was so high that Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay Gandhi tried to burn down all copies of ‘Kissa Kursi Ka’, a political satire film made on the Emergency. He was held guilty of the same and spent a month in Tihar and the film was finally released in 1978 after Congress lost the elections.
After Sanjay Gandhi, who was widely believed to be Indira’s heir apparent (because dynasty trumps democracy) and was expected to succeed her and become India’s Prime Minister, died in a plane crash, the responsibility of taking over the country fell on Rajiv Gandhi’s shoulders. Rajiv, who was a commercial pilot by profession, also did not say no when he was asked by Congress members to contest from Amethi.
When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards on 31st October 1984, her son, Rajiv, was asked to fill in her shoes. He, too, did not say no. A former pilot with about 3 years of experience as an MP, was made the prime minister, despite people much senior to him who could have easily filled in. As a newly elected prime minister, he presided over 1984 anti-Sikh riots which broke over the country following his mother’s assassination. After all, it was just the ground shaking after a big tree had fallen. No big deal. <sarcasm>
Rajiv Gandhi was awarded the Bharat Ratna posthumously. Clearly, he could not have said no. His wife, Sonia, was offered to become the Congress President. Thankfully, that was perhaps the only time someone from The Family said no. Not sure what her answer would have been if Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister.
Moving on, after staying away from active politics for a few years, Sonia was made Congress President in 1998, 7 years after her husband’s death. She had no prior experience, nor inclination (at least she claimed so), but this time, she did not say no. Within 62 days of becoming Congress’ primary member, she was the Party President.
In 1999 she fought and won the Amethi seat, which was earlier held by her husband and her brother in law from the family. In 2004, she let the seat go in favour of her son Rahul Gandhi. I recently heard that people in Amethi are so far off from reality that they still think they are voting for Rajiv Gandhi. I’m not sure if it was a joke because, in India, it is very much possible.
Sonia Gandhi is currently MP from Rae Bareilly and after almost 20 years as party president, she passed on the baton to her son, Rahul Gandhi in December 2017. Rahul Gandhi, who was then the party’s Vice President had led his party to as many as 27 electoral defeats. Despite that, even Rahul Gandhi did not say no to his promotion.
Right from 1947 to now, out of over 70 long years, Congress has been in power for almost 55 years. Of these 55 years, The Family has been in power for as many as 37 years. Of course, one would feel vain and entitled. After all, in a democracy like India, Rahul Gandhi has batted for the dynasty in the past.
And going by the precedent set by the royal bloodline, perhaps Rahul Gandhi will offer his own nomination for Bharat Ratna for not having made it to the top post.