In political circles, questions are being asked as to why Sonia Gandhi, after announcing her retirement from active politics, is seeking a re-election to the Lok Sabha from the Rae Bareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh. It is another matter that she had not withdrawn herself from day-to-day developments in her own party, even though she had handed over the reins to Rahul Gandhi. Senior Congress leaders had attempted to dispute news regarding her active participation when The Sunday Guardian had carried a story shortly after her supposed “sanyas”. In fact the declaration of the first list of nominees by the grand old party made it amply clear that she wishes to remain in the thick of action, and many in the Congress consider her to be the cementing force, given that Rahul is yet to establish himself firmly as the sole leader of the outfit, that before him has been headed by four generations of the Nehru-Gandhis.
It has been nearly five years since the Congress received the worst drubbing in a Parliamentary election, and it is apparent that not much has changed since then, except Rahul being appointed as the de-jure president of the party. Sonia’s team continues to wield considerable power, and on many occasions Rahul has to deal with a situation created either deliberately by those who do not wish him to succeed, or on account of insufficient planning and lop-sided strategy which is in evidence.
The primary recent illustration of the myopic view came to fore when during the mega rally, which coincided with the launching of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jyotiraditya Scindia as general secretaries in charge Eastern and Western Uttar Pradesh respectively, Rahul made a huge political blunder; joining in on the bonhomie with those who had come to witness the occasion, he stated that the two new appointees were going to work towards preparing the Congress for the 2022 Assembly polls.
He seemed to have been oblivious of the fact that while the party was in the process of seeking more seats for the Lok Sabha from its allies—SP and BSP, why would there be any reference to Assembly polls which both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati were desirous of eventually winning, given their immense presence in the politics of Uttar Pradesh. Obviously, the 2022 uncalled for remark did not go down well with the two leaders.
The latest Congress notification has been made in the background of fresh seat adjustment talks that have been pursued with the SP and BSP under changed circumstances, compelling the two UP partners to take a fresh look at the issues on hand. The BJP and Narendra Modi have acquired a stronger stature, post-Pulwama and the subsequent airstrikes within Pakistan, and it is only prudent that as far as possible multi-cornered contests should be avoided against the saffron brigade and its associates.
However, the surprising factor is: why, this time round, Priyanka has chosen not to contest from Rae Bareli, though speculation remains rife over her possible candidacy against Modi from Varanasi. In fact, she has disappeared from the headlines altogether, and all through the events in the aftermath of Pulwama, she is maintaining a low-key presence. Congress workers are at sea as to what could be the reason for her to take a back seat, since she could have been the trump card to remind people of what happened to Pakistan (which is the political flavour of the day) when it confronted India in 1971, during the leadership of Indira, her grandmother, with whom she bears a striking resemblance. As a consequence, on the eve of the polls, the Prime Minister is firmly in control of the political initiative and agenda.
Congress insiders believe that Sonia Gandhi has decided to have another go at electoral politics, purely because she wants to safeguard Rahul’s interests, and does not want her son to be overshadowed by her daughter, who comes across as a more charismatic personality, even though Rahul appears to be more committed of the two. The sibling rivalry is a well guarded family secret and it would remain so as long as Sonia Gandhi is there.
Those familiar with the working of the Congress are aware of the fact that while Rahul has complete independence to make crucial decisions, it is Sonia Gandhi alone who has the authority to overrule him when the situation demands. It is her team that continues to flourish in the background, providing key inputs, which the president on many occasions, has not concurred with.
The primary reason for her to continue being rooted in politics is that the overall political situation remains fluid, and several opposition allies do not have faith in Rahul’s abilities, and therefore are unprepared to accept his political instincts and acumen. They are more comfortable with Sonia Gandhi and trust her to deliver on the promises. Thus whenever any negotiations take place for either seat adjustment or alliance, they prefer to engage with her and believe her word above anybody else’s.
Sonia Gandhi may also want to turn the situation in her favour at Rae Bareli, and adjoining Amethi, by stating that this would be her last Lok Sabha polls, and hence people should vote for the Congress. She knows that it is important to be in Parliament to remain relevant. However, the stakes are very high for her party. If the Congress falters now, it could well be even Rahul’s last election as leader. Between us.