Its all in the ‘Hand’

I was yet at college when Mrs Indira Gandhi split the Congress to form her own faction of the party. The Congress symbol of cow and calf, which until then had probably been very popular, got permanently frozen. She chose the ‘Hand’ instead.

Since I was still a student then I had no particular insight into popular politics but my professor was a wise old man who left me with lasting impressions of more than just the subjects he taught.

Farmer’s issues, caste politics, communal divide – everything that governs the country today he seemed to have a sixth sense about how these would play out in the coming decades. Most of what he told us then has come true.

So with yet another youngish star of the Indira Gandhi Congress  – YS Rajashekhara Reddy — dying prematurely, my mind flew back to what he had divined more than three decades ago. And this time it was not foresight into the politics of the country but literally a look into the future – he was said to be very good at reading the stars as well.

Being a science graduate I dismissed what he then said as so much mumbo-jumbo. But now I am beginning to wonder. We were discussing symbolism and, of course, the symbols in Indian politics. Symbols were necessary in a country like India which was by and large illiterate, he told us. So the cow and the calf could have been by far the best symbol for the Congress, he said, as the hammer and sickle for the Communist parties. The symbolism of both was, though, similar.

At that age that went over at least my head but what he added later, almost mischievously, has stayed with me all these years.

There had been a lot of jest, I remember, about how Mrs Gandhi and her son Sanjay had personified the cow and calf symbol of her party. The Haryana strongman Bansilal, a member of the infamous Sanjay Gandhi caucus, had been quoted as saying, “Take hold of the calf and the cow will automatically come into your hands!”

We laughed at the imagery. But then my professor said, “Mrs Gandhi should not be too unhappy. Losing that symbol puts paid to jokes in poor taste like that one. But though she may have lost her old symbol, she should be comforted by the fact that it is the hand that milks the cow after all!”

Then he slipped into his astrologer mode as he added more sombrely, “The Hand will work very well for the Congress. But in this particular form it might all be a little short-lived.”

Asked to explain, he said the life-line on the Hand symbol accorded to the Congress was too short. “In a real human being that line should lead him or her to just about their fifties or sixties. Either the party will die out soon or the Congress is set to lose many of its leaders in the prime of their lives.”

As a remedy, he suggested that they get the Election Commission to reissue the symbol with a longer life-line on it.

I thought that was all hogwash and paid it little heed. But now that I think about it, I wonder why it is the Congress, more than the other political parties, which has been losing so many of their top and most effective leaders in their fifties and sixties in such quick succession since the ’Eighties.

Helicopter crashes like the one that YSR died in this week have happened to others like the Telegu Desam’s Balayogi, for instance. And the BJP’s Sahib Singh Verma has died in a road accident while Pramod Mahajan was shot dead by his brother. But they were the odd ones out.

Look at the Congress’s list, though: Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Rajesh Pilot, Madhavrao Scindia, OP Jindal, Dr Shrikant Jichkar and now YSR. Each one of these leaders was in his prime and crucial to the party’s fortunes in their own domains and sphere of activity at the time of their deaths. Whether in a road accident, as in the cases of Pilot and Dr Jichkar, or in air crashes in the cases of Scindia, Jindal and YSR or assassinations, as in the cases of Indira and Rajiv, I believe, each one of these deaths was as senseless as it was needless.

What Renuka Chowdhary said in her first reaction to the Andhra Chief Minister’s death was very haunting under the circumstances: “The Congress has faced this so many times. So many, many times!”

That’s when my Professor Murthy popped into my head again after so many years and I wondered: was the old man right after all?

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