Delhi: The grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri has been for some years now, toiling his way up the rungs of the Bharatiya Janata Party from his hometown of Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh. Sidharthnath Singh is now a party spokesperson and a National Executive member, hoping to ride the Narendra Modi wave. To make his claim for candidature stronger for the Phulpur seat, he has also initiated a ‘Kisan Jangaran Abhiyan’. It may be in the Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan style, but he’s actually following his party’s prime ministerial candidate, not so much his grandfather. Since Tuesday afternoon, Singh’s phone has been busier than ever. The calls are congratulatory, though he is yet to cross even the first roadblock of securing a ticket.
PriyankaGandhiWithSoniaGandhi_PTI Priyanka Gandhi with Sonia Gandhi. PTI The reason for the calls is not him, it is Priyanka Gandhi and the resolution passed by Congressmen of the Allahabad unit requesting Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi to field Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from this constituency that was once held by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Sidharthnath Singh thinks that if he gets to fight Priyanka it would make a Nehru Versus Shastri legacy contest: “I will have the advantage of representing Shastriji’s honesty and she will have to answer for Damadgate (Robert Vadra),” he says, in a small display of over-enthusiasm. The sycophants in the local Congress units may have their personal motivations, but their argument that Priyanka reminds them of Indira Gandhi and should thus naturally inherit Pandit Nehru’s legacy is laughable. Nehru won three elections from here, in 1952, 1957, 1962. Upon his death, his sister Vijayalaxmi Pandit contested and won in 1967.
Since then, the Gandhi family has abandoned this seat, and the people of the region abandoned the Congress. They have in the past elected leaders from the Janata Party, Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and the current BSP representative. That’s no deterrent for Congressmen. “We were discussing who should contest the seats of Phulpur and Allahabad. The Congress workers thought that the Phulpur seat has belonged to the Nehru family for decades. We unanimously agreed that Priyanka Gandhi should contest from the seat,” said Abhay Awasthi, district Congress president from Allahabad. Other local party leaders were also vying to make this request, so that they could draw the required attention from the highest quarters. One might wonder whether the Allahabad Congress leaders had not heard spokesperson Ajay Maken’s stern condemnation of media reports that Priyanka was to enter Congress’s active politics.
In fact, there had been a surprisingly strong reaction from Maken and then the very next day the Allahabad district unit passed its resolution, leading many to wonder whether Priyanka’s name was being floated as a trial balloon, perhaps a slightly premature one. The Congress officially denied it on day one, but then kept it afloat the next day. Maken spoke of a BJP conspiracy to distract the nation from the Datia tragedy, maybe he would find a parallel in the BJP. The Bihar BJP unit had passed a resolution to name Narendra Modi as Prime Ministerial candidate, the party denied it and Rajnath Singh talked tough to the Bihar unit, but the end result is for everyone to see. It suits the Congress to keep Priyanka’s name afloat, unofficially, and assess the public opinion, as also to gradually prepare the momentum for her to be the saviour.
But then Priyanka was part of Plan B for the Congress, to be fielded if and when Rahul failed completely. How and why should Congress put Plan B into practice when Plan A was already in progress? The answer to it would lie only with Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka, and nobody else in the Congress. One of the reasons why Maken reacted so strongly to the initial news report was that it gave the whiff of a Rahul versus Priyanka tilt. Any official confirmation or letting that version stay afloat had another, simpler connotation — that Priyanka was being pushed because Rahul had not lived up to the expectations. Also, her official arrival on the scene would disturb the chain of command. Congress workers in any case prefer Priyanka to Rahul. She has so far played the perfect daughter and sister, playing a rival or alternative power centre may have unhealthy implications for the Congress.
An equally dangerous position would be the hypothetical situation of the combined might of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka failing to stop the Congress’s decline after 10 years of incumbency. If all their hard work make doesn’t stop Modi, then what happens to the Gandhi family charisma, something so vital for the very existence of the Congress party? Dynasty needs charisma in perpetuity to survive. Then there are other factors – will Sonia Gandhi contest these elections from Raebareilly? If she does not, who does, Rahul or Priyanka? Will one of the Gandhis opt for a southern destination also? Priyanka is surely devoting much more time after she faced a total rout of her party, zero seats in Raebareilly and two in Amethi in the 2012 UP Assembly elections. This was after she stayed and campaigned for 10 days in Raebareilly alone, addressing small corner meetings. But neither were a number the Congress workers impressed nor the electorate. Robert Vadra had made a brief appearance too. Since then, Vadra has hit the headlines with what BJP calls Damadgate.
With Modi’s unpredictable and aggressive campaign style, the first family of the Congress would like to wait for some more time before formally launching Priyanka into the political arena for a bout. Till then, they would like to relish the debate on Priyanka, to be or not to be.