A book on Congress has blamed former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for the damage to its electoral base in Hindi heartland, particularly Uttar Pradesh, where Rahul Gandhi is now trying to rebuild the party ahead of the assembly polls next year.
"She (Gandhi) attempted to reach down to the bottom level and restructure the party from the top into an 'oligarchy' controlled with the help of her close aides. This led to the breakdown of the 'machine' character of Congress, which had been the strength of the party in some states.
...By the mid-1980s, considerable damage had occurred to the organisation and electoral base of the party from which it has not yet fully recovered. Her attempt to control the party led to absence of internal democracy leading to collapse of branches of the party in key states such as UP," the fifth volume of the series A Centenary History of the Indian National Congress said.
The volume brought out by a group of editors, headed by senior party leader Pranab Mukherjee, to commemorate 125 years of the organisation narrates and analyses a wide variety of issues which affected the Congress party and in turn impinged on the national issues.
In the preface to the book, Mukherjee noted that Congress desired the volume to be edited and contributed by experts in order to generate an "objective and scholarly perspective for the period under review and "not necessarily have a party perspective".
The views expressed by the authors in the volume, therefore do not reflect the views of the Congress party. It is not an official history of the Congress between 1964 and 1984, according to Mukherjee.
The book that delves deep into some of unpleasant chapters in the Congress history, including Emergency, covers the period from 1964 to 1984 in this volume of which a fairly large portion is focussed on late Indira Gandhi.
"Paradoxically just when the conditions in the country and the party were ripe for achieving Gandhi's vision of change, she got pushed into personality-oriented politics that resulted in centralisation and personalisation of power in her hands," it says in an article written by Sudha Pai tracing the political and social trends in six elections that took place during the period.
It says that Gandhi adopted "personality based politics" rather than a "consensual style of leadership".
"She dismantled the party, removed the intermediate leadership and the process of the consultative decision-making and re-built it without a democratic structure with office-bearers personally responsible to her.
"Gandhi had inherited a fairly well-organised party machine with several capable leaders in the states across the country. But her by-passing of the party machinery inaugurated the decline of single party dominance, and a process of long term decay of the party organisation, particularly in North India," it said.
Noting that while the impact of these developments was not immediately felt, the book says "they contributed to the virtual collapse of the party in the 1990s...these developments cumulatively impacted on the social and regional base of the party and its electoral fortunes."
The references about Gandhi have been made in course of tracing her ascendancy to the Prime Ministership after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri and especially after she emerged as the undisputed leader of the party by the early 1970s, virtually decimating the challenges posed by the syndicate.
The book notes, "An important result of centralisation was the decay and disintegration of Congress party machinery in states, where it had been strong."
It further says, "Gandhi's consolidation of power had resulted in the creation of a 'pyramidal decision-making structure' in the party and the government....the pyramid system created at best a 'brittle centre' unable to manage the tensions and cleavages of a heterogeneous party operating within a federally-governed polity."
Dealing with the issue of erosion of the party's support base post-Emergency particularly in context of Uttar Pradesh, the book says, "In Uttar Pradesh, a key state for the Congress, after 1977, there were no elections to the party's 800 cooperative societies, which formed an essential link to local constituencies."
"By the mid-1970s in contrast to the 1950s and 60s the party hardly had any important national or state level leaders with independent bases of political power," it added.
The book says, "The high command felt that a robust party machine in UP could be more difficult to manipulate and consequently made effort to resurrect the apparatus after it was repeatedly damaged in the 1960s due to the split and then the Emergency in 1975-77.
"Gandhi seemed to believe that her control over the party units in the states was more important than a healthy state party that could reach down, absorb and be responsive to the people."
Attributing the party's shrinking base in the Hindi heartland to the "excesses of the Emergency", the book says that the support gained by Congress from the SCs, STs and minorities, which in the Nehruvian era, was an essential condition for the disproportionate support in the region, had broken down in 1977 due to excesses of the Emergency.
"In the long run the loss of support of the SCs and minorities contributed to the collapse of the Congress in the states of the Hindi heartland and the emergence of parties such as the SP, RJD and the BSP.....It was the collapse of the Congress...that provided the political space for these parties."
The book says that even after Gandhi's return to power in 1980 "her sense of personal insecurity and vulnerability persisted" and "state party organisations and governments became increasingly subservient to the Centre, intra-party democracy within the Congress declined".
It also takes note of "interventions by the High Command in states in all matters" by 1980 including selection of candidates and even Chief Ministers in states.
"In 1982, Sripat Misra, a nobody was elected as CM in UP and selection of members of his cabinet was "micromanaged" by High Command members...this was true of all CMs in the 1980s in UP," it said.
In another chapter of the book dealing with JP movement and Emergency, historian Bipan Chandra says, "To eliminate the existence or emergence of rival centres of power, the state governments were rigidly controlled throughout the period of emergency."