Earlier this month a low profile member of Parliament from Kerala, P.T. Thomas, was in the news for his attempted mediation between anti-graft activist Anna Hazare’s representatives and Congress’ apparent future prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi. Thomas had earlier visited Ralegan Siddhi, Hazare’s village, in his “personal capacity” to “learn” about the village and Hazare’s style of functioning. Many party leaders had frowned on the visit, asking if it was proper for Thomas to go there without the permission of his party leadership, especially when there was a growing discomfort between Hazare’s team and the party-led government.
Thomas, who was trying to be an apostle of peace, had to apologize to the representatives from Hazare’s village saying there was a “communication gap.” Because, the ‘proposed’ meeting did not take place after Rahul Gandhi’s office clarified that there was no such meeting scheduled.
Congress party general secretary Rahul Gandhi. (File photo)
Politics is often referred to as the art of the impossible and Thomas tried it in his own way. The fact is that in India no political party entertains such personal overtures. Cadre-based parties like the Communist Party of India-Marxist or Communist Party of India would consider it as anti-party activity, which can even invite disciplinary action. Everyone has to follow the ”party line.”
A former MP of the CPI-M (again from Kerala) A.P.Abdhullah Kutty was thrown out of the party for praising Gujarat CM, Narendra Modi. Kutty, who later joined the Congress and became an MLA, tried to be more progressive than the Party by praising Modi. In the BJP, there have been instances of party leaders airing their differences in public - Yashwant Sinha still survives, Jaswant Singh returned to the party after a brief stint outside. That means, for different parties, yardsticks are different when it comes to crossing the ”party line.”
In Congress too, anti-party comments are allowed or not allowed depending on the stature of the person who makes it. Though a novice in politics, former union minister Shashi Tharoor would have got away with his controversial tweets and comments if the media had not followed them eagerly. Party general secretary Digvijay Singh keeps airing his “personal views.”
In 1965, when Tamil Nadu was protesting against the government in New Delhi, then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri adopted a ‘wait and watch’ policy. Many other senior party leaders including K. Kamaraj, who hailed from Tamil Nadu, decided to keep a distance from the violence-hit state. According to one of her biographers, Indira Gandhi, then information and broadcasting minister --- she was very junior but was made the fourth most senior minister of the cabinet by the PM – “decided to fly down to Madras to quell the trouble, without telling the prime minister about her trip” – a move Shastri termed as ”jumping over his head.”
Indira’s grandson, also has recently attempted to don the cap of a rebel. At a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his trusted cabinet colleagues were toiling day and night to make peace with Hazare and his camp, Rahul came down on the activist’s movement during a zero-hour mention in Parliament saying a “tactical incursion, divorced from the machinery of an elected government that seeks to undo the checks and balances created to protect the supremacy of Parliament sets a dangerous precedent for a democracy.” Incidentally it came a day after Singh praised and saluted Hazare and his struggle for an anti-corruption legislation.
By trying to emulate Indira in his own way, what Thomas crossed was not the party-line but the ”Rahul-line.” And, not understanding that was the real ”communication gap.”