Prince Wakes Up, as Prashant props Priyanka for his turf
The national debate that followed over the Prince sleeping had brought out most innovative explanations. The most ingenuous was that Rahulji was concentrating on the debate. More logical explanation was that after being out in the seething heat, the air-conditioned chamber would be such relief that anyone will feel sleepy.
Accepted this reasoning but why be inactive and silent after ‘waking up’? Well Rahul may not be a leader material but manner in which Priyanka Gandhi was foisted and he kept out, albeit most subtly, he must have been hurt. If then he is not involving himself in any political activity, it is not surprising.
It has been known for a long time that Rahul is matriarch’s choice for party leadership and prime ministership. In fact ever since he became active in politics he has been treated as de facto prime minister, sitting on the top table along with Dr Manmohan Singh and other dignitaries. Sonia Gandhi persisted with him as chief campaigner despite losing in state after state. But things seem to have changed with UP elections due early next year. It is too important, for the outcome there will decide the relevance of the Dynasty and whether the party will have any future. This is why Prashant Kishore, supposedly a wizard at winning losing electoral battles insisted on bringing in Priyanka to campaign for the party in the state. And a Brahmin face for chief minister, and hence Sheila Dikshit.
But now murmurs are being heard that speculation is on as to who will call the ultimate shot, Priyanka or Rahul. Who will decide on the distribution of tickets? If Kishore has his way he would like that Priyanka has the final say, she is a better judge and will not depend on a computer. Rahul has apparently endorsed Sheila Dikshit as the party’s chief ministerial candidate, albeit reluctantly, for personally he would have preferred a younger face, someone like Jitin Prasada or Rajeshpati Tripathi.
There is, however, keenness between the siblings that in public perception they should not be seen having differences. Priyanka’s argument that Dikshit will attract media attention was the trump card. That she is bahu of the state will not cut much ice.
However, off-shoot of Dikshit’s selection has caused ripples. In a no holds barred attack on the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president Ajay Maken by his colleague and former CM’s son Sandeep Dikshit, said a columnist, not just a result of a long standing rivalry between the two leaders as a senior functionary of the party attempted to portray in order to play down the episode. “In fact, it is a well measured move by Sandeep to gauge whether Maken has the full backing of Rahul Gandhi in view of the changing political scenario, where his mother has been resurrected in the organisation “Without bringing his name to the fore, Sandeep has accused Maken of trivialising his mother’s contribution. Speaking about his options, he wrote in a blog, The Delhi Congress presents a difficult picture to me. It is led by a person who has consistently and directly attacked Sheila Dikshit, with his stories, innuendoes and defamatory propaganda—when such a person is rewarded and placed at the helm of affairs of Delhi Congress, where does that leave any space for me to graze in?
“Maken has as yet not reacted to the vicious assault on him, but it is very much likely that Sandeep would shortly be sent a notice by the high command to explain his conduct and for washing dirty linen in public. The only way Maken can survive this attack is if Rahul, directly or indirectly, supports him strongly. Some veterans have been saying that while family will keep a tight lid on any differences, the choice of Dikshit could bring out problems between the siblings in public. And as to whom will Sonia bat for, son or daughter?”
Sources said that Priyanka has a soft corner for the Dikshits, which has been nurtured over a span of time by various political aides including Pawan Khera, former adviser to the Delhi Chief Minister. On the other hand, Maken’s rise is due to the patronage he has received from Rahul.
Rahul’s silence could also be attributed to the known desire of the `rank and file that Priyanka should lead the party. It means they have no confidence in him, as he has been a failure; yet Sonia would wish Rahul to lead the Party against Narendra Modi in 2019 general election. She is keen that Rahul should take over the leadership as early as possible. Various media groups in UP are currently engaged in pitting the Gandhis against each other, without realising that if Rahul in their perception has failed to deliver, Priyanka too has yet to prove herself as public figure in the political scenario.
