‘This election is vital for Congress’: can India’s Gandhi dynasty survive?

‘This election is vital for Congress’: can India’s Gandhi dynasty survive?

The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty have been as soon as the giants of India’s politics – the household on the forefront of the independence battle, who constructed up the formidable Congress celebration and produced three prime ministers.

However now the household are combating for his or her survival. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata celebration (BJP) authorities are looking for a 3rd time period in energy in elections going down over six weeks. Most analysts consider a BJP victory towards Congress and its allies as soon as once more appears seemingly.

Ten years in opposition have left Congress and the Gandhi household in decline, accused of elitism, disorganisation and weak management. The celebration presence on the bottom stays lacklustre, in contrast with the BJP’s well-organised electoral machine and its disciplined cadre.

Analysts say {that a} third consecutive loss to Modi in June would deal one other crippling blow to the household and will throw the way forward for the celebration as a viable political drive into query.

Rahul Verma, a fellow on the Delhi-based Centre for Coverage Analysis, stated the Congress celebration was akin to a “giant ship which has rusted for a really lengthy time period”. Verma stated the issue was partially the Gandhi household management “but in addition the entire organisation of the celebration, which could be very weak”.

Verma warned that if Congress confronted one other main election loss, it may discover itself with state, and even nationwide, rebellions on its palms, which may additional diminish and even fracture the celebration to devastating impact. “This election is vital for Congress,” he stated.

‘They don’t know easy methods to behave in opposition’

It was in 1929 that Jawaharlal Nehru was made president of Congress, later turning into India’s first post-independence prime minister. Nearly 100 years later, there may be little doubt that the Gandhi household stays firmly in cost. In 2017, Rahul Gandhi took over as president of the celebration from his mom, Sonia Gandhi, who had dominated it for twenty years.

Rahul resigned two years later after shedding to Modi, however the household’s affect has not waned and the Gandhis have made little effort to discover a long-term successor who is just not inside their dynastic ranks. Few consider the household will vacate the political area voluntarily. After inner strain, final yr Congress voted in a brand new president, Mallikarjan Kharge, however he’s 81 years outdated and seen as the selection of the Gandhis. For a lot of inside its ranks, Congress with out the Gandhis nonetheless appears unfathomable and Rahul Gandhi stays the recognisable face of the celebration.

“Earlier there was a divinity related to this dynasty: it was unspoken however they very a lot felt they have been destined to rule this nation,” stated Sugata Srinivasaraju, who authored a e-book on Rahul Gandhi. “They don’t know easy methods to behave when they’re in opposition.”

Nowhere has the battle for the Gandhi household legacy been extra seen on this election than in Raebareli, a dusty, nondescript constituency in Uttar Pradesh. The state was as soon as the stronghold of Congress however below Modi it slipped from its grip to turn out to be a bastion of the BJP. Raebareli is the one secure Congress seat left.

Indian Nationwide Congress celebration chief and candidate for Raebareli constituency Rahul Gandhi leaves on a helicopter after a joint marketing campaign rally with the Samajwadi celebration president, Akhilesh Yadav, in Kannauj. {Photograph}: Pawan Kumar/AFP/Getty Photos

Raebareli already has undue significance for the Gandhis, who’ve stored the household enterprise alive right here for many years. It was the constituency of Indira Gandhi and later Sonia Gandhi. Now the baton has been handed on to Rahul Gandhi, with Priyanka Gandhi spearheading the marketing campaign.

Amongst bustling markets of the town, the stature of the household was nonetheless evident. “We’re proud to have the Gandhis symbolize us, they’ve performed a variety of good right here,” stated Mohammad Riaz, 45, a rickshaw driver. “If the Gandhis have been in control of all of India, the nation can be free once more.”

But others accused them of neglect. “The Gandhis have taken our vote right here without any consideration for too lengthy, they solely got here right here to win elections after which we didn’t see them once more,” stated Ranjana Singh, 24, a masters scholar. “However this time spherical Rahul Gandhi is current on the bottom and he’s speaking concerning the horrible lack of jobs we’re all going through. So I need to give him an opportunity.”

