Nehru-Gandhi family can’t be termed ‘First Family’

First Family: A frequently used misnomer in India

The term First Family is used wrongly and loosely for a family
The term First Family is used wrongly and loosely for a family

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]n the United States of America, the term First Family is casually used by the media in general and the White House press corps in particular to refer to the President and his immediate family. The US President is both head of the state and head of the government and members of the First Family comprise the President, the First Lady of the United States and their children. Close relatives of the President and First Lady, including parents, grandchildren and in-laws, are also classified as members of the First Family provided they “reside in the Executive Residence of the White House Complex”. First Family is not an official title for the family of the head of state or head of government. It is an unofficial title used mostly for the head of state or head of government of a republic.

The term First Family is used for the person who holds the highest position in a country, usually a republic, especially the United States.

The term “Second Family” is also used in some countries while referring to the deputy head of state or head of government, invariably a vice-president. There are countries where the family of the Prime Minister is termed as the “Second Family”, with the spouse being the “Second Lady” or “Second Gentleman”. The “Second Family” consists of the deputy head of state or deputy head of government and the Second Lady or Second Gentleman, besides the child/children of the couple.

One thing is manifestly clear: The term First Family is used for the person who holds the highest position in a country, usually a republic, especially the United States. But here in India, the term First Family is used wrongly and very loosely for a family which under no circumstance can be thus designated. The term First Family is used by the media, almost all commentators, essay writers, and surprisingly even sections of the political class to refer to the Nehru-Gandhi family, specifically the now defunct and disintegrated UPA chairperson and AICC president Sonia Gandhi and her family.

Sonia Gandhi neither holds the office of Union President (head of state) nor the office of Prime Minister (head of government). She is just a Member of Parliament like the other 700-odd Indian lawmakers. It is true that she heads the Congress party. But this cannot and must not be a qualification for commentators to use the term First Family for her and members of her family, including son Rahul Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Gandhi, along with her spouse Robert Vadra and two children. This is actually the height of sycophancy.

Look at any political essay on the Nehru-Gandhi family written after May 1991 and you will find the media referring to Rajiv Gandhi’s widow as the “First Lady”. That is the genesis of the mischief, which was aimed at undermining the authority and status of Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]A[/dropcap]fter May 2004, this extended to what became the unofficial First Family of the Congress party. Yet it was not Sonia Gandhi who founded the Indian National Congress. The INC was founded in December 1885 at Bombay (now Mumbai) by AO Hume (a retired British civil servant) – in consultation with the then Governor-General of India and Secretary of State for India – with the help of 72 western educated pliable Indians with a view to puncturing the nascent aspiration for freedom in the country. WC Bonnerjee (a Christian) was its first president. The Nehru family was then nowhere in sight.

It was only in December 1919 that a member of the Nehru family, Motilal Nehru, became president of the INC. He also headed the INC between December 1928 and 1929 and was succeeded by his son Jawaharlal Nehru in December 1929. He headed the INC between December 1929 and December 1931. Jawaharlal Nehru also led the party for another two years – December 1935 to December 1937 – before independence. In all, the father-son duo led the INC for six out of 62 years before India attained independence.

It was only after independence that Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi and her family managed to dominate the INC almost completely, for 33 years or so, with Sonia Gandhi heading the AICC since December 1998 without a break, for reasons not difficult to fathom. The main reason, of course, is the rise of sycophants, cronies and power-brokers with little or no support-base and no mass experience in the Congress party. And it all started after 1978, when Indira Gandhi became president of the AICC.

The Nehru-Gandhi family, including Sonia Gandhi, had nothing to do with the foundation of the INC. Similarly, Sonia Gandhi doesn’t hold the position of President of India. A person who heads a particular political outfit and his/ her family just cannot be described as the First Family. Those who term the Nehru-Gandhi family as the First Family would do well to refashion their whole approach towards this family, which has established its stranglehold over the Congress party with the help of sycophants. If at all this term is to be used, it must be with reference to the President of India, his spouse, the real First Lady of the country, and their children if they reside in the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Ideally, the term First Family needs to be discarded because it is a copycat term and breeds an inferiority complex. This is a Republic which rests on a foundation of equality of all citizens.

Hari Om is former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Jammu.
Hari Om

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