Priyanka does remind the people of her grandmother Indira Gandhi, Rahul is viewed as Sonia’s son, who is the longest ever serving party president having held this post for over 18 years. In the last couple of months, Priyanka has provided indications of her growing interest in politics and insiders believe that she would be now contesting the next Parliamentary polls not from Rae Bareli, as was the original plan, but from Amethi. Rahul would move to Rae Bareli, which has been the constituency of his mother and grandparents—Feroze and Indira Gandhi. But Priyanka also reminds of her husband Robert Vadra, the inquiries against whom are now in full swing.
The question is how many of 65 per cent of young voter has the kind of fond admiration for Indira Gandhi we have had. How many voters are anxious to be reminded of either Indira or Sonia, at this point in India’s history? Indira is too long gone, and Sonia whatever charisma she had to sway the people and the hold she had over the party are buried under avalanche of scams and corruption.
The dynastic baggage they carry is too messy and dirty and for Priyanka and Rahul its grim battle ahead in UP. 2019 is too far away. But things seemed to have been resolved. An agreement seems to have been reached after the Palace coup. The matriarch must have brokered an armistice. Under the terms of agreement it seems Rahul would go to UP as the Supreme Leader, the welcome to him would be on par of a prime minister’.For his meeting with party workers, preparations were really regal, With posters carrying the slogan of ‘27 Saal UP Behal’.
He was fully awoke during discussion on price rise, even taunting Modi calling him ARHAR Modi. Rather cheap and childish this, but one does not expect anything better from him. The pique of Rahul bared the fact that Congress is a divided house, ripping the Congress party from within. Sandeep Dikshit in his letter made the important point that a section of the Congress “is too busy
capturing the Congress, while the ‘other side’ captures India and its mindset”. While this is not open rebellion against Rahul Gandhi who has long wanted a purge of the old guard, Dikshit pulls no punches when it comes to hinting how the Delhi Congress presents a difficult picture to him. “It is led by a person who has consistently and directly attacked Sheila Dikshit, with his stories, innuendoes and defamatory propaganda.”
Dikshit blames him for preparing “a false synopsis of the CAG’s Commonwealth report, putting in fabricated charges”, and sending them to a media house even before the CAG report was published.
It is ensured by PK that decisions on political viability are taken with Priyanka Gandhi. Dikshit also wryly adds that as far as the national set-up is concerned, “I am informed that I am not particularly liked for my rebellious nature and irreverent attitude.” The other problem Rahul has is that at 47, he is still not in the league of elders nor can he claim to be icon of the youth. He failed in his own resolve to re-establish party organisations and fighting fit machinery for elections. His managerial style, and the habit of not working on weekends and losing powerful leaders with base because he just does not know the Congress culture of how to deal with state leaders who are resourceful. That is how his party lost Assam. A CWC member was quoted as saying, “Earlier Rahulji had a problem with older leaders. He wanted everything for the youth but, as he himself has aged that problem seems to have disappeared”. It was a nasty jibe at the 47-year-old, but, the sting feel was warranted. A columnist said Gandhi has used the Congress as a vehicle for several failed personal crusades such as the project of ushering in democracy in the Congress. Democracy never happened, but Gandhi outgrew the Youth Congress. Another project was to get rid of dynasts in the Congress. It was a laudable aim but, apparently Gandhi failed to see the irony in it.
Even then it was a pick and mix of dynasts. The ones he got on with were kosher; the others such as Jaganmohan Reddy, son of YS Rajasekhara Reddy, the Andhra strongman who died in a helicopter crash on September 2, 2009, and who powered the UPA to government twice, was not. Like Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam, Rahul Gandhi simply did not like him and ignored his claims, even as another dynast, Gaurav Gogoi, son of former chief minister TarunGogoi was part of the “Rahul brigade”. The new Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu, where the Congress was out of government till the Supreme Court intervened, managed an audience with Prime Minister Narendra Modi before he managed to meet Rahul busy with weekend plans’.Gandhi’s weekends often get in the way of running the Congress. This is the main problem facing strategist Prashant Kishor, who is in charge of Congress campaign in UP and Punjab. His meetings with Rahul at the Italian Centre convinced him, I am told, that he needed Priyanka Gandhi on board.