Rahul Gandhi remains to be Congress’s most believable candidate for prime minister, although the celebration insists this resolution will solely be made after the election. Nevertheless, a lot of the blame for Congress’s entrenched failures has been laid at his toes. Rahul is accused of being a weak chief who didn’t reform the celebration’s undemocratic construction, and is perceived as ambivalent to energy, having seen each his father, Rajiv, and his grandmother, Indira, assassinated whereas in workplace.

“Rahul typically veers extra in direction of the non secular slightly than being that hard-nosed Indian politician he actually must be to win elections,” stated Srinivasaraju.

Perceptions of Rahul Gandhi started to shift in 2023 when he launched into a 2,200km pilgrimage from north to south India on foot. Within the face of the muscular, rightwing Hindu nationalism of Modi and the BJP, he spoke of non secular concord, equality and social justice, and took on the mantle of a rugged, street-fighting statesman, full with a greying bushy beard. Nevertheless, the pervasive view amongst commentators is that he nonetheless lacks the frequent contact, strongman political charisma and oratory abilities to go up towards Modi.

Priyanka Gandhi – who performs an organisational function within the celebration however is commonly described as a extra pure politician than her older brother – has described Rahul because the “ideological centre of the celebration right now”. “Our household is likely one of the issues that holds the Congress collectively,” she stated. “However primarily it’s our ideology: that there’s a place for each faith, each caste, each creed on this nation.”

She hit again at Modi’s criticisms of Congress being a celebration of nepotism and privilege. “I can provide you a protracted checklist of so-called dynastic politicians who’re flourishing within the BJP and no one is saying something about it.”

‘An out and out ideological battle’

Within the final election, Congress received simply 51 out of 546 seats in parliament and now controls solely three state governments. Priyanka Gandhi denied Congress was in decline, at the same time as an opposition drive. “We’re standing as much as them, we’re standing as much as all their unprecedented strain ways,” she stated. “This election is an out and out ideological battle.”

Over the previous decade, Congress has been amongst dozens of opposition events saying they’ve confronted a sustained assault by the Modi authorities, which has been accused of utilizing devices and companies of the state to systematically go after and weaken political opponents and critics.

In 2023, Rahul Gandhi was convicted and sentenced to 2 years in jail for defaming the identify Modi, in a case that opponents and activists alleged was politically trumped as much as stop him contesting elections. He was expelled from parliament earlier than his sentence was overturned by the court docket. Then, weeks earlier than the final election started, the tax authorities froze Congress celebration accounts.

Now not the political heavyweight it as soon as was, on this election Congress is contesting the bottom variety of parliamentary seats in 75 years and in lots of constituences is combating as a part of an opposition coalition of about 25 events, who got here collectively below the acronym “INDIA” in a bid to oust Modi.

Although the INDIA coalition was initially blighted by infighting and competing agendas, with Congress accused of making an attempt to claim itself as a frontrunner, it has proved extra resilient than many analysts predicted. Opposition narratives round unemployment and rising inflation have gained momentum, and experiences of low voter turnout have indicated that Modi and the BJP might lose some seats this time spherical, giving Congress and different opposition leaders renewed confidence.

“Modi’s rhetoric is getting progressively an increasing number of shrill and that’s usually the signal of somebody who’s in bother or who’s anxious or nervous about one thing,” stated Priyanka Gandhi.

Nonetheless, analysts stated this confidence could also be misplaced, with polls suggesting it stays unlikely Congress will make sizeable positive aspects when outcomes are counted on 4 June.

Srinivasaraju stated a Modi third time period was solely prone to carry the household extra grief. “When Modi got here to energy he spoke about creating an India with out Congress. This didn’t imply wiping out the celebration, it meant wiping out the Gandhi dynasty.”

Aakash Hassan contributed reporting

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