Despite Rahul’s reservations, Congress has no one else to fill the vacuum at the top.
Believe me, no other arrangement is likely to work other than handing over the Congress Party to another Gandhi scion. Otherwise, the meltdown would soon consume whatever is left of it. Scan around how Congressmen are jumping the sinking ship, clambering on the platform of parties currently enjoying a great connect with the people. BJP in most states and the TRS in Telengana. Or even YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh.
Consider the facts. Rahul Gandhi offered resignation on 25 May, two days after the spectacular poll defeat. The resignation hung in the air, with courtiers pro forma pleading he should withdraw it. A couple of days before he said his decision to quit was irrevocable yet another orchestrated show was staged with various front organisations and Congress MPs asking him to reconsider. That was on 2 July.
Since then the haemorrhaging of the Congress has further picked up. The party legislators in Karnataka, Goa, Telangana, etc., are headed for better prospects elsewhere. And as polls in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand come closer, the exodus will gather further momentum. Who can blame the leavers? With the central leadership, or whatever passes for it, in no hurry to fill the vacuum at the top, who will want to be led by a headless party immersed deep in an existentialist crisis?
Politicians are pragmatic. They will go where they see prospects of electoral success. Congress has long ceased to be a winning ticket and the way it now conducts its affairs it might seem to be headed for its complete marginalisation. Unless someone wise enough still left in the party can see and feel the painful process of slow but certain extinction, and try and reverse it. Of course, it will not be easy, but at least an effort can be made.
Having been never an admirer of the Family, I still think the only way to infuse some relevance in the Congress again and save it from further diminution, is to replace one Gandhi with another Gandhi. Without a Gandhi at its top, the party which over the years was trained to stay in a supine position, is bound to completely collapse into irrelevance. It will disintegrate fully if a member of the Family is not at its helm. And, under the circumstances, that member is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. None else. Rahul has failed and quit in frustration. Sonia Gandhi is ill and too old to shoulder the onerous responsibility of saving a drowning Congress.
The only option is to play the Priyanka card and see how it impacts the Congress fortunes. Of course, a lot will depend on the totality of political environment and, particularly, how well the BJP governments at the Centre and in the states acquit themselves in order for them to be able to retain popular goodwill. But Priyanka as Congress chief can at best revive the party’s fortunes, or, at worst, stop the daily desertions. The present drift is injurious to the Congress’ health. Lest someone around whom the courtiers’ cabal can organise itself yet again it is highly unlikely the Congress can stay in business for long. None among the ambitious leaders is willing to come forward for fear of failure and consequently the wrath of the Gandhis. Recall the plight of Pranab Mukherjee who toyed with the idea of prime ministership after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The Gandhis never trusted him again.
Happily, Priyanaka may be more than willing. First, her controversial husband, Robert Vadra, has been pressing her to take what he thinks is her rightful role as the head of the Family Firm. Remember those posters put up by his aide, Jagdish Sharma, screaming “Priyanka Lao, Congress Bachao”. Besides, Vadra believes his wife can capture the imagination of Indians and achieve what a clueless brother-in-law singularly failed to do. Remember Vadra himself harbours political ambitions, having said on more than one occasion that he would take the plunge at the “right time”. Also, her children are at that stage in their lives when they don’t require the caring presence 24×7 of a doting mother.
Two, the failure of the Congress bigwigs to find an alternative to replace Rahul nearly two months after he first offered his resignation underlines the inherent inability of durbaris to choose one among them to preside over the “durbar”. Those used to being led by their nose cannot be expected to become leaders overnight, can they? Maybe it is another form of the Stockholm Syndrome when those who have spent all their lives with bent spines are asked to walk upright. They cannot.
Three, it is notable Priyanka chose to recall what Nelson Mandela supposedly told her 20 odd years ago, asking her to join politics. Why would he say so is not clear—or was he thus unconsciously justifying his own controversial wife, Winnie Mandela’s ambition to succeed him as the leader of the ANC? Whatever the reason, Priyanka is ready to take the plunge. The hesitation has gone. Her brother has made a mess of the party.
Rahul, let it be noted, does not want her to take over the family heirloom, but given the terrible state in which he has left it, and his inability to ensure a smooth succession, he has presented her a ready-made opportunity to present herself as the saviour of the family business.
Four, whether or not it was a mere coincidence her well-publicised outing in UP on Friday, 19 July, apparently to show solidarity with the Gonds who were the victims of an ingrained aggression of the upper castes, is straight out of the book of her grandmother à la Belchi. The second time it may well be a farce, but still you cannot fault the Gandhi scion to search for relevance in a hugely altered political environment than when Indira Gandh had first launched her own political resurrection.
Five, it is not without significance that last week Vadra withdrew the application in the Delhi High Court for directions to the Enforcement Directorate not to take coercive action against him in a money-laundering case. Whether it is an altered legal strategy or some other consideration the fact remains that a stint in jail, even if on corruption charges, has never harmed someone claiming to be a victim of political vendetta. Lalu Yadav is still far more popular than his designated heir, Tejashwi, despite his long imprisonment. Vadra doing time in jail would allow his wife to garner sympathy, take the sting out of the corruption charges against her husband.
Finally, Priyanka will counter the charge of dynastic succession, justifying her ascension to the family gaddi, to fill a vacuum which no one else was ready to do. “When my brother resigned taking moral responsibility for the poll defeat, not one Congress leader came forward to lead the party… I could not bear the sight of the party bleeding, with our MLAs being lured daily by the BJP… I had to perforce step in to try and rescue this great institution and fight the rising tide of communal and fascist forces…” Amen.