It is a tragedy that while disenchantment with the leadership of Narendra Modi seems to be growing even before he is half-way through his five-year term no leader or party in the opposition appears to be in a position to rattle him. The main opposition party with an ‘all-India’ reach, the Indian National Congress, looks almost as weak as it was two years ago, thanks largely to its inept leadership.
Perhaps there is a realisation within the Congress that some urgent measures are needed if it has to stay in contention as a leading party. The rising clamour for bringing in Priyanka Gandhi Vadra indicates desperation in the party and an admission that her brother Rahul Gandhi is just not the captain to lead the Congress to winning ways.
It is, of course, still far from clear if Priyanka will indeed take the plunge and shed her reported reluctance to enter Congress politics full time. But let us assume that she does. The Congress party must surely be aware of its sorry plight and the uninspiring leadership of her brother who is prone to take frequent sabbatical, much to the delight of those who lampoon him for this.
Priyanka will have little time to show her mettle as a useful party campaigner because a few ‘crucial’ state assembly polls are not very far. In fact, campaigning for UP and Punjab has in many ways already begun even though the Election Commission is not due to announce the poll dates in the near future. If she awaits a formal announcement of the poll schedule in UP—and elsewhere—to jump into the fray she would have lost considerable ground. The other parties, notably the BJP, are already active in devising strategies to win UP, the home state of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
The BJP is desperate to regain UP where the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi have become the two main contenders. The Congress has remained a distant fourth in that politically important state. It is not going to be easy for an inexperienced person like Priyanka, despite her lineage, to take the party from the number four to number one or even number two position.
Her brother and mother are in no position to dramatically uplift the Congress fortune in UP or anywhere. Punjab is another important state which is due to hold election early next year. If the Congress is in contention and does manage to do well the credit should be going to Capt. Amridner Singh. The Congress leadership in Delhi already seems to think so as it has given a virtual carte blanche to the Patiala scion to run the Congress the way he wants. The Nehru-Gandhi family is unlikely to be considered a potent factor that can guarantee victory for the Congress in Punjab.
Those who are demanding that Priyanka become active politically have overlooked the fact that her presence on the poll stage is likely to help the BJP which has been doing its best to see that her husband Robert Vadra stays in the news for all the wrong reasons. The BJP has been rather clever about it. It knows that the cases bring brought against Robert Vadra will eventually be decided in the courts and that is a long process.
The longer the cases against Vadra linger the BJP will milk it to its advantage. It will be a handicap for Priyanka no matter what she or husband has to say about the BJP charges against them. She is seen by many Congress members as their party’s trump card, but will she really be one? If she has to devote considerable time in her public appearances to answering awkward questions about her husband she will not be an effective vote-puller.
The Congress may be too optimistic in projecting Priyanka as the main party campaigner who they imagine can wean away the sections of the youth who had fallen under the spell of Narendra Modi with his promise of a utopia and relentless attacks on the Nehru-Indira family. The disenchantment with Modi does not mean that people are flocking to the Congress when they have a wide variety of alternative choices.
The BJP continues to have the Congress as its main target even as it knows that the grand old party is no more the force it once was. The reason is simple. The other parties which can challenge the BJP are regional outfits and cannot possibly form a united group that can oust the saffron party from power. The success of the ‘grand alliance’ in the Bihar poll does not portend a rout of the BJP. It has been evident since the Bihar polls that the ‘grand alliance’ has not looked like being successfully formed in other states.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will have to have a magical wand if she or anyone thinks that she can turn around the fortunes of the Congress within a short time. Any casual political observer can tell that the Congress still looks in poor shape and will continue to be so unless it has a leadership that shows that it can fight political battles. The party needs strong leadership which the Nehru-Indira family has failed to provide. The task is difficult when sycophantic voices are encouraged to demand Rahul Gandhi’s elevation.
As an organisation the Congress has been weak; it has virtually no regional strongmen who can swing people towards it. It is widely believed that the Congress ‘high command’ does not want any regional lords to emerge as they might challenge 10 Janpath. But that strategy has not worked. The party needs to build a new cadre of leadership with wide appeal. That will take time, though it can perhaps be achieved before the next Lok Sabha poll. The problem is that if the party continues to slide till then the task of rebuilding the party will become more difficult.
The Congressmen who want to see Priyanka become actively involved in party affairs seem to think that she can become as strong a leader as her late grandmother. She may, but the times have changed. (Syndicate Features)