COMMENT / POLITICS
By Prem Chandran
WITH PRIYANKA GANDHI taking a direct plunge in politics, she carries with her a twin-edged weapon. On the one side, it might hurt Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is aiming for a second term; and on the other, it directly or indirectly targets her brother who now lords over the Congress party and has demonstrated an interest to be the next PM. From the hour the announcement was made by the party on Wednesday, a fresh question mark has risen over the possibility of Rahul Gandhi becoming the next prime minister.
For the Congress party, here now is a do-or-die battle, the party of late having weathered the bad times since its loss of power in 2014, and having put Narendra Modi on the defensive on many counts in quick succession. Priyanka’s entry to leadership is seen as a master-stroke by the party; a Brahmastra – the last yet most potent refuge for victory. Therein lies the problem too; if this weapon fails, disaster is in store for the tricolour party.
A cocktail of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka, as is now the case, would be something more than what the BJP or Modi had bargained for. With a sense of perfect timing and show of unity, the three leading lights of the Nehru family are throwing their hat into the political ring with a new sense of purpose; seeking collectively to halt what seemed in recent years to be a saffron surge. By May, the world will know how potent this medicine was for the revival of the Grand Old Party, and how much it could collectively harm the BJP and deflate Modi’s ego.
But, by a stretch of one’s imagination, the future political situation could now transform in curious ways. A safe guess is that once Priyanka Gandhi enters the ring and leads the party’s campaign in eastern Uttar Pradesh, this could just be the start. The post of general secretary is next only to that of the party president, even as there are a string of general secretaries. Among them, Priyanka Gandhi would be the most powerful. Her word will now be next only to that of her brother. In eastern UP, where her political coronation takes place first, she could draw more crowds than, say, her brother or even the Prime Minister. After all, she’s new stuff; refreshingly new. In democracies like India, it’s passion that guides politics; not reason. But, a Damocles’ Wall hangs over her head – in the form of her husband Robert Vadra, India’s most controversial realtor with a questionable reputation. But, does India’s poor – who form the bulk of the electorate – care for such slanging matches when they head to the polling booths? Very unlikely, though BJP is set to make a big hue and cry over the Vadra-link.
Chances are that, across India, Priyanka Gandhi would emerge as the star campaigner for the Opposition, and her impact on the electorate could be more than that of her half-enthused brother, her mother, and of a tried, tested, tired and “failed” Modi. New to politics, she has all the energy to fight her way up, and inch by inch. That she had not opened her mouth is guarantee that the people would want to listen to her. Even her silence could be pregnant with meaning; and her pause could hold the viewers in awe. For, Priyanka Gandhi could electrify her audience with her feminine charm alone. India promises as much. If she emerged a good speaker, the better for her popularity.
India’s poor, fed on a regular diet of hope and one rupee rice packaged in Nehruvian socialism, are happy with what they got and what they are. Hail them for their lack of ambitions; unlike the relatively well-heeled whose life is hell if only for the greed they possess – greed for pelf, positions and power. India’s poor, transported to meeting venues in truckloads by rival political formations season after season, might now latch on to the Priyanka bandwagon with renewed interest. Cast in the Indira mould, she would take to the masses like a duck to water.
Granted that this happens, and the UPA wins the next LS polls, a likely scenario could be that Priyanka Gandhi becomes the Prime Minister and Rahul Gandhi continues to lead the party from the front, as he does now; and Sonia Gandhi remains at the head of the UPA. Here could be a perfect synergy of the Nehru family legacy. In other words, the family that led the nation for six of the seven decades after Independence, and yet experienced a near-total wipe-out from power across India, might now breathe easy and ride its way back to the pinnacle of power. Never mind, if the family’s long years of rule had made the rich Indians richer and the poor folks poorer, as a recent Oxfam report had noted.
On the other side, look at the chaotic state of affairs in the BJP camp. The numbness with which it received the news of three party stalwarts addressing a rally held by Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata the other day is proof that the party led by the Modi-Shah combine has lost its nerve. Narendra Modi himself is caught napping, a poor shadow of his former self. For a change, Amit Shah was ailing for days, like several other senior BJP stalwarts. And so is Arun Jaitley at the precise hour when he should have been presenting the Budget. Sushma Swaraj is not in the best of health. The one who has trimmed himself and is projecting his strengths is Nitin Gadkari, who is getting the Shiv Sena support to be the next PM. The present scenario is tailor-made for major upsets for the BJP. If Modi loses power, question is whether he would return to Varanasi or to Van-vas.
No one had thought the powerful Modi aura would dissipate so soon and with such a force. The drubbing the BJP got in three Hindi states was preceded by danger signals emanating from Gujarat and Karnataka. It showed the Modi Magic was packaged and marketed with a clear expiry date. Yet, Modi failed to see the writing on the wall. He kept looking at himself in the mirror, failing to act in ways as to retain his base. The Opposition is cornering him on different issues, most notably in the ham-handed way he introduced the Demonetisation in November 2016, the upheavals in the market following introduction of GST – which has its good sides but would take time to show the results – and topping it with the allegations about the Rafale fighter jet deal. Notably, some of his own party stalwarts are now ganging up against him. Disgruntled old guards like Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha and Arun Shourie, who had all been kept under a tight leash by Modi for the past five years, are now putting Modi on notice. After all, what did they get from Modi? Did it mean much if Yashwant Sinha’s son was made a minister? What of the father, per se? In reality, Modi kept them in the doghouse, just as he did with other veterans like LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi – who found themselves in the Margdarshak Mandal that turned out to be a damp squib.
Chances of the BJP winning a clear majority in the Lok Sabha yet again are nearest to impossible. Nothing hints at such a victory for Modi again, also as he has squandered people’s faith the first time he got it. He scratched the surface of India and left it without much harm, true, but he also failed to rein in the divisive forces stalling India’s progress – including the rootless, foot-in-the-mouth leftists operating from Delhi with sole support from the English media. They had the upper hand in making noises because Modi failed to take the upper hand. As a leader, the PM was found wanting; he failed to assert. Unbridled activism happens where and when the leadership is weak-kneed.
Modi did good things; but he didn’t do enough to catch the fancy of the people. He demonstrated a lack of fighting spirit. Speeches by themselves made little difference. When he was pilloried from all sides, he sat back and watched the scene with characteristic calm. Now, with clouds gathering in the horizon from all sides, the best that Modi can hope for is to re-emerge as PM with his alliance partners and other leaders in the refashioned alliance calling all the shots. The famed 56-inch chest could now be used better for chest-beating.
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