Will Priyanka Gandhi join active politics? This most sought-after question was posed to her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi during his interaction with women’s rights activists and journalists at a gathering in New Delhi on Tuesday evening. And Rahul replied, saying that Priyanka had her family’s responsibilities. Yet, he would be most happy in case she decided to join politics whenever and in whatever capacity though the choice is hers.
Somehow, this clarification by Rahul silenced the votaries ready to bet for Priyanka. But the Congress chief was further probed by the gathering about the possibility of making a suitable woman leader the Opposition’s prime ministerial candidate against Narendra Modi. And in what looked to be remarkable resilience and flexibility vis-à-vis narrowing down upon Opposition’s bet for the prime minister post in the next Lok Sabha elections, Rahul indicated his willingness to relent and make way for a potentially winning woman candidate for the top post of the country in 2019.
Such positive vibes from Rahul for a candidate from the fair sex to take on Modi succeeded in sending visible signs of appreciation in the gathering of women drawn from different walks of life. This was more so since it can be a shrewd move to beat the BJP at its game and hoist a veritable Opposition front against Modi.
Leaders like Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee have virtually been looking for such a step on the Congress’ part. And all the three sides’ main concern as also that of the rest of the Opposition largely is to win over the BJP and the RSS which Rahul articulated on the Congress’ part before the gathering as the main precondition that is going to guide the Opposition’s choice of its candidate for the post of PM.
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Mayawati has asked for a reasonably good number of seats for any alliance with the Congress. This applies for the next general elections as well as Assembly polls to be held before 2019 in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Congress is going to be the main contender against the BJP in these states which are at present ruled by the saffron party. And West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been pitching in for a Federal Front with chief ministers of a few other states to try their luck against the BJP.
In view of these efforts by the leaders of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and Trinamool Congress (TMC), Rahul has tried to go a step beyond what is being expected by the two ladies and went on to indicate that anyone of the two could well be the claimant for the coveted post of the prime minister. This is what this writer has been told by some of those present through Tuesday’s interaction with Rahul though the discussion, according to them, was informal and meant to give feedback about the state of women’s rights and women’s groups’ grievances that were sought by the Congress chief.
The question for the PM post arose because there has been no woman in the top post after Rahul’s grandmother Indira Gandhi’s assassination about three-and-half decade ago. Rahul did not disappoint the gathering despite expectations in his party that he would lead the Opposition alliance. Rahul exhorted those gathered to wait till the dice is cast. This has obviously been meant to say that his party backing him has to wait until the outcome of the next polls for clarity regarding numbers.
Taken together the indications given by Rahul point to his keenness to form the broadest possible alliance of Opposition parties where he does not mind putting forward the best bet from the available choices which can well turn out to be a woman. So much so that he showed inclination to give up his or his party’s claim for the premiership of the country. Significantly, Rahul’s women-savvy move is also in keeping with his recent letter to Prime Minister Modi to assure his party’s support in Parliament to the government for getting through the women’s quota bill to reserve one-third seats in Parliament as well as State legislatures.
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The BJP is surely going to be confounded by such latest salvos fired by the Congress chief. This is more so since the BJP has often been blaming the Congress to be focused at only one top family in the party whose scions have always been controlling the party besides vying to be in the government. Rahul virtually tried to deflate these charges by showing preference for a woman candidate other than his sister Priyanka at least for now and over and above himself.
Priyanka and Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi had already declined to become prime minister when the chance came to her after winning elections over 14 years ago.
Moreover, the BJP had pitched forth one of its women leaders, Nirmala Sitharaman to be exact, to take on Rahul on his recent meeting with Muslim intellectuals which eventually led Modi to dub the Congress as a party of Muslims. This sparked off a row which went on until the monsoon session of Parliament began. And when in the debate on no-confidence motion moved by Opposition Rahul charged the government with maintaining unwarranted secrecy over the French fighter aircraft Rafale deal, it was Sitharaman who took on Rahul before the prime minister in his reply called it to be deeply related to security and, thus, not worth disclosing.
The BJP has also been blaming the Congress for coming in the way of the bill against triple Talaq at the cost of the interests of some of the Muslim women grappling with outcome of marital discord. It is amid such wrangling between the BJP and the Congress that Rahul has tried to turn the tables on the BJP by virtually agreeing for a woman’s candidature for the post of the prime minister and, thus, virtually playing the women card before a gathering of informed and influential women in Delhi.