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India Congress Party Will Turn Again To The Gandhi Family

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Congress Party will turn again to the Gandhi family

As the prime minister declines, attention turns to Harvard, Cambridge grad

By Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver Sun - October 17, 2011


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addresses an election campaign
rally in 2009. It is believed that he has been manipulated behind the scenes
by Sonia Gandhi, Congress Party leader.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh embodies that tried-and-true saying that all political careers end in failure.

Singh as Finance Minister in the 1990s started to dismantle India's numbing state socialism and opened up the market to innovation and investment that is making the country a competitor with China.

He has continued this charge since becoming Prime Minister in 2004 and since the unusual achievement in Indian politics of getting his Congress partyled United Progressive Alliance re-elected in 2009.

But Singh, who is now 79 years old and not in good health, is showing signs of no longer seeing what is going on around him or the will to reaffirm his leadership.

Singh failed a year ago to grasp the depth of public outrage at clear evidence his telecommunications minister had dispensed lucrative cellphone franchises at giveaway prices to favoured bidders. It was only after the allegations of endemic corruption in his government reached boiling point that Singh fired the minister.

There was similar reluctance to act by Singh in the scandals involving corruption and incompetence around the organization of the Commonwealth Games in October last year.

Singh's firming image as an incompetent leader sinking in a sea of dishonest colleagues came into full focus with the anti-corruption campaign led by ascetic activist Anna Hazare demanding graft laws with teeth.

And the bloom has gone off Singh's economic achievements too. Inflation is running at about 10 per cent and in India, as in many parts of the world, there is mounting disenchantment at the widening gap between rich and poor.

One of the few bright spots in Singh's declining career is the gift of his opponents' folly.

The opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in disarray.

The man who wants to lead the BJP, Narendra Modi, the chief minister (premier) of Gujarat state is a tainted commodity as a national figure because of persistent suspicions he at least condoned the 2002 religious riots in which about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed by Hindu nationalists.

But with the next general election due in 2014 there is no expectation that Singh will lead Congress.

And as always happens within the Congress Party at times of uncertainty and anxiety, there is a rush to find an eligible member of the Gandhi family, the dynasty that has in one guise or another dominated the party since independence in 1947, to take up the baton.

The frisson of anxiety is more intense because of the illness of the queen bee of the clan and Congress Party leader, Sonia Gandhi.

She is the Italian-born widow of Rajiv Gandhi who was assassinated in 1991 while campaigning for election after having taken Congress leadership over from his mother Indira Gandhi when she too was assassinated in 1984.

There is little doubt that when the Congress-led alliance won the 2004 election Sonia Gandhi hoped to be prime minister.

But after days of seemingly endless processions of party elders trooping in and out of her villa, the verdict was that an Italian, however thoroughly Indianized, could not lead the country.

Sonia selected Singh to be prime minister, and there has been a good deal of gossip that he has been, in effect, Sonia's proxy whom she manipulates from behind the scenes.

With Singh and perhaps Sonia now fading from the scene, critical scrutiny has turned on her son Rahul Gandhi, 41-year-old product of both Harvard and Cambridge universities.

Despite intense grooming, however, there are questions whether Rahul is made of the right stuff to lead the Congress Party. He appears to lack political anchor or the ability to manage the huge opportunities that have been served up to him.

The latest silver spoon proffered to Rahul is the running of Congress guided by three stalwart party grandees while his mother is being treated for her illness.

It is undoubtedly a tough task for him to manage the party with issues like corruption, inflation and a contentious land acquisition bill bubbling in parliament.

The deciding factor on Rahul's future, however, will probably be how well Congress does in elections next year in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh.

If he fails that test, then eyes will turn to his sister Priyanka Vadra. Most of the smart money wagered on the political future of the Gandhi family has been on her for some years anyway, but she has always been adamant it is not a crown she wants to wear.


© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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