Millennium Post

Gandhis must chart a new path

Ever since the party was voted out of power in May this year, the Congress headquarters are frequented by cheer leaders demanding anointment of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the chosen heir of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. That’s an interesting proposition as the change of name from Nehru to Gandhi for India’s longest ruling family of the 20th and 21st Century was easy but would it be same if the rulers were to call themselves Vadra.

Indira Gandhi was Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter and wife of Feroze Gandhi. The son-in-law for his rebellious ways did enjoy an excellent reputation among the people. Nehru too was no villain and despite an anti-incumbency of 17 years in office, when he died in 1964, he still remained India’s much loved prime minister. Indira to people was a personality split between her duties to her father and her husband.

Moreover, Feroze Gandhi had passed away much before Nehru died therefore the legitimacy of Indira’s residence at the Teen Murti house, in public perception, was absolutely justified and so was the claim to the family legacy. Priyanka unlike her grandmother comes with the baggage of a surname which at best has been identified with fraudulent land deals, ill-fitted ensemble of clothes and mysterious death of her in-laws ever since her marriage.

But why are we discussing the Nehrus, the Gandhis and the Vadras when the nation is all agog with the new agenda the new Prime Minister is trying to set. We are discussing it as a close confidant of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram has indicated that he does visualize a future for the Congress without the Gandhis. Chidambaram is no simple cheer-leader to be dismissed with disdain.

In an interview to news channel NDTV, Chidamabaram said, ‘I think the most acceptable leader today, at least of my generation, the most acceptable leader in the party is Mrs Sonia Gandhi and I think among the younger members of the party there is wide acceptance of Mr Rahul Gandhi. That doesn’t mean other leaders cannot or should not emerge. This is a large country. This is the country with 26 states. There must be other leaders who would emerge, firstly at the state level and then at the national Level.’

His pronouncement have not been countered by any of his known party colleagues so far. This is contrary to the trend wherein pronouncement of one leader, however senior he may be, is quickly countered by another prominent leader to allow leadership (read the Gandhi family) to arbitrate between the two squabbling factions.

This time around, so far, there has been no squabble. This could mean that either there is a design behind what Chidambaram has said and has concurrence of the leadership or it’s too early for the faction leaders to recover from the shock of as prominent and reticent a figure as Chidambaram talking in the terms of end of road for the Gandhi family.

This brings us to the important question of whether the Congress can do without the Gandhi family. Chidambaram is correct in saying that as of now Sonia Gandhi was the party president and in absolute command of the situation. In saying so he has also indicated that the onus was on the Congress president to revive the fortunes of the party. The more discerning among the Congress leaders would agree to her ability of lead a fight back for the Congress from an absolutely hopeless situation as of now.

In 1997-98, when Sonia Gandhi assumed charge of the Congress party the situation was no better rather worse.  One of the reasons for the initial revival of the Congress party under Sonia Gandhi was the way she allowed stability to the state leadership and groomed individual leaders at the state level. This led to emergence of leaders like Sheila Dikshit in Delhi, Tarun Gogoi in Assam, Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana and Vilasrao Deshmukh in Maharashtra. It was no mean achievement for these leaders to lead their party’s back to power repeatedly in the states that they governed.

However, as Chidambaram desires, these leaders were not allowed to grow from being mere regional satraps. What stopped the Gandhi family from nominating a then very popular Dikshit as President than a highly controversial Pratibha Devisinh Patil. Similarly what stopped her from handing over the reins of the state Congress into the hands of a Jyotiraditya Scindia or a Sachin Pilot, when she still hand time in hand. Despite an impressive performance during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, what stopped her from creating a prominent leadership in Uttar Pradesh.

To this too Mr Chidambaram doesn’t have a very honest reply. On a query on why was space ceded by Sonia Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi, he said, ‘appointment of Rahul Gandhi to that post (of vice-president) was a deliberate strategy to hand on the baton to the next generation of leadership at every level, younger people coming at the state level, younger people coming at the district level. I don’t think anything was wrong with that. I think the decision in Jaipur was perhaps the correct decision, it was welcomed with great enthusiasm not only by the party but even people outside the party.’

But Mr Chidambaram that did not happen. The youth was not much enthused by the nomination of Rahul Gandhi and rather on the contrary decided to create a wave in the favour of a man in his sixties. It’s not just the age of the leader which enthuses the voter. It’s the ability of the leader to connect with the voter which matters. May be Gandhi will have to finds better ways and means to connect with people if the Congress president has to be a member from the family.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post

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