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5 November, 2017 11:13:06 AM

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Memories and a legacy

Rahul Gandhi’s takeover from his mother Sonia has been on the cards for some time now
Kumkum Chadha
Memories and a legacy

October 31 has passed peacefully. There were no political upheavals by way of major announcements from the Sonia Gandhi led Congress Party.

It is a date significant in the history of the nation and the Congress thereafter: from the point of view of the nation it is important because India lost its Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi who was revered to the point of being worshipped. For the Congress, it was a loss of a leader who had steered it, given it a new identity and propelled it to power more than once.
Therefore, till the BJP took reins in the Centre, October 31 was a day of remembrance and mourning. It was a day to shed tears in the memory of a woman, a leader and a Prime Minister who was a force to reckon with and who, in many ways, had changed the dynamics of a nation and a party.
The BJP, however, decided to alter the rules and thereby give the day an identity long forgotten. It was also one several notches above Indira Gandhi’s. Call it politics if you will, but the BJP decided to resurrect Sardar Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel, one of the founding fathers of the Republic of India, whose contribution had been lost in the din of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy.
A few months after it took over in 2014, the Narendra Modi led government announced its decision toobserve the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on October 31 as "Rashtriya Ekta Diwas', National Unity Day, every year. The day, it said, will be marked by a pledge taken by all government employees as well as school and college students, to maintain the unity and integrity of the country.

All ministries and departments of the government of India and all state governments were asked  to organize  programmes befitting  the stature of Patel.

There was a quick transfer and from mourning, October 31,   became a day to celebrate national unity.

The Congress had then criticized the BJP-ruled government. They said ignoring Indira Gandhi was “petty” and slammed it for “shunning and stifling” the legacy of late Prime Minister who fell to bullets on October 31 1984.

Patel was born on October 31, 1875 in Gujarat.

 Equally, this year there were celebrations at a national level with floral tributes, a run for unity flagged off by Prime Minister Modi and reinforcing the Government’s commitment to preserve and strengthen unity, integrity and security of the nation on Patel’s  birth anniversary.

 Through the day as in the past years since 2014, Indira Gandhi found no place in the Government’s agenda. It was left to her family or the Congress party to take her memory forward and remind the nation of her contributions. For the Government it was literally a “hands off”.

The Congress of course did its bit and even while it could not take advantage of the Government machinery as it did when it held power, it did release huge advertisements in newspapers, state party units eulogizing her and her loyalists and admirers remembering her.

 Her grand son and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi did his bit by saying that the rising intolerance in the country has thrown the idea of India that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi fought for into question, adding that one-sided, discriminatory, even warped Indian-ness is being thrust upon the nation. Rahul Gandhi also said that the country’s heritage is in the hands of those who want to rewrite history and impose falsehood and unscientific ideas, terming it as “forces of darkness.”

 October 31 signified celebration and criticism as it did tears and hope. If on the one hand it was Indira Gandhi for the Congress on the other, it was Sardar Patel’s legacy coming alive.

The significance apart, Congressmen had waited with bated breath for a major announcement. There were reports doing the rounds that October 31 may mark a change of power: a handing down of a legacy from one Gandhi to another: Sonia to Rahul.

 Rahul Gandhi’s take over from his mother Sonia has been on the cards for some time now. It is a foregone conclusion and one that crops up time and again. What fails is the When question. Nobody can put a date for the major announcement though Sonia Gandhi has taken a back seat and left the stage for her son to function and steer the party the way he wants. This has left many among senior leaders somewhat sulking because they got their power from the mother and getting a foothold in the son’s domain is an uphill task.

As with every generation, the styles of functioning between Sonia and Rahul are very different as is their choice of people. In Rahul’s work-space there is little place for his mother’s courtiers. History, in this context, seems to be repeating itself because when Rahul’s father, Rajiv Gandhi, took over the reins of the Congress party, his mother’s advisers, R.K.Dhawan included, were somewhat lost. After her death, they were politically orphaned.

 Sonia Gandhi’s health being what it is, she is gradually abdicating all responsibility to Rahul and it is in this context that  reports  of his donning the mantle as Congress President on October 31 were rife. The date is symbolic given that it is associated with Indira Gandhi’s martyrdom and thus signifies sacrifice and duty to a nation.

But nothing happened on October 31. It passed off remembering a former Prime Minister but did nothing by way of a forward movement to pass over power from one generation to the other. Sonia continues to reign and Rahul remains the prince in waiting.

The next date that is being discussed is November 14: another memory and a legacy. There are reports that giving  a go-by to October 31 for anointing Rahul Gandhi is because the preferred date is November 14.

 November 14 is Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Rahul great grandfather’s, birthday. Nehru was independent India’s first Prime Minister and loved more than Indira Gandhi was. He was also seen as a statesman and thinker who shaped India. As against this, his daughter Indira was seen as power driven and controversial. Therefore, it would be more befitting to zero in on Nehru’s birthday against Indira’s day of death: November 14 over October 31.

 On the face of it, this makes sense. Nehru would always be a better story than Indira. Therefore, marking a date that has anything to do with Nehru will earn kudos and lend dignity to an event much more than it would if linked to Indira Gandhi. This could be the guiding factor for Congress. Nothing wrong in that and perfectly a valid reason.

Therefore, the Congress could go ahead with the plan to make November 14 as the “grand succession day” for Rahul Gandhi.

But while it could be a smooth run, there are strong chances of it tripping because the BJP could take a dig and one that could hit hard and boomerang on Rahul Gandhi more than it would on the Congress.

 This is because November 14 is also celebrated as Children’s Day. Famous as Chacha, uncle, Nehru loved children. Were the Congress to choose November 14, it would be a shot in the arm for the BJP that has christened Rahul as Pappu, a term popularly used for someone who is dumb. It is a common name among kids but is shunned as one comes of age.

Therefore, were the Congress to anoint Rahul on Children’s Day, the BJP would have a field day propagating that even the Congress has acknowledged Rahul’s dumbness and naivety: something the Congress could well do without.

Therefore, the Congress needs to tread with caution on symbolism and stay clear of dates that have double meanings. Adept as the BJP is at its game, it will milk this and steal whatever sheen the Congress may try to lend to the much awaited announcement.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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