In the last general elections, 28-year-old Rahul Gandhi was just a value addition to the Congress campaign,the real stars being mother Sonia and sister Priyanka. Now, a year-and-a-half later, the son suddenly seems to be assuming the mantle of heir-apparent. The man who, apparently, eschewed all that Indian politics represents and opposed his mother's entry into the political arena is now taking centrestage; this at a time when some of the glitter has worn off the magical Gandhi name. What brought about this sudden change of heart?
Those in the know ascribe it to the lad's romantic liaison with a Colombian girl in London,where he was working with a financial consultancy firm. It's believed that Sonia thought the relationship was inappropriate, particularly at a time when she herself has been under attack over her foreign origins. The feeling, perhaps, is that the political future of the Gandhis could be jeopardised if yet another foreigner was to become part of the family just now. Thus, an emotional appeal for support in these crucial elections was made which, it seems, has been accepted by the son. This is something of a break for Sonia, since she has always played the role of an anchor for her children, rarely, if ever, interfering in their lives. Says a source, Sonia is a little desperate and scared. Hence her appeal to her son.
Rahul went to England to live away from the pressures he'd face in India at a time when Sonia's political future and public acceptance was uncertain. With Sonia entering active politics, the spotlight fell on the ever-present Priyanka. With the resemblance to Indira, chants of her possible succession were being raised. Rahul again stayed in the background, there but not quite visible. With Priyanka's prominence came the charges. The allotment of a government house, her in-laws' possible links with the rss, and the fact that Priyanka Vadra doesn't have the same appeal as Priyanka Gandhi. Says a Congress functionary: If Indira Gandhi had been Indira Khanna or Malhotra, she may not have had the same impact. While the prospect of Priyanka helping out in Amethi would leave Sonia free to hit the campaign trail, it's Rahul who seems to be coming into his own. Says a Congress source, Right now, Rahul is more interested in politics than Priyanka is. Which means that Rahul has wound up his affairs in London, though he's still in touch with his Colombian friend.
The move to rope in Rahul is not new. Last year, attempts were made,presumably with Sonia's approval,to get either of the two kids to take over as Youth Congress president. The elections derailed that plan. Rahul's political baptism may start by making him contest. Rae Bareilly was earmarked first, but relative Arun Nehru's candidature on a bjp ticket from there has put paid to those plans. Now the entry point could be Phoolpur,Jawaharlal Nehru's constituency.
Sonia's appeal to her son was not just that of an over-concerned mother. It's believed she needs people around her whom she can trust implicitly. Obviously, her own family seems the best bet. Also, it's hoped that Rahul will become a channel of communication for scores of party workers who have often grumbled about the lack of accessibility to its president. But is Rahul politically too naive? At least Priyanka has witnessed the rough-and-tumble from the time her mother took her first tentative step into politics. No, says Mehmood Pracha, general secretary, All India Youth Congress, If you are born into a doctor's family, the medical profession becomes almost a second nature, so too in politics. Avers another source, What charisma did Rajiv Gandhi have when he first joined? He was almost booed at his first public rally. But two years later, the same Rajiv Gandhi oozed the stuff.
Already, there're rumours that Rahul has a speech impediment. Refutes a friend, There's absolutely no truth in this. It's just propaganda to discredit him. Rahul is keen on sports and those boyish good looks might just help with some of the potential voters. Of course, in India it helps that he is the son,he will always be a Gandhi.
While Priyanka has not only been groomed but is said to be keen to contest, the only reason these elections will be more about Rahul than her has to do,as many feel,with the fact that Sonia does not want to play her trump card just yet. If Sonia fares well in these elections then Priyanka will, of course, join in. And if the results are unfavourable, then Priyanka will be used to rejuvenate the cadres. Till then the sun will shine on the son.