Priyanka Gandhi’s Chunar moment

Anil Anand

The Indian National Congress is currently facing the worst crisis of it’s over century old existence. Its president, Rahul Gandhi has resigned but “he has not resigned” as many party leaders and loyalists say. The question lingers who would lead the party if he sticks to his guns and no answers are coming forth.

The issue has further become sticky as Rahul has publically announced that the new president would be a non Nehru-Gandhi family member. Will he recant to either keep continue to be the president of the party or else allow another member of his clan to become the chief?

Coming close on the heels of this confusing situation the statement of the once Nehru-Gandhi family close friend and loyalist, has since sometime now turned rebel, nonagenarian former Minister for External Affairs, K Natwar Singh that Congress will break if a non- Gandhi family member was installed as its president, has shifted the focus back to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. She has been grabbing headlines and winning accolades for having upstaged the mighty BJP and UP government in particular while launching a protest at Mirzapur against the cold-blooded killing of 10 members  of Scheduled Tribe community.

Will Natwar’s, he has become number one detractor of the Congress now, observation be taken seriously by the Gandhi family and could Priyanka’s impressive Chunar ( Mirzapur) showdown lead to a rethink in Gandhi family particularly in Rahul’s mind?

These questions can be viewed as probabilities. But the manner in which Priyanka made a mark through her protest and conduct, and the visual of her interaction with the wailing women of the tribal families who lost their near and dears to the gunshots of marauding killers, has led to another question; If Chunar be another Belchi moment for the beleaguered Congress? Belchi, a non-descript town in Bihar has become synonymous with political revival of former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi following her ouster from power by the Janata Party experiment.

The month of July has a political significance not only for the Congress but in some sense of the term for the country. Flashback July 1977 a lonely Indira strode on the back of an elephant through the dusty streets of Belchi protesting against the massacre of 11 members of Scheduled Caste community and rest is history. By 1980 she was back in power.

Fast forward to July 2019, her granddaughter squats on a dharna in the precincts of Chunar fort, were she was kept after detention, demanding to be allowed to meet relatives of the firing victim families in the nearby village. There was a standoff which got resolved after the state administration brought the relatives of the victim families to meet protesting Priyanka.

So will Chunar do wonders for Congress as Belchi did? An additional question, would Chunar force Priyanka replacing her brother as Congress president or help in Congress’ revival.

The two situations are different as Indira was the unchallenged leader of Congress at that point in time whereas currently there is a serious crisis of credibility as well leadership in the party after crushing defeat in Lok Sabha elections the devastating effect of which was also felt in the Gandhi-family pocket-borough of Amethi. Haunted by a defeat and having shown a will to let a non Gandhi family person be the party president, Rahul has set the agenda in part and so has done Chunar

Who would succeed in the final count down? Would it be Rahul’s agenda- insisting on his resignation and making a non Gandhi family person as the party president, or the clamour, as reflected by Natwar though in a different manner, that such a move would be disastrous and hence a family member be at the helm? In that event immediate focus shifts to Priyanka and Chunar has done its bit.

 

Priyanka’s advent at Varanasi before being detained and taken to Chunar fort was not a pre-meditated plan related in any manner to her projection as possible replacement to her brother at the top. Although it was well planned and kept a secret to upstage the BJP as well as the Yogi Adityanath government of UP, it could be viewed as an attempt to redeem her position as AICC general secretary in charge of the Eastern UP under which Mirzapur, Sonebhadar district and Chunar fall, after the party almost drew a blank in the region in Lok Sabha elections under her leadership. But success of the show does have its impact at the national scenario currently prevailing in the AICC so the buzz about the possibility of her replacing Rahul enroute Congress revival.

The more enthusiastic among the Congresspersons and political analysts lost no time in drawing parallels between Belchi and Chunar though the two developments are separated by four decades and there is no Indira Gandhi. There certainly cannot be a parallel between two episodes as there cannot be a comparison between her and her grandmother, but certainly Chunar at best has given Congress a reason to come out of the gloom and think quickly on how to tie the loose ends.

The one outcome and which is inevitable is that Priyanka has a vital role to play not necessarily as the Congress president but otherwise also. Altogether ruling out the possibility of a non Gandhi family member becoming the party chief at a time when the family is under direct fire from Narendra Modi-Amit Shah led dynamic BJP, would be politically unfeasible and would give added advantage to the ruling dispensation and more ammunition to Modi-Shah duo to fire back. Ostensibly, having faced the wrath of the duo and their party and experienced firsthand, Rahul talked about someone outside his family becoming the president.

Natwar’s observation has the backdrop of his own decades long loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family. So, even for him, despite having left the Congress, to fathom Congress without someone from the family heading it is unthinkable. The changed political circumstances require a new and out-of-the-box solution and Rahul’s stand should be viewed under these circumstances.