In fact, Priyanka Gandhi may not have yet taken a formal position but is taking all the decisions for the Congress in UP. Even Project Sheila Dikshit for UP was personally handled by “Priyanka Gandhi” as she’s called in the Congress. Seila Dikshit had said that she had twice declined to be the face of the party in UP citing her health to Kishor and Ghulam Nabi Azad. She had conveyed her reluctance by saying that the “party had left it too late” with its decision. Then Kishor and Azad turned to Priyanka who then stepped in and convinced the “reluctant candidate” and assured her that she would be by her side throughout the campaign. Even when Dikshit set off on the bus to flag off the campaign and returned to Delhi because of a throat infection, Priyanka called her and even offered to send over some home remedies. Dikshit was back in Kanpur the next day.
The fact that Congress has named a chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh fray has no doubt caused discomfiture to BJP president Amit Shah who is now under renewed pressure to name a face. BJP is now the only major party which has not named a CM candidate. Kishor has ensured that decisions on political viability are taken with Priyanka Gandhi. That’s perhaps the reason why Congress leaders RPN Singh and Jitin Prasada, a few UP leaders and entitled scions of the “Rahul brigade” are sulking. Kishor and Priyanka Gandhi preferred to place their faith in Dikshit and Azad, both tried and tested war horses. “Ab hamey bhojan nahi bhog bhi chahiye,” says a leader involved in the UP campaign of the strategy to get upper castes on board. Raj Babbar, who left the Samajwadi Party because of his fallout with Amar Singh, was also chosen because Singh is back with the SP. Dikshit is making all the right noises seeking alliances with all parties, especially Mayawati, with the exception of the BJP. Rahul Gandhi seemed to have decided to be the poster boy of rent-a-cause, appearing and disappearing from the stage at convenience. He seems to prefer outsiders who have recently joined the Congress and his select gang of blue bloods. This has naturally caused disaffection among veteran leaders like Ahmed Patel, Azad, Kamal Nath, P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal. Priyanka Gandhi is rectifying the balance. Rahul favourites like Mohan Prakash and CP Joshi who were called the “non performing wonders”, it is said, are out. Chidambaram, despite a string of cases filed against him and son Karti by the government was included in the Rajya Sabha list just two days before it was issued. A senior leader tells me, “We should not be sending all these lawyers to the RS, but, then Modiji has been extra kind in filing cases against the Gandhi family.” The Congress is still a family firm of the Gandhis run by a diarchy but the new power duo is Rahul and Priyanka as Sonia Gandhi is trying to step away from decision-making. It’s an interesting phase, admits a senior leader, “At least we are now out of coma and getting our political vitality back”. Rahul Gandhi, who is apparently fond of Sheila Dikshit, should read what Sandeep Dikshit has to say – it’s a cry for help from the party which he can’t afford to ignore.
Now it is accepted by the party that the defeats since early 1990s in the state have taught it some vital lessons and it is ready to rectify them. It was in the early 1990s that the Congress lost its traditional vote base in Uttar Pradesh – the Brahmins. The issues of reservation and Ram Mandir pushed the Brahmins towards the BJP initially and then briefly to the BSP when Mayawati experimented with social engineering in 2007. Losing the 11 per cent Brahmin votes proved costly for the Congress that has been unable to make its presence felt in the state for 30 years barring the lone success in the 2009 general elections.
Hence now, theCongress is manoeuvering at getting the Brahmins back into its fold. Political strategist Prashant Kishor’s push for having a Brahmin chief ministerial face finally met with success. In a clear departure from norm, the party actually announced Uma Shankar Dikshit’s daughter-in-law Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial candidate. So pressing was the need for a Brahmin CM candidate that the 78-year-old Sheila was roped in despite her reported “apprehensions” on it being too late and her age.
