The debate within the Congress on whether Priyanka Vadra should lead the party in the future has got reignited after the publication of Makhan Lal Fotedar’s political memoirs, The Chinar Leaves where he has written that it was Indira Gandhi’s wish to see her grand-daughter donning the political mantle to take the country ahead in the 21st century. Barely four days before being assassinated while on a visit to Srinagar, Indira Gandhi had a premonition about her death and visualised that Priyanka would emerge as the most acceptable leader as people would see her (Indira’s) image in her (Priyanka). She had said that once Priyanka arrived on the political centre stage, people would offer her their unflinching support. Indira, in other words, saw Priyanka as the inheritor of her legacy and indicated her clear preference for her granddaughter over her grandson, who is expected to take over the reins of the party nurtured amongst others by four generations of the Nehru-Gandhis.
However, after the mess in which the Congress finds itself in following its rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it would be difficult to imagine that any of the Gandhis would be able to play the saviour for the grand old party, whose influence has been diminishing in every successive poll. There has already been extensive talk within the party circles that a non Gandhi should head the Congress, a matter which appears to be most unlikely as things stand today, but perhaps may be possible if the fortunes of the Congress continue to be dwindling. Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi too had stated some time ago that Rajiv Gandhi saw a lot of potential in his daughter and seemed keen to see her enter politics someday.
Fotedar, who worked as the political secretary to both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, had conveyed the former Prime Minister’s desire to Sonia Gandhi through a written note dictated by Indira Gandhi herself, but the Congress president was indifferent as she had already made up her mind to promote her son Rahul instead. However, attempts to project Rahul as the party’s next leader have not fully succeeded, largely because those close to Sonia Gandhi have tried to block the transition on the ground that it was not an appropriate time for change. The real reason though is different as Sonia Gandhi’s coterie fears that once Rahul takes charge of the party, their innings would be effectively over and they would have no other option, save facing political wilderness.
So far as the rank and file of the Congress goes, there is tremendous support and affection for Priyanka, who is seen as the more charismatic of the two and thus more acceptable for mass politics. Her flair for making off the cuff statements and the confidence with which she takes on her opponents are pre-requisites for any politician wanting to make it big. However, her projection at this stage comes with immense worries for the party, since the BJP and other rivals have been constantly targeting her husband Robert Vadra, accusing him of various kinds of irregularities, though nothing has been proved against him as yet.
It is also now a known fact that there is a total agreement amongst members of the Gandhi household that Rahul would be the one who would remain in active politics and Sonia Gandhi would, at the most, ensure that he takes over the mantle from her as the next congress chief during her lifetime.
The party had recently extended Sonia Gandhi’s tenure by one year, thereby sparking speculation that she did not wish Rahul to get the blame for the impending defeats of the Congress first in Bihar and then in the Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam and Kerala next year. She would rather see Rahul as the party president once these elections are over and consequently accepting the responsibility for the poor show, thereby allowing Rahul to make a fresh start with a clean slate.
As far as Rahul goes, he may have become a butt of many jokes in political circles, yet he is putting in colossal effort in reinventing himself, particularly after his sabbatical that kept him away from the Budget Session of Parliament earlier this year. His tragedy lies in the fact that the anti Congress wave has not subsided in the country and the rank and file is least enthused by the decisions of the high command. There is a total disconnect with the grass roots, which was evident from the party’s Bihar strategy and sycophants surrounding the two top leaders continue to mislead them on political developments. The result being that the majority of the Congress workers are keeping a low profile, reluctant to participate in the need of the hour — political agitations. The top leadership has not found the required humility to apologise to them for the treatment they were meted out during the ten years of UPA rule at the Centre.
Sonia Gandhi must realise that the plight of the Congress is because of her and her advisers and not because of her son Rahul as is commonly believed. It is she who has to change. Between us.