Friday, May 9, 2008


The Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) have, as was evident despite denials, rediscovered their similarities and compatibilities in Uttar Pradesh (UP). In the face of the triumphant march of the getting bigger and bigger elephant of Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), they have realised that they have little choice but to suffer and yet support each other to avoid getting trampled under the elephant’s massive feet.

For the SP, this strategy makes great sense as it is likely to benefit from transfer of the admittedly miniscule vote bank of the Congress which will help it fill the gap between very narrow defeat and victory in a number of constituencies, enabling it to remain at least the second largest party in UP. For the Congress, on the other hand, the benefits do not appear to of any real use. The party is today almost totally decimated in a state that was once its stronghold and from where the Nehru-Gandhi family has fought all its elections. Seeing it grasp Mulayam Yadav’s dhoti out of sheer desperation as a minor and almost insignificant partner cannot please anyone who has seen the heights that the party had scaled and held on to for a very long time.

Sania Mirza has done to Indian sport what no sportswoman as ever been able to do. And her influence is not limited to tennis alone. She has inspired lots of young girls to take to sport and has at the same time caught the attention of boys and men who avidly follow her performances on and off the court. PT Usha is without doubt the greatest woman athlete that India has produced. But she never became the icon and inspiration that Sania has become, helped greatly by the media explosion that keeps the spotlight on her. Sania epitomises what pretty young women want to become and what a lot of men want in a woman. She exudes a raw energy that can charge up even the laziest of guys. Should she ever decide to stand for elections, there is little doubt that she will get a whole lot of women votes. Many men, young and old, notwithstanding their political affiliations, will also find themselves pressing her button, on the electronic voting machine.

After Rajiv Gandhi’s tragic assassination, the nation hardly ever got to see Rahul Gandhi as he went abroad to study, though some say sarcastically that he went there to ‘discover’ India from the eyes of the White Man. Apart from the reticent Sonia Gandhi handicapped to some extent by her difficulty with Hindi and her Italian roots, the only other member of the Family that was seen and heard for years was Priyanka Gandhi, now Vadra.

Priyanka has always come across as a determined pretty young lady with a ready, genuine and winning smile, and a spontaneity and easy natural charm that appeals to all. Before Rahul Gandhi returned to India to stake his claim to the throne of the Congress and thereby the nation, Congressmen - nothing new - were quite vociferous in proclaiming Priyanka as the New Hope of the party. Now nobody says that even in a whisper.

A few days back, Priyanka Gandhi reminded everyone that she was still around, and how. Showing great courage and compassion, she went and met Nalini, the assassin of her father, in Vellore jail. This is not something which many people can do and handle with grace considering the intense emotions involved. But, if one goes by reports in the press, Priyanka was able to connect with Nalini – they even spoke about the caesarean births of their children – so well that the latter exclaimed later that her sins had been washed.

Not having yet been deleted from the collective memory of the India that has seen her grow after her father’s demise, her dramatic re-appearance, though personal, has made a bigger impact than the numerous consciously political steps that the Congress has taken in the recent past to win back the voters it has been steadily losing for a number of years now. The enduring image of the tender Priyanka trying bravely to fill her father’s shoes has been positively reinforced in the collective consciousness of the nation.

Rahul Gandhi has been visiting dalit homes all over the country in his ongoing ‘Discover India’ journeys, to connect with them and make them believe that he is with them more sincerely than even Mayawati is. Unfortunately, his rather long absence from India and stay in the West has broken the average Indian’s connect with him. This handicap is reinforced by his rather formal Western mannerisms which lack spontaneity and which, to Indians living in the countryside, are alien, aloof and not ‘theirs’. Try to picture Rahul in dalit home on a dalit cot and you will get a sense of the gap that dalits and other ordinary villagers feel between him and them, even though most of them belong to the same generation that he represents.

Priyanka, on the other hand, looking and sounding totally Indian in a saree or salwar kameez, will appear at home and comfortable and natural even squatting, village women style, in the house of a poor dalit or non-dalit. Her act will not appear laboured and she will communicate easily with all. The word will spread quickly and she will be the recipient of the simple and uncultivated affection of the young and the unconditional blessings of the elder.This will translate into a substantial number of votes at the time of elections.

Priyanka’s entry into the political arena will rattle Mayawati really hard, arousing her deeper insecurities and forcing her to work double time to keep her dalit flock with her.

Priyanka’s return to active politics will also electrify and galvanize the Congress like it has not been for decades. Is that not what the Congress party wants? Does it really behove the Grand Party to demean itself by latching on to the ‘goondas’ of SP for its very survival, forget revival?

The real ‘SP’ that Rahul Gandhi needs to revive the Congress in UP, indeed the country, is thus not Samajwadi Party but Sister Priyanka, that pretty bundle of spontaneous, accessible energy that many Indians can relate to. Through her, they can also better connect emotionally to not only her father but her grandmother Indira Gandhi too.

With the real SP’s active help and involvement, Rahul will be able to lead the revival of the Congress party in a serious and meaningful manner. The visible sibling bonding will also appeal to all Indians who cherish the strong traditional family values that set India apart from other individualistic societies where these have largely disappeared.

Tagging on to other competing and stronger political outfits may not bring in the desired tactical advantage that the Congress is looking for in the next general election. What it will almost certainly lead to is a strategic disaster from which recovery will be long, painful and difficult, if at all.

It is up to Rahul now to decide which is the SP that he really needs.
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