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Which face of Indira Gandhi will Priyanka now adopt?

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in New Delhi
Published : Feb 6, 2019, 2:31 am IST
Updated : Feb 6, 2019, 2:31 am IST

As Congress president in 1959, her granny torpedoed India’s first elected Marxist government in Kerala

Priyanka Gandhi
 Priyanka Gandhi

Priyanka Gandhi carries her Nehru-Gandhi pedigree with ease. And going by her whistlestop meetings in her mother’s parliamentary constit-uency in eastern UP and Karnat-aka over the years, she is an articulate communicator too. However, her zealous supporters in the Congress and the media are likening her to her grandmother — the late former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She shouldn’t fall for that.

No less an intellectual giant than Jawaharlal Nehru groomed his daughter in politics, and also taught her critical nuances of history from prison. And we don’t really know much about Priyanka’s intellectual prowess or her ideological preferences. There are numerous other inconsistencies in the Indira analogy, including the political context that created the two women in different time zones. Besides, which face of the late Mrs Gandhi does Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wish to embrace?

As Congress president in 1959, her granny torpedoed India’s first elected Marxist government in Kerala. Within eight years of baring her fangs, however, she became Prime Minister by aligning with the Left to boot out the right wing from her party. Today, the right wing has regrouped. Their calibrated sloppiness may have lost the Congress the states of Goa and Manipur, where it had emerged as the leading party in elections.

Subverting a winning alliance with dalit leader Mayawati in Madhya Pradesh followed. And now, Priyanka Gandhi has been dispatched to India’s most politically critical state to take on an alliance of two of the most powerful anti-Narendra Modi parties. The coalition of low caste farmers of Samajwadi Party and the BSP of dalits, with strong Muslim support, recently sent shockwaves to the ruling party’s rank and file by defeating BJP candidates in parliamentary seats vacated by UP CM Yogi Adityanath and his deputy.

Rahul Gandhi wants Priyanka to take charge of eastern UP, where Amethi and Rae Bareli are located — her brother’s and mother’s seats. He also wants his sister to restore the Congress’ rule in Uttar Pradesh. That would only be possible by tearing into SP-BSP’s control of over 50 per cent votes in UP where the Congress is hovering at a single-digit mark.

Indira Gandhi was surrounded by progressive advisers like A.N. Haksar and Mohan Kumaramangalam, and there can’t be any doubt that they would be revolted at the thought of Nehru’s party promising to sell refined cow urine in its recent election manifesto, competing with rather than challenging the right-wing rhetoric. Indira Gandhi was accused in her post-Emergency return to have indulged Hindu gurus. Bereft of sage counsel she waded into the Golden Temple crisis on parochial advice, and she paid for the blunder with her life. Her son, Priyanka’s father, became a tame witness to the pogroms of Sikhs that followed in Delhi and elsewhere, with the connivance of the police. Now Rahul has appointed a person as chief minister in Madhya Pradesh whose name figures in Sikh narratives as an instigator of mob violence to avenge Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

It is true that Priyanka’s mother tried to keep the humane, caring spirit of the party alive by presiding over a left-leaning advisory council she set up as a foil to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s free-market reforms. But she is reportedly ill and there is speculation that she may leave her Rae Bareli constituency for Priyanka to contest from.

Indira Gandhi nationalised the privately-owned usurious banks and put their owners on notice. It was only when the Left parted company over the Emergency that she became vulnerable to advisers who became corporate influence-peddlers. Now the business tycoons have got back the banks they were vacated from. They have siphoned away billions in an Indian version of a bank heist in the Wild West.

Compared to the SP of low-caste farmers and the BSP of the erstwhile “untouchables” controlling crucial avenues of politics, Priya-nka shines as a middle-class icon, more presentable than any of her real or contrived opponents. But there is the opposite lesson she might also learn. Struggling to identify the principal quarry in the May elections is not the Congress party’s problem alone. In West Bengal, the Left Front has declared CM Mamata Banerjee as much of a threat to secular democracy as the BJP. There have been reports that the communists are linking up with the Congress to defeat Mamata Banerjee, who is also a key target of the BJP.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: priyanka gandhi, indira gandhi