Saturday, September 8, 2012

Priyanka And Rahul Rising Separately?

Priyanka And Rahul Rising Separately?

                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

The other day friends from my village in Mustafabad, Rae Bareli, turned up in our New Delhi house donning their finest Khadi. They said they were on their way to 10, Janpath because ten of the most “carefully selected” Congress leaders from Rae Bareli had been invited by Priyanka Gandhi to discuss the affairs of the country’s premier constituency.

According to them Priyanka has been given charge of Rae Bareli. This, because the party would not like to face in the coming Parliamentary elections the kind of drubbing the electorate handed them in the recent Assembly polls – zero out of five seats. In fact from the twin towns of Rae Bareli and Amethi, the Congress lost eight of the ten Assembly seats despite the fact that Rae Bareli happens to be Sonia Gandhi’s parliamentary seat, just as Amethi is Rahul Gandhi’s.

There could not have been a more resounding slap on the Congress face, exactly what was administered by the electorate accross UP, where Rahul had staked his prestige.

“There is a soul of goodness in all things evil”, says Shakespeare. But there is a “soul of goodness” only if “men observingly distil it out”. In other words the dismal results in UP could have been put to good use by shaking up the party. Nothing happened. The same professional losers are still running the show. For leaders to have the courage to discard dead wood they must be confident of their own hold on the people. The hold, alas, is only on a crafty coterie which provides the leader comfort by not being intellectually taxing and obsequiously hanging around like hardy cockroaches.

Forget UP, where there has been much sound and fury without any action. Even in Rae Bareli there has been no evidence of a decisive leadership.

Why has Priyanka been chosen to galvanize the party? Is it the decision of the Congress Working Committee? The Supreme leader? Or has Kishori Lal Sharma been allowed to trump everybody else?

Who, you might ask, is Kishori Lal Sharma? He came into focus as the side kick to Captain Satish Sharma, Rajiv Gandhi’s Indian Airlines friend, who took charge of the two contiguous constituencies. After Captain Sharma was retired, Kishori Lal Sharma has held the fort for the party continuously. In fact, on his watch the Fort has been collapsing, parapet by parapet.

The irony is that with every collapse of the structure, Kishori Lal Sharma’s control on the Congress in Rae Bareli and Amethi tightens that much more. What magic potion does he have? He it was who led the party workers from Rae Bareli into Priyanka’s presence at 10 Janpath on atleast two occasions in the past month. The next round is in Rae Bareli to be visited by Priyanka soon after the Monsoon session of Parliament. Congressmen in Rae Bareli have their fingers crossed just in case Robert Vadra, Priyanka’s husband, turns up on a mobike, like Easy Rider, to toss his hat in the dynastic ring. Remember how he declared his electoral rights on TV on the eve of February elections in the very heart of Rae Bareli.

For Priyanka’s arrival, Sharma is preparing the ground in the bungalow Sonia has built in Bhue-Mau, outside Rae Bareli. Here Sharma holds court, inviting block level Congress leaders for “interviews”. This itself is creating the sort of heartburn the high command in Janpath is probably not aware of. Many invited leaders are averse to making an appearance before a person whose links with the oldest party are very recent.

While the story has taken root that Priyanka will concentrate on the two seats of direct interest to her family, there is also an inexplicable absence of faith in her stamina to be able to remain focused.

I am sure she must have done the basic homework on the parish assigned to her. Her family’s affiliations with Rae Bareli derive from the fact that her grandfather, a brilliant parliamentarian, Feroz Gandhi (no relation of the Mahatma; indeed it was a traditional parsee name, Ghandi, in which ‘h’ was placed after ‘d’ to give it a purposive familiarity) fought the 1957 parliamentary election from here. Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi in that order inherited the seat. It is therefore not by some ancient divine right that the Gandhi siblings have an interest in Rae Bareli. In truth this is what they inherited from an illustrious, parsee grandfather. It is another matter that Rae Bareli has been part of the nationalist narrative ever since Mir Baqar and his companions were hanged from a tamarind tree for helping the rebels during the 1857 uprising. Priyanka might like to ask why has the tamarind tree made way for an electric pole outside the old court building? Since Rae Bareli is close to Allahabad, Motilal Nehru visited senior Congressmen like Mir Wajid Ali who was, like Motilal, a distinguished lawyer. They spent some years in jail together. Jawahar Lal Nehru first got involved in the peasant movement in Rae Bareli. The hero of the 1857 uprising, Raja Beni Madho from the area helped Begum Hazrat Mahal escape to Nepal.

To revert to current affairs, another rumour doing the rounds in the area is that, come mid September, Rahul Gandhi will assume responsibilities in the party as Executive Vice president. If it turns out to be a false alarm again, the harm done to the government will have been incalculable. Bureaucrats, demoralized, arms folded across the chests, watching the spectacle of a pulverized government, become that much more averse to decision making when speculation is given currency that the Son is about to rise. It devolves on the leadership to clarify whether or not there is any truth in the rumour.

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