The Cong is hoping that the gambit of putting her in a Central role will hold out some hope of reviving the party
There may be a host of recommendations for the Congress to revive itself and capitalise on its pan-India matrix as a cohesive Opposition force. But there’s nobody to accept them. There may be umpteen calls to restore inner-party democracy by holding organisational elections and choosing capable leaders and its president based on cadre choices. But there’s nobody to “bell the cat” as one of its own self-deprecating leaders said. There may be articulate and activist young leaders, who have sought to shine their light for a 2.0 recast but have been fobbed off by old hawks who fear their irrelevance, even if that applies to holding on to the crumbs of a fast disintegrating party. There may be seasoned leaders with wise words of wisdom that run in different directions, justifying them as inner party democratic dialogues although the world sees them as terrible infighting. There’s the old matriarch, who is still keeping it together, the Gandhi tag the party’s brand adhesive that’s as scapegoating for party leaders in failure as grandstanding in success. But Sonia Gandhi doesn’t know how to pass it on to her offspring. Reconciling some issues and the generational divide, infusing fresh breath energy with his band of followers was son Rahul, reluctant yet stubborn, a cocktail that’s more implosive than explosive. Then there is Priyanka Gandhi, the more willing and capable scion with some strike capabilities, who could have been the galvaniser had not her brahmastra potential been wasted by benching her. So the Congress is tempted to play its last family card to mend the party by assigning her a Central role now rather than waiting for the next round of parliamentary elections. As 51 Rajya Sabha seats will be falling vacant in April, of which eight are from the three party-ruled States, there’s a growing clamour to elect her to the Rajya Sabha.
Can this reset the Congress’ narrative indeed? On the face of it, she has not been able to sway the Lok Sabha verdict even though she was made party general-secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP). In fact, the Gandhis lost the home bastion of Amethi, too. Beyond some crowd-pleasing speeches, dramatic optics with the boatmen of Varanasi and campaign colour, Priyanka was compromised by an organisational matrix that had been floundering in the face of the BJP’s phalanx. She herself admitted as much. And although she is probably the only politician other than Modi who can produce a mass resonance, she has two handicaps — the people’s rejection of the politics of entitlement and a disconnect with the grassroots. Which is why one must credit her with not abandoning UP even after the Lok Sabha debacle while her brother chose exile. She worked the ground unlike her brother, who chose to be a disembodied conscience. She has been taking up the cudgels on behalf of the dispossessed tribals in Sonbhadra, praying with Dalits and has been visiting the anti-citizenship law protesters at the receiving end of police brutality. She has also been articulating her positions on national issues rather vociferously on social media. There is a rooted realism to her brother’s exalted escapism, one that is now translating into huge crowd turnouts at her roadshow to the utter discomfort of caste-based parties, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Not only has she lived down her tag, her political sensibilities are primed and she has based herself in Lucknow with diligence of purpose. But the real problem is how she negotiates the tricky territory between her and Rahul camp followers and obviates criticism that by getting elected to the Rajya Sabha, the Gandhis would ensure family representation in each House and were just living out their timelines as legislators. But Priyanka could make herself heard that much more nationally as a parliamentarian and counter the BJP’s oratory and propaganda. Comparisons are being drawn about how her grandmother Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1966 as a Rajya Sabha member. However, the context was different as Indira had the Congress as the dominant political party ruling in most States and at the Centre. That position has been wrested by the BJP today, leaving Priyanka with virtually no enablers. She has a classic glass cliff situation; she could emerge in her own right if she manages to bring the Congress out of the ventilator or she could be condemned for inefficiencies if she fails. Besides, she has a better connect with and a sensibility to deal with both senior and junior leaders, who are claiming fiefdoms of importance and fighting each other, be it Milind Deora, Ajay Maken, Pawan Khera, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Kamal Nath or Jyotiraditya Scindia. She could still be the balancer and end the confusion at least. But how would she avoid her Achilles’ heel, businessman-husband Robert Vadra, who is entangled in vigilance probes? If she manages the political dissociation from personal, perhaps she could still get the party back on keel.
(Courtesy: Editorial – The Pioneer)