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Rising Ambition

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It cannot be a coincidence that Priyanka Gandhi has ratcheted up her ‘activism’ in UP at this crucial period for the Congress party by undertaking the usual ‘tragedy tourism’ that was first initiated by her grandmother, Indira, when she rode on an elephant to the scene of the Belchi massacre in 1977. This began the turnaround in public opinion and she returned to power in 1980. In contrast, the condition of the marginalised, whose cause she advocated, did not improve anywhere near in comparison. Whether the ploy works in the present day remains to be seen, but Priyanka is clearly trying. It would seem that although Rahul Gandhi seems determined to quit as Party President, the rest of the family is not as convinced about letting go. It is reported that leaders like Punjab CM Amarinder Singh, finding Rahul quite resolved in his decision, have suggested Priyanka take his place. Considering the state of the party at the present, getting it to accept such a decision would be a cinch. The question, however, is whether it will have the desired results. The logic obviously is that the BJP cannot remain permanently on its present high. If the Congress remains a viable national entity, it would be the natural alternative, especially if it has a ‘charismatic’ leader at the top. The difficulty is that not enough consideration is being given, again, to the maturity of the present day electorate in making choices. There is no guarantee that in the eventuality of BJP losing its present hold, other alternatives would not be available. The future does not necessarily have to be a replication of past patterns. The voter today is not just much better informed than in the Indira Gandhi days, s/he has also shown a proclivity for preferring merit to dynasty. The challenge, as such, for Priyanka would be to display leadership qualities – which would include deft management of inner-party affairs – rather than just showing up for photo shoots at sundry disaster scenes. She will also have to get herself elected to Parliament and exhibit debating skills as sharp as some of the younger lot exemplified recently by the likes of Smriti Irani and Mahua Moitra. She cannot expect to be catapulted straight into the PM’s chair, as had been imagined in Rahul Gandhi’s case (who never held a ministerial appointment). Of course, there is also the not insignificant baggage that Robert Vadra represents. Even going by the slow pace of India’s judicial processes, some of the many inquiries are likely to bear fruit into his alleged business irregularities. That would certainly blow a big hole in Priyanka’s political ambitions. The Congress must consider these factors before it puts all its eggs back in the same old basket.