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The Rahul, Sonia, Priyanka show

Amberish Kathewad Diwanji in New Delhi | August 21, 2004 22:12 IST

Circa the late 1980s: Columnist Anil Dharker, then the television critic on the Sunday magazine of the Times of India, wrote a piece that simply went: "Rajiv Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi..." some 400-odd times.

The article touched a chord with the readers who were simply fed up of hearing every relevant and irrelevant detail about the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on the only channel available then, the government-run Doordarshan.

Circa 2004: If Anil Dhaker were to witness the happenings in Delhi on August 20 and 21, he'd probably write "Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi..."

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Ever since the Congress Party returned to power, led by Sonia Gandhi, the Dynasty with a capital D is back. Adding to the halo that the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty -- that has given India three prime ministers who combined have ruled India for 38 of its 57 years since Independence –- is the fact that in May 2004, Sonia Gandhi refused to become prime minister and instead nominated Manmohan Singh.

The occasions were twofold: the late Rajiv Gandhi's 60th birth anniversary on August 20, and the All-India Congress Committee session the following day.

On August 20, virtually every newspaper in Delhi carried huge advertisements with photographs of Rajiv Gandhi, released by the various ministries of the government. Banners came up all over the city and on the Parliament House premises, a statue of Rajiv Gandhi was unveiled.

 On August 21, the AICC began its session at Talkatora Stadium, not far from Parliament, and renamed for the day as 'Rajiv Gandhi Nagar'. Huge posters of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi were on display at almost every corner, interspersed on occasion with medium-sized images of Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

 There were also huge posters hailing Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, especially nearer the venue. For instance, opposite the entrance for the press were five posters of Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra. There were many banners of Rahul Gandhi too. Many posters saw a larger-than-life Rahul Gandhi sporting a 'teeka' on his forehead and reading 'Bharat ka bhavishya' (the future of India).

Also displayed in much smaller size were other notable leaders from the past: Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Subhas Chandra Bose, Dr B R Ambedkar and even Lal Bahadur Shastri, the oft-forgotten second prime minister of India.

The various roads leading to the Talkatora Stadium were all given names from the pages of history: Dr Ambedkar Dwar, Motilal Nehru Dwar, Kamala Nehru Dwar…

 But conspicuous by his absence in this pantheon of luminaries (of whom, only Ambedkar was never in the Congress party) on display was former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, the man credited for bringing economic reforms to India.
 There was not even a single photograph of Rao, who lives barely a few kilometers away, to be seen at all. His name only cropped up when Ambika Soni, a Sonia confidante and chairperson of the organising committee, read out his message to Sonia Gandhi, which said that since he was convalescing he would not be able to attend the AICC session.

 Inside the stadium, there was no doubt that the day belonged to Sonia Gandhi and her late husband, Rajiv. Every now and then cries of 'Sonia Gandhi zindabad' rent the air, especially when speakers spoke about how she sacrificed becoming prime minister of India for the greater glory of the nation.
 In fact, every speaker made it a point to refer to 'Soniaji ka tyaag' (Sonia's sacrifice). 
 Adding to the glow was the fact that the morning newspapers had all carried the report of Forbes magazine declaring Sonia Gandhi as the world's third most powerful woman, after United States National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi, but ahead of US First Lady Laura Bush and US Senator Hillary Clinton.

 Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, in her speech welcoming the delegates, pointed to the Forbes list and said that the magazine had written that it was abdication of power that had in fact made her more powerful.

 Cries were also raised that Rahul Gandhi, who was sitting on a chair below, to be accommodated on the dais where only party office-bearers, besides the prime minister and chief ministers, normally sit. Rahul Gandhi, who initially refused to move on to the stage, eventually moved up, hailed by enthusiastic Congressmen.

 Not that his modesty deterred some of the speakers who unabashedly referred to him as the future of the party and the country, thus indicating that it is only a matter of time before he is installed as party president and perhaps as prime minister some day in the not too distant future.

 Senior party leader Ahmed Patel was quite categorical about Rahul Gandhi being give a bigger role. "It is what the people of India want and what the Congress party workers want," he told the media, "He too has said he is initially keen on only doing party work and strengthening the organisation."

 So was this session held only to crown Sonia Gandhi once more? 
Not at all, insisted Congress members. "We hold a session every year, and by the rules of the Election Commission, every party has to do that," said an AICC member. "This session was to thank the voters of India for electing the Congress Party and to tell the party workers to implement the promises made in our manifesto."

 That it was held a day after Rajiv Gandhi's birth anniversary and after Sonia Gandhi had led the party to an amazing victory only underlined the importance of the Dynasty to the party.

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