Ahmedabad, July 19: Surfing on a massive sympathy wave against the Emergency, the Janata Party had come to power in March 1977. Barely three months later, it, however, ‘provided’ a platform to Indira Gandhi to plot her politically calibrated steps for a return to power when she rode an elephant to Belchhi in Bihar where 11 Dalits were brutally massacred in July 1977.
It would be interesting to see if, 42-years-later, the NDA Government, and the moribund Congress, manage to follow a similar script.
Amid fresh speculations that Priyanka Gandhi could succeed her elder brother Rahul as the party President, the Congress has been desperately looking for a mantra to revive itself from the paralysis afflicting it since the Lok Sabha elections and its aftermath. It fancies it has discovered one in a village in Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh where 10 persons were killed and some two dozen injured on July 17 after clashes in an old case of land dispute.
So, she air-dashed to Varanasi, ostensibly to visit the victims. On Friday, the Uttar Pradesh Police detained her at Mirzapur while she was on her way to Sonbhadra. She routinely accused the UP Government on various counts and alleged that she was being stopped from meeting the families of victims. She even sat on a “dharna” briefly as Rahul dubbed her detention as “illegal.”
Apparently, the Congress is trying to derive political mileage out of this unfortunate situation the way it did in 1977. But is the BJP inheritor of the Janata Party’s fragility?
Always a party-of-the-past and believing more in its historical baggage and feudalism instead of reinventing itself, the Congress is, apparently, trying to cobble together a launch-pad for Priyanka by using Sonbhadra as a platform to whip up support. Notably, there has recently been a sudden spurt of violence in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar over a variety of issues—land disputes, cow vigilantism, mob lynching etc. And, the ‘secular’ parties and their cohorts have smelt in this blood-letting an opportunity against the BJP.
At a time when a reluctant Rahul Gandhi has ruled out his continuance as Congress President, a pro-active Priyanka’s ‘return’ to active politics points to the party’s possible game-plan to anoint her as her brother’s successor. Sonbhadra offered her an opportunity and a platform to ‘groom’ herself as the next Congress President.
Interestingly, Priyanka did not resign as AICC General Secretary after Rahul’s resignation. Nor did Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot or MP CM Kamal Nath, whom Rahul had, in the May 25 CWC, accused of preferring their sons over the party. Among important leaders, only Milind Deora and Jyotiraditya Scindia had resigned their party posts.
It seems now a carefully-crafted intra-party ‘ecosystem’ is being built up for Priyanka to succeed her brother, who may, however, like to target his detractors from behind her shoulders.
Can the BJP spot a similarly between the mission of Priyanka and her grandmother Indira’s, in their attempts to return to the political centre-stage? Will the next two biggest political parties of UP—BSP and SP—let the opportunity slip out to the Congress?
It is here that the political interests of the BJP may converge with those of BSP and SP—none of them would like to see political revival of Congress as a fresh challenger in the largest state’s three-way political firmament. Uttar Pradesh is likely to witness fresh realignment of forces before it goes to Assembly polls in 2022.
And, the situation in 2019 is also different from 1977. Then, the Indira Gandhi-led Congress had only been defeated in the polls; the party and its millions of workers were down but not out. In 2019, the Congress is a pathetic image of its former self, leaderless, rudderless, directionless like a headless chick. And unlike a fragile Janata Party, the BJP and the NDA it leads, are well-organized, strong and resourceful.
So, even if Priyanka becomes the Congress President on the Sonbhadra platform, the moth-eaten party she inherits is unlikely to make much of a difference. When inducted as an AICC General Secretary, the Congress and its cohorts had dubbed her as a Brahmastra (Ultimate Weapon—against the BJP) from the party’s quiver. But she turned out to be a damp squib as the party failed miserably against the might of the BJP.