Thirty one years after she was assassinated, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is once again being used by the Congress party to resurrect its sagging fortunes. Fully aware that it was her legacy that brought them to power, both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have chosen to revive her memory to inspire party cadres all over the country. Strangely, Indira, whose pictures were part of half page advertisements placed by the Congress on her death anniversary on 31 October and birth anniversary on 19 November had been virtually forgotten by the party while it was in power. The supreme irony is that the decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh, for which the Congress paid a heavy price in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, was contrary to the views of India’s most iconic Prime Minister, who was arguably also the greatest mass leader of the last century.
It is also a kind of paradox that Indira’s posters and hoardings were put up all over the capital this week by even Youth Congress activists, many of whom must not have been even born when she was martyred. Several top leaders who enjoy the backing of the high command, such as Jairam Ramesh have been reiterating that the time was over for the old guard of the party, when what appears to be is that the time is over for the party itself. The Bihar victory can under no stretch of imagination be attributed to Congress leaders, as the fact is that it was on account of both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav.
The irony is that by once again falling back on the charismatic aura of Indira Gandhi, the current bosses of the grand old party have thus conceded that their own magnetism was nowhere in the fore and therefore the requirement for Indira’s magic.
The second reason for Indira Gandhi getting renewed attention after such a lapse of time is because of the Chinese whispers within the organisation that if the leadership had to be from within the family, it should be then given to Priyanka. The total rejection of the Congress in the Parliamentary poll was in a way also unacceptance of both Sonia and Rahul. And that leaves out Priyanka from within the family, though she too has her limitations particularly with the opponents constantly targeting her husband Robert Vadra for alleged irregularities.
The demand for Priyanka got reignited after the revelations of Makhan Lal Fotedar, Indira Gandhi’s closest aide and political secretary in his book, The Chinar Leaves last month that the former Prime Minister had favoured her granddaughter’s entry into politics, rather than that of her grandson. The book had also brought out how Indira’s legacy and views had been ignored and how she had been given a quiet political burial by the party in the last few decades. The use of political idiom had been altered in totality, morphing the Congress from a secular party to a minority obsessed organisation. However, for the rank and file, Indira represented the soul of the Congress.
Therefore, Rahul Gandhi’s outburst on his grandmother’s birth anniversary was part of a well calculated strategy. First and foremost, it was to reclaim Indira’s legacy and reposition himself as the sole challenger to the Prime Minister in the next Parliamentary poll in 2019.
There has been intense speculation after the Bihar Assembly results that Nitish would be the face of the “secular” forces to take on Narendra Modi, but Rahul has made it clear that it is premature to come to this conclusion, as he by no means has given up his attempt to bring his party back to power.
By openly throwing the gauntlet at Modi and daring him to arrest him if he had committed any wrong, Rahul openly ridiculed both the Prime Minister’s associates as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). How Modi would react to this defiance is to be seen given that serious charges are being levelled against the Congress leadership in the National Herald case and most recently over his alleged declaration of being a British citizen. Those close to Rahul have advised him that this was his chance to seize the initiative and put the Prime Minister on the back foot, especially when the BJP is trying to cope with the revolt from its senior members such as L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. His aggression may be in full public view during the winter session of Parliament.
Rahul appears to have changed his style of functioning, which is evident from the respect being accorded to some of the senior functionaries with whom he has been regularly interacting of late. In Punjab, he has exhibited political maturity by accepting that Captain Amarinder Singh is perhaps the only sure bet to reclaim power and his nominee Partap Singh Bajwa has to give way for the change at the top. The Congress vice president has become more conciliatory in his approach and is trying to be inclusive, sensing that the old guard had the potential and the guile to rebel if not treated with the requisite decorum. The challenge is to keep the flock together, at least till the time he takes over from Sonia.