So, Sonia Gandhi is not quitting active politics after all. It was widely suggested that having handed over the family firm that is the Congress Party to Rahul, she would quietly fade away from active public life. Given her serious ailment for which she has had to make urgent trips to a specialist New York hospital, often in aircrafts placed at her disposal by ever obliging industrialists, the assumption of her withdrawing from politics had gained further currency.
However, last week, the party surprised everyone by announcing a small list of its candidates for the forthcoming Lok Sabha poll from a couple of States. Sonia’s name figured along with son Rahul’s in the list from UP. The mother and son duo will contest from their old seats Rai Bareli and Amethi respectively. It was assumed that her seat might go to daughter Priyanka Vadra who had recently entered active politics formally.
But Priyanka does not figure in the list of candidates. So what can be deduced from the above decision of the ailing mother contesting and the newbie Priyanka opting out, at least so far. In the absence of a satisfactory response from the AIICC, all manner of speculation can be heard in political circles. It is argued that the Congress at least wanted to retain the only two seats it had won in 2014 from the total 80 in UP.
Last time, the position of both Sonia and Rahul had become so precarious due to the Modi tornado that she had to send an SOS to Mulayam Singh Yadav to rescue them from humiliation. Now, Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party are in a seat-sharing alliance, having divided UP between them without making any accommodation for the poor Congress.
Whether the two will show consideration for the Gandhis this time around is not clear but it is absolutely clear that the BJP would mount a tough challenge against the mother and son in what till now was considered their family fiefdoms. In all likelihood, Smriti Irani would contest against Rahul. She can be expected to pin him down in Amethi. Who will challenge Sonia in Rae Bareli from the BJP is not known but challenge someone will.
Under the circumstances, Sonia would expect the SP-BSP twosome not to field the alliance candidates against her and her son. Another line of speculation is that the reason why Sonia is contesting is that in the absence of an agreement over prime ministership in the unlikely event of an anti-Modi government becoming realisable, she, as the covenanted elder stateswoman of the Opposition could emerge as the consensus candidate, especially when nobody would agree to making her son prime minister.
Again, there is plenty of speculation about why Priyanka has been kept out of the poll fray, at least thus far. One line of thinking is that Priyanka contesting from her mother’s seat along with her brother from Amethi could become a threat to Rahul, especially if Rahul failed to get elected. In that case, she would naturally head the Congress component in the Lok Sabha and thus jeopardise Rahul’s position as the preferred heir of the Nehru-Gandhi family’s political legacy.
Another is that with Robert Vadra facing heat from various investigating agencies over his controversial money-making operations under the benign UPA dispensation, Priyanka as a candidate would instigate the Opposition to keep the spotlight on her husband’s alleged scams.
Meanwhile, the Congress announcing nine other names from UP would suggest that it has stopped supplicating Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati for some sort of accommodation. Despite Priyanka’s plunge into active politics a few days ago with great fanfare, the electoral ground in UP has not shifted a wee-bit.
The party senses trouble ahead what with Modi’s post-Pulwama BJP enjoying another high and the casteist combination of SP-BSP relying on their traditional support bases entering the fray on a confident note. Even Ajit Singh’s minuscule Rashtriya Lok Dal has been found small accommodation but not the imploring Congress Party.
In such a situation, the mother and son duo deciding to keep the bird in hand rather than try for several more in the wide open sky makes immense sense. Of course, which way the voter will swing must will be finally known when the votes are counted, but the hawa does not seem to be propitious for the Gandhis-controlled Congress.