A guessing game is going on in the Congress as to who out of the two Gandhi siblings, Rahul or Priyanka, would ultimately call the shots given the controversial decision to have 78-year-old Sheila Dikshit as the party’s chief ministerial candidate in the country’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which has elected eight Indian Prime Ministers. Dikshit’s candidature was finalised after political strategist Prashant Kishor insisted on a Brahmin face to woo the upper caste votes and Priyanka consented to the proposal to field the former Delhi Chief Minister due to her extensive experience and high media visibility. Reluctantly, Rahul endorsed his sister’s choice, though personally he would have preferred a younger face, someone like Jitin Prasada or Rajeshpati Tripathi, party sources have maintained. Moreover, the brother and sister did not wish to give an impression in the public that they had differences on important matters, so as a consequence Dikshit got a new lease of life in the political arena despite her humiliating defeat in the Delhi Assembly polls of 2013, where she was trounced by Arvind Kejriwal by over 26,500 votes and in the process had to forfeit her deposit.
However, Dikshit’s selection has set into motion internal politics in the grand old party. Last week’s no holds barred attack on the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president Ajay Maken by his colleague and former CM’s son Sandeep Dikshit is merely not a result of a long standing rivalry between the two leaders as a senior functionary of the party attempted to portray in order to play down the episode. In fact, it is a well measured move by Sandeep to gauge whether Maken has the full backing of Rahul Gandhi in view of the changing political scenario, where his mother has been resurrected in the organisation. Without bringing his name to the fore, Sandeep has accused Maken of trivialising his mother’s contribution. Speaking about his options, he wrote in a blog, “The Delhi Congress presents a difficult picture to me. It is led by a person who has consistently and directly attacked Sheila Dikshit, with his stories, innuendoes and defamatory propaganda—when such a person is rewarded and placed at the helm of affairs of Delhi Congress, where does that leave any space for me to graze in?”
Maken, on his part, has not reacted to the vitriolic assault on him, but his supporters are confident that Sandeep would shortly be sent a notice by the high command to explain his conduct and for washing dirty linen in public. If this is not done, it would make Maken vulnerable to more attacks of this genre by party workers, some of whom have already expressed their reservations regarding his non inclusive brand of politics. Therefore, the only way Maken can survive this attack is if Rahul, directly or indirectly, supports him and thus sends a strong message of his absolute confidence in his abilities to lead the party in Delhi. So far as the flip side goes, a public reprimand for Sandeep would indicate that the Congress leadership would, under no circumstances, tolerate any act of indiscipline. This kind of action would also have long ranging ramifications for his future, including his virtual exile from the political arena of the national capital. It is not for the first time that Sandeep has been outspoken about the party’s affairs. Early last year, he took a dig at the Congress leadership for its failure to have any strategy in place in between the period of elections.
While it is a given that Rahul and Priyanka or for that matter their mother would never allow their differences to surface in the public domain, the Sandeep-Maken confrontation is a test case to determine where the family stands. Party sources said that Priyanka has a soft corner for the Dikshits, which has been nurtured over a span of time by various political aides including Pawan Khera, former adviser to the Delhi Chief Minister. On the other hand, Maken’s rise is due to the patronage he has received from Rahul. Thus Sandeep’s blog and its fallout would determine the thinking within the Gandhi household and the manner in which they address it. For the ordinary Congress worker, Priyanka would be a more acceptable leader to face the challenge from the BJP in the 2019 polls, though the party president is keen that Rahul should take over the leadership as early as possible. Various media groups in UP are currently engaged in pitting the Gandhis against each other, without realising that if Rahul in their perception has failed to deliver, Priyanka too has yet to prove herself as public figure in the political scenario. Yes it is true that Priyanka does remind the people of her grandmother Indira Gandhi, the greatest mass leader of the last century and Rahul is viewed as an extension of his mother Sonia, who is the longest ever serving party president having held this post for over 18 years. In the last couple of months, Priyanka has provided indications of her growing interest in politics and insiders believe that she would be now contesting the next Parliamentary polls not from Rae Bareli, as was the original plan, but from Amethi. Rahul would move to Rae Bareli, which has been the constituency of his mother and grandparents—Feroze and Indira Gandhi.
The Maken-Sandeep spat also reflects the state of affairs within the party where the high command seems to be losing control. Therefore, it is very essential that this impression is immediately eliminated. If this is not done, similar spats would come into the open in the faction ridden Congress. The latest altercation, thus has posed a dilemma for the high command. Between us.