Priyanka, the only answer
Time and again, Priyanka has proved her acumen for Indian politics, possessing appropriate skills to lead what seems like a rudderless ship in turmoil
It was almost 34 years back when Rajiv Gandhi talked, for the first time, about his children—Rahul and Priyanka—in a TV interview and said, "Priyanka, in a sense, is much tougher. She is a lot like my mother (Indira Gandhi). Strong-willed. Rahul is much more outgoing, sporting type of a person and much more sensitive perhaps." Priyanka was 12 and Rahul was 14 years old then.
Three and a half decades later, when Priyanka is 47 and Rahul is 49 now, we are witnessing that both of Rajiv's observations proved so true. Anguished after the consecutive second defeat for his party in parliamentary elections and deeply hurt with the treatment he got from his own party leaders during electioneering, 'sensitive' Rahul decided to quit as the president. He turned down all the appeals to continue in the past two months. On the other hand 'much tougher' Priyanka has brought the entire Uttar Pradesh government, and for that matter Narendra Modi government, on their toes on killings of tribal farmers in a Sonbhadra village.
The whole country watched Priyanka for two days fighting for justice to the victims and not leaving the site until she was allowed to meet the aggrieved families. State administration had to ultimately end her detention. Priyanka met members of the victims' families and announced that the Congress party will give Rs 10 Lakh to each affected family. She took a dig at Bhartiya Janata Party leadership that 'the responsibility for the massacre is with Yogi-government and not with Nehru and a fast-track court must be set up to give justice to sufferers'.
Priyanka's 'Chunar Fort episode' has infused a fresh sense of enthusiasm among the party workers nationwide at a time when Congress is passing through an unprecedented crisis. Amidst Rahul Gandhi quitting and voices rising from different quarters for handing over the presidency to Priyanka if Rahul does not withdraw his resignation, there seem interesting times ahead in Congress' inner politics. When Rahul decided to contest the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, many believed that the wrong Gandhi sibling was joining politics. It was widely held that his younger sister Priyanka was more suited for the role.
While making his intent of owning accountability for the electoral defeat and quitting from the position of the president very clear on May 25, 2019, in the Congress Working Committee meeting, Rahul had also advised his party colleagues to elect a 'non-Gandhi' as the next chief. CWC had unanimously rejected his resignation. It means his suggestion for appointing 'a non-Gandhi' had also been denied at the same time. The fact should be underlined that Rahul has no formal mention of this idea in his four-page resignation letter released through a tweet on July 3, 2019. Therefore, in my view, CWC is not obligated to not choose Priyanka—a Gandhi—as the provisional president, pending the election of the new president in place of Rahul. Moreover, Rahul has made it clear that he will not participate in the process to select his replacement.
I am of the firm opinion that this is not the time when the Congress party can even afford to think of 'a non-Gandhi' being at the helm of its affairs. With my more than 35 years experience with Congress affairs, first as a journalist and then as its part, I have no doubt that in Narendra Modi-Amit Shah era, Congress has very bleak chances to keep intact its bricks without a strong plastering of Nehru-Gandhi clan. In today's politics, which is heavily influenced by 'MoSha device', no other leader will be capable enough to face the massive showers of political encounters.
I recall the days after Congress had poorly performed in 1996 general elections. There was massive pressure on Sonia Gandhi, who had shunned politics after Rajiv Gandhi's assassinations, to take over the party and campaign for 1998 elections. Rahul and Priyanka opposed this idea. They even warned her mother that she would be discarded by the party once the electoral battle was over. Sonia agreed to campaign and held her first giant rally at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi. From that day onwards, until this day, it's a story of her answering every call of the duty with full conviction.
After taking over the reins of the party in 2013 as the Vice President, Rahul also tried his best. By the time he became the president of the party in 2018, he had learnt a lot and was an entirely different person. The way he dealt with multidimensional struggle untiringly in the past one-and-a-half year had been exceptional. After the election results, he has been hard on himself to teach a lesson of accountability to his colleagues, which is resulted in a baffling situation for his party. He is sensitive, he is sentimental and he believes in pellucidness. So, he now wants himself on sideways.
In these circumstances, no other leader than Priyanka can write a new chapter of the structural and ideological foundation for the Congress party in days to come. To do experiments, you need fair weather. Congress is passing through a thunderstorm. It is not easy to navigate its future path. You can't put anyone on the wheel. It requires experience, commitment, and clarity of mission to take off now. I, with several of my journalist friends, was a witness to Priyanka's killing instinct when she lashed out her uncle Arun Nehru who was contesting from Rae Bareli on a BJP ticket in 1999. Priyanka's few lines at an election rally shattered all of Arun Nehru's dreams forever.
Priyanka and Rahul exemplify the harmony of the family. Priyanka's inner stability, political acumen, and poise are the treasure for Congress. She knows how to give back what she gets. It will not be simple for Modi-Shah duo to deal with her. With Priyanka taking over the Congress at this crucial juncture, the party will get a new soul and a new spirit of devotion for millions of workers. The timing of Priyanka's entry into full-fledged politics had always been very important for the Gandhi-family. Nothing could be a better time than this for Congress to make her agree for holding the fort if Rahul has decided to move in the backroom.
There is never one thing that leads to success for anyone. It is always a combination of hard work, dedication and passion, and being in the right place at the right time. Rahul missed the later part of this. He decided not to join the government in 2004 and again in 2009. He became Vice President of his party at a wrong time. He left the presidency also at a wrong time. It was the right time when he should have tightly fastened his seat belts to lead the party through turbulences. Congress will severely miscalculate the timing if it goes for any other commander than Priyanka Gandhi. No one can make it with distant participation of Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka. Congress is not the same Congress anymore.
(The author is Editor & CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of the Congress party. The views expressed are strictly personal)