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Congress' Double-Engine Vipaksh!

June 20, 2024 12:27 IST
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In the event that like in the 17th Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi again gets locked out of the House, the Congress needs a second-in-command who will keep the momentum going inside Parliament, notes Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

IMAGE: Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and MP Rahul Gandhi being garlanded during a public meeting in Raebareli, June 11, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

For the last 20 years it was always a question of when Priyanka Gandhi will enter politics, not if.

And at least early in this period, the consensus was that Priyanka was a more worthy candidate to inherit the family's political mantle.

But with Rahul Gandhi taking the pole position in the party's affairs, it did seem for some time that India's first political dynasty was following the Hindu primogeniture principle.

Priyanka too preferred to play a guest role in the party's affairs, being there and yet not being fully there. Her involvement in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections was a pointer of her seriousness, even if did not produce much results on the ground.

With Rahul Gandhi contesting from and winning Wayanad and Raebareli Lok Sabha seats, it was obvious that the only way the Congress could sacrifice one seat, as the law demanded, and not antagonise the voters was for Priyanka Gandhi to replace her brother. Fielding a family loyalist may have worked in Amethi, but it sure won't in Kerala.

With the announcement that Priyanka would contest her first election from Wayanad, the interesting point is that if she wins, it will be the first time that the Congress has formalised a succession plan between two siblings.


Jawaharlal Nehru had no such problems as he had only one child; Indira Gandhi chose one son as her political heir, and it was only after Fate's cruel intervention that she managed to persuade Rajiv Gandhi to take up the mantle.

It seemed unlikely that both his children will enter politics at the same time, but the exigencies of the times, when the Bharatiya Janata Party seems vulnerable for the first time in 10 years, clearly was a clincher.

Does it mean that Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge's job is in danger?

Not immediately, but potentially the party post may devolve on either of the siblings - which in all probability will be Priyanka.

Has she earned her political spurs?

In taking the decision, the Congress leadership has no doubt gone by the electoral outcome in both Amethi and Raebareli whose campaigns were managed by her.

Indira Gandhi turned the party into a family enterprise, believing that it was their duty and responsibility to lead and guide it. And the nation through the party.

For some time early in his career Rahul Gandhi spoke against entitlement and privilege that came with birth but clearly, like his grandmother and mother before him, he too realised somewhere down the line that the family was the glue that held the Congress party together, while at the same time it was the Congress party that gave the family its raison d'etre as well.

But the task is two-fold, or at least was.

One was to lead the political party; the other was to lead the nation.

Indira Gandhi, beset with disloyal aides, kept both jobs with her, as did her son.

Sonia Gandhi, perhaps realising her limitations, chose a loyalist with no base for the top job, keeping the party with her, because she could afford to do so. She also had the right candidate in Dr Manmohan Singh.

In Rahul Gandhi's case, there is no one with who he can similarly share the burden. There is no dearth of claimants for both the jobs, but no one who can be trusted to not strike out on their own.

With Priyanka, there is no such fear.

But why do it all now?

IMAGE: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra with Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, General Secretary (Organisation) K C Venugopal and Rahul Gandhi on his 54th birthday at AICC HQ in New Delhi, June 19, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The decision on Priyanka's political entry was a foregone one, the only factor that remained to be finalised was the when.

Amethi was a viable option for her political entry, but the family did not want it to descend into a Smriti Irani versus Priyanka Gandhi affair so the decision was put on hold.

With Sonia Gandhi's shift to the Rajya Sabha the Raebareli seat was falling vacant, and that was when the grand plan to field Rahul Gandhi from two seats took shape.

While Wayanad always seemed winnable, the UP seat was iffy, given the BJP's vice-like grip over the state in the past.

If Rahul Gandhi nevertheless won from Raebareli, it was decided, he would keep that seat and give up Wayanad, and Priyanka would be fielded from there.

That would serve two purposes: Soothe any frayed feathers over Rahul Gandhi giving up Wayanad, and also bring her firmly into the political reckoning.

The decision also became imminent because the Congress firmly believed that the Narendra Modi government will not last till 2029 and will be brought down by its allies.

The party doesn't want to be caught wanting when, not if, that happens, and hence the elaborate plan to have Rahul Gandhi contest from two seats, give up one, and bring her in as a replacement.

IMAGE: Priyanka Gandhi offers her brother cake. Photograph: ANI Photo

For the BJP under Modi, unaccustomed to dealing with the Congress as the Leader of the Opposition, it will be strange to encounter a combative party in Parliament.

Together with the rest of the Opposition, the Modi government faces the real possibility of being cowed down in Parliament, necessitating a constant monitoring of its parliamentary presence lest any important discussion with vote or legislation leads to an embarrassment.

It is here that Priyanka's presence in Parliament becomes important.

In the event that like in the 17th Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi again gets locked out of the House, the party needs a second-in-command who will keep the momentum going inside.

It is actually a leaf off the BJP's book.

For the last 10 years we have been seeing the party go to town over the advantages of a double-engine sarkar, where the Centre and the states are ruled by the same party.

Now it is, in a sense, being paid back in similar coin.

Ra-Pri may not have the same ring about it as Mo-Sha, but the Opposition party has taken a leaf from its arch-rival's book and put in place a dual leadership.

In other words, a double-engine vipaksh!

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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