If Transition of Daughter into Political Leader is to Go By, History Will Soon Repeat Itself - The New Indian Express

If Transition of Daughter into Political Leader is to Go By, History Will Soon Repeat Itself

Published: 04th May 2014 07:15 AM

Last Updated: 04th May 2014 08:05 AM

History’s predilection is to repeat itself. But in case of the Gandhis, a rerun at very short intervals is the norm. Verdict-2014 is not just a skirmish between Narendra Modi and the Gandhis. It is a fight for survival for the Gandhi Parivar, which is now pitched against a United Sangh Parivar. On test are the political pull, power and charisma of the ruling clan. The piercingly piquant Priyanka, the relentlessly roaring Rahul and the sanguine strategist Sonia are fighting a last ditch battle to retain their identity and authority over the 120-year-old Congress. Sonia delivered the power, Rahul took over the organisation, and now Priyanka is determined to change the political discourse by turning the Lok Sabha battle into a furious fracas of Gandhis vs Modi. As Sonia voluntarily and tentatively begins her journey into the political sunset, she has left it to the Gandhi siblings to either swim or sink in the political whirlpool. Priyanka is neither a candidate nor officebearer. She has confined her campaign to 200 km of the dynasty’s topography, covering less than half-a-dozen constituencies. But when she speaks, her voice is heard all over India and provokes even a puissant PM candidate and his party to sit up and take note. Mrs Gandhi Jr has little political experience, and few achievements to showcase. Her password to fame is her surname—Gandhi. For the past 10 years, she has been talking about local issues. But now she speaks on national issues with authority. She invokes her pedigree by saying “I am Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter. My father gave his life for the country and cannot be compared with anyone.” It was political retort to Modi’s claim that Priyanka is like his daughter. It was evident that the Gandhi daughter has taken upon herself to deal with Modi, who has been targeting mother Sonia, brother Rahul and husband Robert Vadra for the past six months. Modi and BJP leadership have hardly castigated scam-ridden Manmohan Singh’s stupor and slide. Their target has been the Gandhis. BJP is aware that this election is perhaps the last chance to explode the Gandhi myth. Once their influence is diminished, the Gandhis will be reduced to being Minimum Leaders, which will in turn lead to disintegration of Congress. The Gandhis are the only source of blood and oxygen for the Congress. Their pedigree has kept the party going for over a decade.

But historically, only one member of the family has been responsible for the rise and fall of the party before. When Congress was in trouble in 1967, it was left to Indira Gandhi to win the elections. Two years later, when the syndicate challenged her, she split the party and survived. In 1971, not only did she trounce the syndicate and created Bangladesh, but also returned to power with two-thirds majority. But she was in trouble again for rising corruption and inflation. Jayaprakash Narayan led a silent revolution against her. She imposed Emergency in 1975 and lost election in 1977.  The party was out, but Indira and her younger son Sanjay were never down. Some senior Congressmen flew the coop. But mother and son returned to power in 30 months; first by dismembering the ruling Janata Party and then by winning two-thirds majority. Sanjay’s death in 1980 and Indira’s assassination gave India its first accidental PM, Rajiv Gandhi, who won over 400 seats for Congress, with almost 50 per cent votes polled in his favour.

Rajiv also was the only Gandhi who couldn’t win a second uninterrupted mandate for the party. His government was accused of corruption, and senior ministers like V P Singh left to become challengers. In 1989, the Gandhi name was no longer an election-winning talisman. He lost to V P Singh. But Rajiv, like his mother, could pull down Singh’s government and revive the party. Unfortunately, he was killed and the reins of the party passed to a non-Gandhi for the second time. P V Narasimha Rao was chosen to head both party and government in 1991. For the next eight years, Congress ruled five years; supported others for two years and then lost badly again in 1998. Saffron replaced the tricolour. In 1998, the Gandhis realised that they have to take over the party, otherwise both the fraternity and the family would become just another chapter in India’s history. The family sponsors made sure that party boss Sitaram Kesri was ejected from 24 Akbar Road and replaced by a Gandhi—Sonia took over as AICC president; fought her first election in 1999 from Amethi, and defeated sitting BJP MP Sanjay Singh by over three lakh votes. Within the next five years, she turned the tables on opponents within and outside by springing a surprise, forging an alliance with even those who campaigned against her. With 145 seats, she not only spurned the offer of becoming PM, but also ensured that her nominee Manmohan Singh became PM. Her objective was clear. Acquire authority without responsibility and revive the Gandhi line. In 2009, Sonia won a record 206 seats, its largest tally since 1989, and brought the BJP down to 116 seats. But a weak PM, massive scams, policy paralysis, dual centres of power, Vadra’s questionable deals and an economic slowdown left the party disastrously demoralised. Most ministers, senior Congress leaders and even the PM are once again passing the buck for the party’s collapse to the Gandhis. The G-clan, however, has chosen to pick up the gauntlet. This election, which started on a positive note of development vs corruption, has been reduced to a war between dynasty and an individual. While Modi doesn’t miss a chance to attack the family, the Gandhis counter him with, “Bahut ho chuka hum par var, ab hum karenge Modi par palatvar (Enough is enough. Let Modi beware of our counter-offensive).” From media reports and opinion polls, it appears that Priyanka is fighting a losing battle. If Modi’s high-voltage publicity putsch can make a difference of 100 seats in favour of NDA, Congress leaders are confident that the First Daughter’s onslaught can save the party from sinking below the three-digit mark. In a dangerously personalised struggle, it is the future of both the dynasty and Modi that is more at stake than the destiny of India. For Congress, it’s once again a woman moment. It was led by two women for 34 years as against just five years by a man (Rajiv). Is the transition of a daughter into a political leader an omen for the future? If so, history will repeat itself sooner than later.

Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com

Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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