Rahul Gandhi has no cause for worry, Indira, Sonia Gandhi's career graphs point the way

In 1966, shortly after the sudden death of Lal Bahadur Shastri catapulted Indira Gandhi into the Prime Minister’s chair, socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia (in)famously called her a "gungi gudiya" – a dumb doll. By 1971, Indira had outmanoeuvred colleagues of her father Jawaharlal Nehru who thought she would be their puppet, led her party to a famous election win on the plank of 'Garibi Hatao' (remove poverty) and ably led India in the Bangladesh war, which made Atal Bihari Vajpayee liken her to Goddess Durga.

Six years and a draconian 19-month Emergency later, Indira was voted out of power, even jailed by the Janata government for the excesses of her reign between 1975 and 77, but was back at the helm in 1980.

Her son Rajiv was luckier. Indira's assassination delivered him a 400-seat odd brute majority in the Lok Sabha in the 1984 elections. By 1987, Rajiv, initially acclaimed to be the great hope, was portrayed more as a bumbling leader and ridiculed incessantly in the press.

Rajiv was an average orator. Journalists had taken to count the number of times Rajiv used the phrase "hamein dekhna hai" (We shall see...) in his meandering speeches. His bloopers were legendary. He once advised chilly farmers to grow red chillies instead of green because red ones were more remunerative. Another time, Rajiv congratulated countrymen on August 15 from the ramparts of Red Fort on the occasion of "gantantrata divas" (Republic Day) instead of "swatantrata divas" (Independence Day). Rajiv lost the 1989 elections, but some political observers think he was on the cusp of a comeback when he was assassinated in May 1991.

Not even Rajiv's most ardent supporters in the Congress gave his "foreigner" wife Sonia much of a chance when she became Congress president in 1998. Her credibility hit a low a year later with a botched effort to replace the Vajpayee government. “We have 272…,” her famously erroneous boast turned her into a widely-lampooned figure. When mid-May, 2004, finally came, BJP’s ‘India Shining’ campaign bombed spectacularly, and Sonia was hailed for leading her party to power and for her act of renunciation in giving up the PM’s office.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who is obviously still coming to terms with his traumatic teens, need only to look at the stories of his grandmother and mother to realise that all he needs to do is hang in there, and circumstances will likely to push him towards the prime ministerial chair of their own. Both Indira and Sonia's opponents had contributed substantially to make possible their comebacks in 1980 and 2004, respectively.

What Sonia achieved in 2004, and Rahul could in 2019, was a result of the coming together of diverse interests upset with the Vajpayee government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is wary of that 'India Shining' debacle, imploring MPs and party workers to showcase the government's pro-poor agenda.

But his government's attitude towards NGOs, cow slaughter and its puzzling obstinacy on land acquisition could lend a unity of purpose to activist groups across the country. These groups count for little on their own but are a potent force cumulatively and can work towards unseating the Modi government in 2019.

During the Vajpayee years, there were two crucial meetings of such groups – the Asian Social Forum of January 2003 in Hyderabad and the World Social Forum of January 2004 in Mumbai. These were the kumbh mela of activists of all hues from across India and the world, where Indian activist groups networked with each other and developed an understanding on the way forward for the Lok Sabha elections.

UPA-I's setting up of the National Advisory Council, which shepherded the RTI, MNREGA and loan waiver and ensured an improved tally in 2009, were an ode to all these influences, which the UPA-II government forgot in some hurry.

Whether the educated urban middle class likes it or not, and however much all of us might hate dynasties and worship merit, after a point all that matters to India's millions is that here is a 'yuvraj' willing to raise issues that concern them, whatever his past record might be.



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