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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On October 31, 2021

    By Karan Thapar

    A WhatsApp message I received last Sunday delightfully captures the confusion besetting the Congress Party. “Has Congress finally flipped?, it began. “Are all party members to now become teetotallers? And don’t the Gandhis enjoy a sip of wine with their pasta?” It was a tongue-in-cheek comment on the news that broke that morning about conditions that will apply to people seeking to join the Party.


    According to a Press Trust of India (PTI) report, anyone who wants to join Congress has “to make a declaration of abstention from alcohol”. Actually, there’s a lot more, but let’s start with this.


    What’s Congress got against alcohol? Have they forgotten that Soma Rasa was a favourite of our Gods? Indeed, many of our sadhus prefer charas. So a little tipple or a quiet chillum is well in keeping with our hallowed traditions.


    The problem, it seems, is that in 1920 the stipulations Mahatma Gandhi laid down for membership of the Party included a commitment to teetotalism. But that was over a century ago and since then the world – and, most certainly, India – have changed greatly. But if even today in his memory Congressmen are to abstain from a little tincture then what about his other idiosyncrasies? For a start, the practice of Brahmacharya. He imposed it on the newly-married Kriplanis. Why shouldn’t that be necessary as well?


    More pertinently, what is to happen to good Congressmen who enjoy a drink in the evening? Some even like one in the afternoon! I know several who merrily tipple and not just in the solitude of their homes but even at gregarious parties where, often, the glass in their hand is the real reason they’re pleasant company. In fact, a few even serve choice wines and rare single malts. They make great hosts!


    Which brings me to the point in the WhatsApp about the Gandhis. I don’t know for sure but I find it hard to believe none of the three have ever had a drop. And, frankly, there can’t be many people born and brought up in Italy who’ve forsworn the stuff!


    Let’s now come to the second condition. According to PTI, new members “have to give a declaration … to undertake physical labour and work”. Good heavens, why? They’re joining a political party not a road gang. They want to be politicians not navvies. And then, again, when did you last see Rahul or Priyanka with a pick axe or shovel? And I doubt if either would suit Sonia. So why is it a requirement for new members?


    The third condition is the most incomprehensible if not also the most indefensible. New members are required to give “an undertaking to never criticise the party’s policies and programmes in public forums”. I can understand a requirement not to rebel in public but why can’t you express disagreement or, even, dissent? What sort of democratic party does Congress wish to be if differences of opinion can only be voiced behind closed doors?


    This condition almost makes you wonder whether the party understands what democracy is all about. It certainly suggests the unquestioned authority of the High Command – and what a dreadful, though telling, term that is – is the deity to which new members must pay obeisance.


    There’s only one conclusion that suggests itself to me – and I would be pretty surprised if it hasn’t occurred to you as well – Congress seems like a party struggling to recover its lost fortunes but, inexplicably, rather than make things easy for itself it’s determined to throw obstacles in its own path. Frankly, it’s doing a terrific job tripping itself up.


    Now, I’m not sure what the Bhartiya Janata Party’s stand on alcohol is or physical labour for that matter – although Atal Bihari Vajpayee enjoyed a glass of wine whilst several ministers of the Modi government prefer something stronger – but this news can only bring cheer to its leadership. Even genuine teetotallers in its ranks would raise a toast!

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