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Did Sonia scuttle Priyanka's Varanasi venture?

May 01, 2019 09:40 IST

The head of the Congress's first family has never been an astute politician, points out Amulya Ganguli.

IMAGE: Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at an election campaign rally at Gursarai in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh. Photograph: PTI Photo

If the reports are true that Sonia Gandhi stopped Priyanka Vadra Gandhi from contesting the Lok Sabha election in Varanasi because she did not want her daughter to begin her political career with a defeat, then it will confirm what a confidential US embassy cable said in 2007 about the matriarch of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty -- that she never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Even if Priyanka had lost, what would have mattered was the margin of her defeat and not the defeat itself.

If the margin was narrower than the 337,000 votes between Narendra Damodardas Modi and Arvind Kejriwal five years ago, then the Congress's general secretary for eastern Uttar Pradesh could not be said to have lost face.

Instead, before the day of polling, what would have drawn attention all over the country -- and, indeed, all over the world -- was the challenge she was putting up against the most powerful candidate in India today -- politically as well as from the point of view of resources in terms of money and manpower.

Her presence in the fray would have galvanised the Congress rank and file beyond measure, breathing life into the party which would have stood it in good stead in UP and in the rest of India as well.


There is little doubt that the Modi versus Priyanka contest would have been the fight of the 2019 election.

Modi, too, despite the near certainty of his success would have had to spend a great deal of time in Varanasi at the expense of his campaigning elsewhere.

Since he is the BJP's star campaigner, his absence in other constituencies would have hurt the party's prospects.

By diving into the deep end, Priyanka's initiation into big-time politics would have been a baptism by fire, which would have been an excellent preparation for the rest of her career.

But by 'chickening out', as Arun Jaitley has rightly said, she has missed a golden opportunity.

It is not surprising that Sonia Gandhi is believed to be responsible for Priyanka's retreat from the battlefield.

The head of the Congress's first family has never been an astute politician.

Her politics has centred on playing safe, a trait which can again be discerned.

She displayed this characteristic when the India-US nuclear deal was being negotiated.

Seeing the Left's opposition to it, which she thought would endanger the Manmohan Singh government, she nearly scuttled the deal.

Her sole concern was to save the government without any thought to the remarkable step it was about to take by entering the hallowed club of nuclear powers without signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

As could be expected from an unassertive Manmohan Singh, he nearly surrendered to Sonia's suggestion to walk away from the deal by saying that it would not be the end of the world.

Sonia Gandhi also undermined the economic reforms via the National Advisory Council led by her, one of whose members, Aruna Roy, bemoaned the emphasis being placed on growth by Manmohan Singh.

It was the tussle between the NAC's 'socialism' and Manmohan Singh's reforms which led to the now infamous policy paralysis with P Chidambaram subsequently regretting the government's decision to take the foot off economic acceleration.

The ball of the reforms dropped by Manmohan Singh at Sonia Gandhi's behest was happily picked up by Modi who easily ran past the winning post, leaving the 'Socialist' Congress with 44 seats.

Sonia Gandhi's blunders of nearly thwarting the nuclear deal and of stopping the reforms in their tracks have been repeated in Priyanka's flight from Varanasi.

Sonia Gandhi may not have wanted Priyanka to begin her career with a defeat, but now she will begin her career with the reputation of an escape artist.

Amulya Ganguli writes on current affairs.