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Rumours swirl around another Gandhi

By Graham Cooke - posted Wednesday, 15 January 2014

In ordinary times, the fact that Priyanka Vadra, the sister of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, had "dropped in" for a few minutes on her brother's meeting with party leaders would not have warranted a mention in the Indian media.

But these are not ordinary times.

Instead the fact was covered in two of the country's main newspapers, the Times of India and the Hindustan Times and on numerous websites, with party sources being forced to deny there was any significance in her visit. Home Minister Sushikumar Shinde said her attendance was "nothing new…she is part of the Congress Party, she often attends meetings".


Priyanka might well have looked in on the meeting because she had heard they were serving her favourite samosas for all anyone really knows, but this has not stopped speculation that she is about to plunge onto the political scene to prop up Congress' failing fortunes.

This stems from the fact that with less than five months to a national election, Congress is a party in crisis, its hold on power as the senior member of the ruling coalition for the past decade increasingly in question.

Savaged at recent State elections, it is facing challenges on two fronts – from the traditional opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by the charismatic if controversial Narendra Modi and, perhaps more importantly, by a newcomer, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), whose spectacular debut in the Delhi State election has resulted in it forming a minority government in the area that contains the national capital.

Congress, which had previously been in power there, lost 35 seats and will be forced to support Aam Aadmi if only to keep out the BJP.

The AAP fought on an anti-corruption platform, which has struck a chord in a country where obtaining the most basic services often requires backhanders to a succession of minor officials. Its key strategist in the Delhi success, Yogendra Yadav, has since declared its intention of fighting the national elections, due by May.

"AAP will put up candidates in 15 to 20 States at the coming elections, and we will decide on a Prime Ministerial candidate at a later date," Yadav was quoted as saying.


The bad news for Congress is that the newcomer appears to be gaining significant support among middle class educated professionals that form one of Congress' key support groups. A recent list of some 20 prominent Indians who say they will support AAP contained just one who had previously been attached to the BJP.

While AAP will certainly have an impact, putting a national structure in place takes time – and time is not on AAP's side, at least for this election. Already lack of experience has resulted in it back-pedaling on remarks made by one of its leaders on the thorny question of the fate of Kashmir, which has bedevilled India-Pakistani relationships since the partition of the sub-continent.

Many observers say Congress' problems arise from its obsession with promoting Rahul Gandhi as its Prime Ministerial candidate at the national poll. Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather all led India at one time or another, is the latest member of the dynasty which has dominated the Congress Party, and Indian politics in general, since independence.

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About the Author

Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.

He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.

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