Will she contest in Rae Bareli in 2014 instead of her mother?
Priyanka Gandhi’s visits to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency, Rae Bareli, have increased in recent months, and with it, has speculation, both in the area and in the wider organisation, that she may contest the seat in 2014 instead of her mother.
Of course, the official reason being cited for the frequency of her trips to Rae Bareli is that it needs careful nursing — in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls in 2012, the Congress lost all five seats that fall in it. (In the neighbouring Amethi, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s seat, the Congress won only two of the five segments in 2012.) For Ms. Sonia Gandhi herself to pay more attention to Rae Bareli would not be possible, say party sources, citing both health reasons as well as her many other duties as party president.
But with the elevation of Mr. Gandhi as vice-president in January and his being handed over a huge chunk of the day-to-day running of the entire party organisation, not to mention the fact that he also heads a committee which will oversee the campaign for the next general elections, the transition of power within the family has started.
If senior party functionaries say with great firmness that Ms. Sonia Gandhi is still the ‘number one’ and that her son will take over only after she decides — emphasis on “she decides” — to step down, the point is that talk about the succession in the family has already started in party circles. For instance, a Central Minister told The Hindu that Ms. Sonia Gandhi will only consider handing over the torch to her son if the party returns to power — at the head of the UPA coalition. But if its score falls below 100, she will stay on, he says.
As such speculation gains volume, senior leaders are bracing themselves for change — most of them are more comfortable dealing with Ms. Sonia Gandhi, they say, pointing out that ever since she took over the party’s reins in 1998, she has always taken great care to carry everyone with her. Congressmen also stress that she is a good listener — something her son is not. The younger elements in the party, of course, are keener on change as they see their own role increasing after the transition.
It is in the context of Ms. Sonia Gandhi’s desire to gradually withdraw — even if incrementally — that the possibility of Ms. Priyanka Gandhi replacing her as the Congress candidate from Rae Bareli is gaining traction in the party, triggered off by her increasing appearances in the area.
In fact, in the last couple of months, Ms. Priyanka Gandhi has organised training camps for party workers, twice right down to the booth level, strategising with them on how to take on the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Senior party leaders, including External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, general secretary Mukul Wasnik, Suresh Pachauri and Mani Shankar Aiyar, even addressed these camps, party sources said.
One five-day camp was held for the party’s “nyaya panchayat” and block presidents between March 18 and 23 to help them “learn their rights and.. help the people in improving their quality of life”, according to a party release issued in Rae Bareli. It was serious business, with participants at the Bhuemau Guest House instructed not to leave the camp during the five days, even switching off their mobile phones. They were given white trousers, white T-shirts with the picture of the Congress flag emblazoned on them and black caps, for easy identification. The next camp was from March 31 to April 4: at the concluding session, Ms. Priyanka Gandhi, reports said, warned those in charge of front organisations and the district Congress committee that their work was being closely monitored and future responsibilities would be assigned to them only after reviewing their performances.
From April 2, a new programme “At your door”, was initiated through which the 74 “nyaya panchayat” and block presidents of the Congress who underwent training from March 18 to 23 began meeting people in the constituency to help solve their problems. Another 84 “nyaya panchayat” and block presidents will be trained in a similar fashion to enable them join the core campaign team. Party sources say that this could become a model for Congress leaders in other constituencies.
Regardless of what role Ms. Priyanka Gandhi is eventually given, she has begun to play a more active part.