Sonia Gandhi wants to retire to her cottage in the hills, she wistfully tells friends.
Leaders never retire in Indian politics, but the longest-serving Congress president is likely to see her wish getting fulfilled as a generational changeover is underway in the Congress.
Since it is the Congress party, it is the Gandhi family which still rules it. But the dual control has shifted from the diarchy of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi.
Priyanka had quietly been playing a huge role behind the scenes for a while now, but it was formalised when Sonia's political secretary and senior leader Ahmed Patel tweeted about her negotiating the alliance with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.
|The dual control (of Congress party) has shifted from the diarchy of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. (Credit: AP photo)|
Captain Amarinder Singh, Congress's CM face in Punjab, also rushed to give Priyanka Gandhi credit for roping in the elusive Navjot Singh Sidhu to the Congress.
The Gandhi siblings have always worked as a team but Priyanka going public on her role marks her debut as a full-time politician.
This has several implications for the Congress party:
1. Several members of the old guard and the palace durbar that surrounded Sonia are already clustering around Priyanka as they have always been uncomfortable with Rahul.
This includes people like Amarinder Singh and Rajeev Shukla who have always had a "testy" relationship with Rahul.
2. So will that create two alternative centres of power? That was Sonia's fear. But it seems that the family has come to some sort of understanding and an enamoured party, which is thrilled to have Priyanka in the ranks, does not care.
Sooner than later Priyanka, as I said in an earlier piece, will have a formal role either as general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh or Rahul's current job after his anointment as Congress president. Even now with Sonia taking a conspicuous backseat, senior Congress leaders and from other parties such as Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mamata Banerjee prefer to deal with her.
Even Mayawati has ensured that she only deals with Ahmed Patel.
These senior leaders find Rahul difficult to read. But with leaders from his own generation, such as Akhilesh Yadav, Rahul seems to have found a degree of camaraderie which was evident in their joint press conference on Sunday (January 29). Rahul was visibly relaxed and seemed to be enjoying himself with Yadav.
The two leaders share love for cycling long distances and fitness (exchanging tips). Even before the alliance they had nothing but praises for each other. Rahul perceives this as a crucial generation-next fulcrum against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the big battle of 2019.
3. Priyanka may contest in 2019 from Rae Bareli (Sonia's seat) which will complete Sonia Gandhi's transition to full-time mentor of the Congress party.
This, unlike other reluctant "margdarshaks" such as BJP's LK Advani and Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav, is a role she has chosen to embrace and exercise. It's a combination of political fatigue and ill-health, say sources.
4. Sonia's transition will also mean retirement for other senior and ageing Congress leaders and a formal takeover by second-generation leaders such as Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia. Another leader from the second-generation has already made the move — former MP Jitin Prasada is contesting the UP elections. A lot of other dynastic leaders in the Congress in UP have also been asked by Priyanka to take charge of reviving the party, but so far have shown little inclination.
5. For years, the Congress has faced a complete vacuum in state leadership with "baseless wonders" and "Rajya Sabha worthies" acting as consiglieres to the Gandhi durbar. This is one of the primary reasons that the Congress is seeing a wipeout in several large states. This may be set to change as second-generation leaders will be put in charge (just as Pilot has been in Rajasthan). So, Scindia may be given charge of Madhya Pradesh (and warring leaders such as Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh, who have been asked to quietly get behind him, as was done for Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan).
6. Priyanka has had her own office up and running for a while now and this is the nerve centre and war room of the state elections. Rahul's former aide Kanishka Singh now works with her. All campaign material, including Rahul's tour programmes and speeches, are vetted by her. As of now what sort of public role she will take in the campaigns is still on the drawing board.
With Sonia now passing the baton to the Gandhi siblings, who have fairly contrasting styles, watch this space for further developments.