Priyanka: Will she? Won’t she?

She is a Nehru-Gandhi and knows where her duty lies

Priyanka: Will she? Won’t she?
For 99.999 per cent of us, becoming prime minister would be the fulfillment of an impossible dream. For a few, a very few, nothing could be more normal. Sonia Gandhi entered a Prime Minister’s home as a daughter-in-law, lived in another PM’s house as his wife, and went on to determine who would be the Prime Minister. Rahul was born into his grandmother’s PM residence. He grew up in his father’s PM House. He has served in politics as the son of the most powerful leader in the land. Ditto Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The Prime Ministership is theirs for the asking. The point is: do they want it? Does it have the same irresistible appeal for them as for the rest of us?

I remember back in 1999 coming across Priyanka at 10, Janpath standing beside a window. I asked her if she would be standing in the coming election. Quick as a flash, she replied, “For the moment, I am only standing by this window!” I recall also having to every now and then kick myself in PMO to remember that the guy sitting next to me was the Prime Minister of India, not some Doon School yaar. It is amazing how quickly one gets used to the trappings of high office and starts taking it all for granted.

That is what we have to bear in mind as we seek an answer to a question that is in everybody’s mind even if the party concerned has made the answer repeatedly and abundantly clear: will she, won’t she? Well, she says, NO. Why can we no let the matter rest at that?

Thus the speculation begins. Arun Jaitley calls her possible entry a “palace coup” - as if he would know. One only has to see pictures of brother and sister together, let alone at closer quarters, to learn the obvious: that the two siblings are so fond of each other, so supportive of each other, so dependent on each other that it takes a rank outsider like Jaitley, grinding his miserable political axe, to even suggest any rivalry, let alone portray what is happening (or, rather, not happening) as a replay of the last days of the Lesser Mughals.

[quote]There is absolutely no need for any of us to beg, cajole or threaten Priyanka[/quote]

That Priyanka would be a huge asset to the Party is beyond question. That the Party intensely desires her involvement is also not in the least doubt. That to behold her is to see Indira Gandhi and to hear her is to listen again to Rajiv Gandhi is what enthuses Party workers and the electorate. That she would be welcomed with both arms, so much so that most Congressmen would willingly grow a third arm to welcome her, is also a given. But who are we to insist on her assuming the mantle of her manifest destiny? That is up to her and her alone. Were she to decide for whatever reason that she does not want it now – or at all – there would be no alternative to getting on without her. Or, more accurately, getting in with her on the margins for she is already in charge of both her mother’s and brother’s constituencies, from where she delivered such handsome victories to both despite Narendra Modi’s churlish attempt to upset the apple cart at the last moment. It was Modi who was driven out of Amethi and Rae Bareli with his tail between his legs (an appropriate metaphor for one who regards massacred Muslims in Gujarat as puppy dogs).

One can be intensely political without being in politics. Priyanka is both – intensely political and not in politics. But that need not hold forever. A day may dawn when she feels she has fulfilled her duties by her family and can now to step into the murky waters of politics. On the other hand, that day may not come, at least not in the remaining political life of aging veterans like myself. But it would be utterly unethical for any of us, young or old, to pre-empt Priyanka’s life and tell her she has no alternative to coming to the aid of a defeated party. That decision would be entirely up to her.

As it was up to her mother. Not so long ago, how many of us (including Natwar Singh) were begging Sonia to take over the Party. We understood her self-imposed period of secluded mourning for a full year. But then she continued to remain in her cocoon of sorrow. The Party split (Natwar Singh in the lead). She still did not budge. After the electoral reverse of 1996, Sitaram Kesri ousted PV Narasimha Rao, to the despair of many, including myself. Still, Sonia remained behind almost locked doors at 10, Janpath. Then began the disintegration of the Congress, my own defection to Mamta Banerjee becoming the proverbial dislodged pebble that starts the avalanche. And walking around her home, Sonia Gandhi saw the portraits of her husband and distinguished in-laws urging her to put aside her inhibitions and save the Party they had done so much to nurture. It was that call of duty that brought her to active politics. How the media giggled! How one prominent woman politician let down all women by threatening to shave her abundant locks if a “foreigner” were to become PM of independent India! How the filthiest racist abuses were flung at her by the very person who lined up uninvited at her gate when she trounced an arrogant NDA and inaugurated a whole decade of vanvas for the self-proclaimed “Ram Bhakts”!

Therefore, there is absolutely no need for any of us to beg, cajole or threaten Priyanka. She is a Nehru-Gandhi. She knows where her duty lies. When the call comes – and it will come only if we are in desperate straits – she will know her hour has struck. If we pull ourselves out of the shoals and find our sailing smooth – as could well happen – then, Priyanka can curl up on a sofa and read a favourite book. That she is with us in the Congress in spirit is self-evident. Whether she will join us in our ranks is entirely for her to decide. Whatever her decision, now or in the future, it would always be in the best interests of the Party.