BY SAEED NAQVI
The Gandhi family is in this battle with its back to the wall. A burst of energy at this late stage shows a sense of purpose, and deep anxiety. They are fighting for their sheer survival.
There is a tragedy in the making – both personal as well as national, on an epic scale. The grand old party has been declining in every recent election, but this time the First Family runs the risk of crashing. Some day, when the family takes stock, it will discover it has been ill served by the small circle it surrounded itself with. The clique played both side of the street.
It was always too clever by half because people knew what was going on. Only, they were afraid to talk. And now that power is slipping out of the family’s hands, tongues are wagging. A cover up is on.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra turns up in Rae Bareli and makes a tear jerking speech about the family being “humiliated” by the opposition. They were targeting her husband’s land deals she says. Like her grandmother Indira Gandhi, she would fight back. She then unleashes her finest invective on Narendra Modi’s “snoopgate”, how the Gujarat strongman had allegedly organized surveillance of a woman architect across three states.
Surely Ms Vadra knows that barely three days ago there was a front page cabinet announcement that matters of such sensitivity will now be handled by the next cabinet. The deal has already been struck, Ms Vadra. Now you can scream “snoopgate”, “Jashodaben”, “Ishrat Jehan” for as many times as you like, but your party has already waved a white flag at Modi for a price you ought to know. When the dust settles, the party may blame it all on the family this time. Finally, the worm appears to be turning.
Is the Congress in a worse shape today than it has been in the recent past? It is putting up a fight in, say, Punjab where even mention of the Congress first family is a handicap. There are other places where a fight is on but the family is not required. This, then, is the emerging reality. The Gandhi family is increasingly at a discount.
The charisma of the Gandhis was always exaggerated by insecure party leaders. Rajiv Gandhi had nearly three fourth majority in Parliament in 1984, after his mother’s death. In 1989 he was sitting in the opposition.
The party plummeted to 140 seats after the Babri Masjid fiasco and never recovered on Sonia Gandhi’s watch. True, there was no active hostility to the Gandhis as is on show now.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has in recent years looked increasingly like an inanimate object. The Sonia-Manmohan combination began to look dull, bereft of ideas, uninspiring. The PM thinks his high point was the civilian Nuclear Deal. The Prime Minister’s men ran around those days asking: “why are the Muslims opposed to the deal.” Of course they were not. They were unhappy with the image of Manmohan Singh in George W Bush’s tight embrace at a time when the global war on terror was being seen increasingly as a crusade against the umma.
A deft leadership would have kept people in the loop, explained the deal to them and then signed it. It should also have had the courage to explain why the deal turned out to be a damp squib. This kind of communication is not affected by two and a half journalists. This is a task for an effective political party to undertake which, in this instance, was absent.
The Indian ruling class has two political parties which have the endorsement of big capital – the Congress and the BJP. During UPA-II, the Indian establishment gradually defected to the BJP. Retired members of the Armed Forces, the Civil Service made a beeline for that party. When they were still in harness, they created conditions helpful to the BJP. Home Secretary R.K. Singh hanged Afzal Guru without keeping the Home Minister in the loop. He then proceeded to join the BJP. Is it not too late for Sonia’s advisers to beat their breasts on that score? Why did they not tweak Sushil Kumar Shinde’s ears then and there?
Even though the Congress is packing up its bags, the BJP is not yet moving into the premises of power. There is a Modi Tsunami declares Amit Shah, but does not pause to explain why Gopinath Munde, Rajnath Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and Arun Jaitley are not being able to leave their constituencies even for a breather.
In the Congress ranks, there is disarray. Tarun Gogoi and Janardhan Dwivedi scream “bring in Priyanka”. Rahul loyalists, Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh shout back. “There is no vacancy at the top for Priyanka.” On Thursday Priyanka was supposed to campaign in Amethi but she did not. She flew back in her private plane even as party workers speculated if the siblings were, well, okay with each other.
Sharad Pawar, Prithviraj Chavan and a host of Congressmen are keeping a steady gaze on the regional parties.
UP is not yielding its mysteries. Which way are its 18 percent Muslims dividing or combining? The Brahmin, whose influence is greater than his numbers, has not indicated whether he will vote for Rajnath Singh in Lucknow. In UP, Brahmins and Thakurs, have historically not combined well.
(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)