Could it be Priyanka in 2019?
The worst-kept secret in the AICC is that many senior members want Priyanka Gandhi to lead the Grand Old Party to revive its fortunes. But will she take the plunge?
As a pall of gloom and despair descended on the headquarters of the Congress after the Modi wave crushed India’s Grand Old Party, a motley group of “Priyanka Gandhi fans” started chanting “Bring Priyankaji, save thenation”.OnthisFriday,possibly the darkest day in the party’s history, this brief act of slogan shouting represented the boldest public expression of lack of confidence in the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. The worst-kept secret in the corridors of the office of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) is that given a choice, many occupants of the Congress’ innerchambers would happily join that chorus for Priyanka Gandhi, especially after the kind of experience they have had with Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning during the past five years, first in his capacity as an AICC general secretary and then as the vice-president-cum de facto leader. Yet, given that the Gandhis — mother, son and daughter — are an extremely close knit family, and because of Priyanka’s seeming commitment to do anything to encourage her brother’s political career, not many among the top leaders of the Congress think she would do anything that would remotely amount to encouraging regime change. Priyanka Gandhi is also extremely sensitive, according to a senior Congress leader, to any talk of sibling rivalry between her and Rahul—anysuchperceptionisrapidly squelched — so it is extremely unlikelythatshewillencouragethe clamour calling for her active participation in the party at this stage. Given the Congress is at its lowest ebb and is facing an extremely formidable rival in Modi, it may not also be wise to unleash, and exhaust, perhaps the only card – Priyanka – the Congress has at this moment. Reports that Modi has chosen to take oath as Prime Minister on May 21, the death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, has made the Congress uneasy about the sort of challenge they will be confronted with in the next five years. Already, there is a buzz in Delhi’s politicalcirclesthattheBJPregime would also keep ‘the Robert Vadra card’, in reserve as a counter to the Congress’ potential Priyanka card. “Priyankaji has taken a decision to work and campaign for the party only in Amethi and Raebareli. It is true the whole nation watched when she campaigned in these two states. But, it is entirely up to Priyankaji to decide whether she should take a more active role in theparty,”AICCGeneralSecretary Shakheel Ahamed told ET. ButmanyCongressleadersthink, Priyanka “has a natural f lair”, unlike her brother, for politics. “Priyankaji enjoys interacting with the party workers, she exudes charm, charisma and confidence unlike Rahulji who is more reserved,andwhowouldbemoreat home away from public glare,” said a CWC member. “Priyankaji has the inspiring qualities of Indiraji while Rahulji has more the innocence of Rajivji,” he added.
In fact it was Priyanka who took the initiative just before the beginning of the campaign to act as a bridge between the Congress’ seasoned leaders and Rahul Gandhi. “The bitter truth is that for many years when Rahulji should have leading the Congress charge against Modi’s challenge, unfortunately, he and the so-called Team Rahul were more busy in triggeringacivilwaragainsttheCongress
Congress insiders say Priyanka is extremely sensitive to any talk of sibling rivalry between her and Rahul, and any such perception is rapidly squelched establishment, thereby bringing complete political paralysis in the party. It was Priyankaji who stepped in to revive that co-ordination right before the beginning of the election campaign,” said another party leader.
“Soniaji made her political debut when the Congress was out of power and in trouble. She leant and established her leadership through struggle before the Congress won the polls in 2004. Rahulji made his debut when the Congress was in power and he and his team members such as Jairam Ramesh, G Mohan Gopal, Kanishk Singh and others had the liberty and luxury to carry out experiments from the cozy comfort of power. He will face the real test of leadership from now, under the Modi regime,” said an AICC functionary. Many in the Congress feel the immediate response of Team Rahul would be to put up a brave front by indicating its determination “to go ahead with organizational re-structuring and reforms”. But not many Congress leaders are optimistic about Team Rahul’s ability to deliver in Opposition what it could not do with all the trapping of power for the past five years. These leaders think, at some stage, Priyanka Gandhi will have to step in to try and save whatever is left of the “Rahul-led Congress”. Asked what role she foresees for Priyanka Gandhi in the future, Priyanka Chaturvedi, a member of ‘the Rahul brigade’ told ET, “Well, I can’t say what Priyankaji will decide in the future. It is up to her”. Asked further what she thought about the fall-out of Rahul Gandhi’s experiments within the Congress, she merely said, “well, we have to analyse the whole thing now. I think, the generational shift in the party and the challenge of facing the elections all got mixed up”. A horrible mix-up, most in the Rahul Gandhi-led party would privately say.