New Delhi: Power without responsibility not just suits the Nehru-Gandhis but is a question of political life and death for them. After the Bofors’ scandal destroyed Rajiv Gandhi’s Camelot, his political inheritors have been loath to accept high office. Sonia Gandhi turned down prime-ministership hearing an “inner voice” and Rahul has never shown any keenness for it. After Vadragate, the Nehru-Gandhis will be running more scared of joining government, which is why it is a little hilarious to see the mainstream media go cuckoo over recent rumours of Rahul entering the Union cabinet. Manmohan Singh presumably made the routine offer of a top position to Rahul Gandhi knowing he would excuse himself. The prime minister knows better than anyone that his job is secure at least from the Nehru-Gandhis, and his successor most likely will be A.K.Anthony, and not anyone from the Family.

In a commentary called The Bofors’ factor dated 19 November 2010, this writer had warned of the consequences of the Nehru-Gandhis being implicated in a scandal post-Bofors, which would advise them to stay away from office, and that is how it has been. The Nehru-Gandhis have not been directly incriminated in any of the scams that have ruined the image of the UPA government with the exception of Vadragate, and here, too, Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, seems, at least on the outside, to be on his own. After the initial defence of her son-in-law, Sonia Gandhi has kept quiet, and Manish Tewari, a new minister, has broken the silence on Vadragate today, despite being aware that any Congress offensive on Robert Vadra would boomerang on the Nehru-Gandhis. It is not clear how long the Nehru-Gandhis can remain in denial about Vadragate, but at least for the moment, it seems their best strategy is to keep a distance from Robert Vadra, however hurtful this may be to the son-in-law.

In the main, the Nehru-Gandhi tactic is to keep a clean but ineffective man as prime minister (and Anthony could just as well replace Manmohan Singh in this scheme), and fill the ministries with tainted persons. After 2G, you would have expected P.Chidambaram not to be given finance, but this is precisely what happened. The more a minister gets flak for alleged wrongdoing, the greater his reward from the Nehru-Gandhis. This has become an article of faith with them. Salman Khursheed was attacked by Arvind Kejriwal, the same devil who dragged Vadragate into the open. So 10 Janpath makes common cause with Khursheed and promotes him. There is devious calculation behind this. Any of the tainted ministers can be expected to bear the brunt of present and future allegations, becoming the fall guy even, keeping the Nehru-Gandhis insulated. Despite all the care and caution, Vadragate came out, and it will explode with all its dirty secrets sooner than later, but that makes it even more imperative for the Nehru-Gandhis to stay out of the limelight, and manage power from behind.

Which makes it critical that Rahul Gandhi never joins the government or becomes prime minister. And he won’t. Rahul Gandhi’s trouble is that he is not cut out to be a politician. If he had been a politician in the likeness of his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, Congress wouldn’t have been in the doldrums. Indira Gandhi had the capacity to turn the tide. She overcame post-Emergency setbacks faster than anyone imagined. On the other hand, Rajeev Gandhi couldn’t handle the Bofors’ scandal, and it continues to torment the Nehru-Gandhis. And because Rahul Gandhi is such a poor politician, it has all become worse for the Congress party, living out one nightmarish day after another as a minority government, bled by a thousand cuts.

Contrary to the media image, Rahul Gandhi has zero rating in the Congress party. State units do not want him for electioneering. Whilst he didn’t go to Gujarat and this saved comparison with Narendra Modi, he has been missing so far from Himachal Pradesh. In the upcoming elections in Madhya Pradesh, no local leader cherishes his presence. This is the picture emerging in state after state, of an entirely expendable and unwanted Rahul Gandhi. After the Uttar Pradesh debacle, he is no longer intimately engaged with the state. Congress insiders say Priyanka Gandhi is on the job to salvage the situation, which is, of course, beyond her capacity. On the whole, the Nehru-Gandhis are in a mess, and the Congress reflects their situation. The Nehru-Gandhis would be in bigger trouble if they get into government, and that is a blunder Rahul Gandhi won’t make, now or ever. The best the Nehru-Gandhis can hope for is power without responsibility in a UPA-like structure, which means more of the same.

Welcome to the nation of the condemned.