Sheila Dikshit :Congress’ CM candidate for the UP polls
After the exit of VP Singh from the Congress in 1987 and the formation of the Janta Dal the ground literally shifted from under the feet of the Congress. Combined with the Mandal-Kamandal phase, it affected a seismic change in Uttar Pradesh. For a state that was once its pocket borough, the Congress was reduced to a peripheral role. Three decades down the line, it is striking how the nature of politics during the Mandal-Kamandal phase that almost wiped out this national party from Uttar Pradesh is giving it hope for a resurgence of sorts this time around. The Congress believes the jolts of the early 1990s in Uttar Pradesh has taught it some vital lessons and it is ready to rectify them.
On the first day of the three-day “27 saal, UP behaal” yatra, I caught up with her in Hapur in western UP. The 60km stretch was covered by the party in over five hours. She looked a little pulled down already and was unusually irritable. Though running fever, she agreed to take some questions before heading off to Gajraula. I asked her whether her nomination was based on competence or caste. Pat came a reply, “That question should be addressed to the party, not me.” When I probed further, she told me she had been assigned a job and will do it, adding “one can’t start with apprehensions”. She may have seemed like a reluctant soldier but her last few words caught my fancy. One can’t start with apprehensions and that is perhaps why the Congress is busy convincing itself that its strategy will work.
The razing of the Babri Masjid witnessed the Muslims shifting from the Congress too and they moved towards Mulayam Singh Yadav’s political outfit Samajwadi Party formed the same year as the demolition – 1992. Many blamed the Congress government of PV Narasimha Rao at the Centre for turning a blind eye to the brewing unrest in the state in the run up to the Babri Masjid demolition. Others blamed Rajiv Gandhi for the “shilanyas” that lay the foundation for the ugly tussle. As a result, the Congress suffered with an 18 per cent Muslim population drifting away from it. So when Ghulam Nabi Azad, the new party in-charge for Uttar Pradesh tells me that “you will find all kinds of people in the bus… all religions… all castes”, the message is not lost on anyone. A Brahmin CM face combined with a credible Muslim leader could help the Congress kill the ghosts of the past. Azad looked upbeat as he spoke to us; he exuded confidence. The stress of the figuratively bumpy bus ride in western Uttar Pradesh on a hot and humid day did not show on his face. He cheerfully greeted us even as hordes of people continued to mill around him and a bunch of flies tailed us everywhere. He admitted, “There are challenges. Who is denying that? That is why we have set out on this yatra, to garner as much support as we can.”
The party tried to tap the youths when after the Hyderabad University to JNU to FTII, the anger of the students was on the boil. Vice president Rahul Gandhi has been seen siding with the students against the government. In fact, just ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections, the issue of AMU’s minority status is gaining traction. Despite it being a tricky political issue in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress has not shied away when confronted with questions but the matter is being handled delicately. So as not to upset the electoral social equations it is building up ahead of elections, the Congress through its individual leaders will be seen taking up the matter while itself not dirtying its hands. For example, Salman Khurshid has indicated that the order of the Allahabad High Court could be challenged, to which Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala replied, “An individual in this country whether he or she belongs to a political party, anybody interested in the welfare of Aligarh Muslim University, including its faculty and teachers, have full right to avail of the constitutional remedies available to them and I don’t think either the Congress or BJP will stand or can stand as an obstacle thereto.”
Keeping an eye on strengthening the upper caste vote and hoping to bring back Muslims, the Congress’ strategy is now being played out in the open. Many believe a big bang campaign started about eight months ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections is just in time. Sources say it takes about six-months to hit the peak and then it either begins to plateau or drop. Not wanting to risk the waning off of new-found support a glimpse of which was seen the day newly appointed UPCC chief Raj Babbar and Sheila Dikshit led a rally from the Lucknow airport to the Congress office in Mall Avenue, the Congress wants to gain momentum, not lose steam. Having been out of power for twenty-seven years in UP, the Congress has yet to burn midnight oil for a smooth ride.
by vijay dutt