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Congress and the Gandhi Dynasty
When the Italian-born, Rajiv Gandhi's widow Sonia broke a long silence to announce that she would campaign for the Congress party in mid-term polls, party leaders were seen dancing in the streets.
Then Congress President Sitaram Kesri announced that he was grateful to the Gandhi widow her for ''coming to the party's rescue at a time when it was in danger.''
The Gandhi widow's decision was the best news for the Congress party since it pulled the rug from under the minority United Front government late November demanding ouster from the Cabinet of members belonging to a regional party indicted by a probe for links with Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, the suspected assassins of her husband in 1991.
Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral resigned rather than drop the ministers from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, which rules southern Tamil Nadu state. The Congress then found itself facing an election with little to commend it but a string of corruption cases.
Worse, Gandhi appeared to distance herself from party president Sitaram Kesri and even so-called Gandhi family loyalists within the faction-ridden party who had hoped to generate a voter sympathy wave over the DMK's indictment.
Sensing the party was in real trouble, several prominent Congress leaders like Suresh Kalmadi from southwestern Maharashtra state, abandoned ship. Most of them expressed anger with Kesri's inept leadership.
Kesri dismissed the defections as ''good riddance,'' but when these turned into a flood, the visbly alarmed octogenarian party chief appealed to dissidents not to use the Congress party ''like a railway station to catch a fast train out.''
Most of the deserters have either joined the party's arch foe the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or struck deals with it.
Sonia Gandhi's entry could undermine Kesri's authority as her backers have been openly demanding that he make way for her as party chief. Prominent among the ''anti-Kesri, pro-Sonia'' faction are the regional satraps K. Karunakaran, Madhav Rao Scindia and Arjun Singh, along with influential leaders R K Dawan, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Arjun Singh, who are all members of the top party policy making Congress Working Committee (CWC).
The BJP has expectedly reacted to Sonia Gandhi's decision to campaign for the Congress by saying it would move to revive corruption allegations involving the Gandhi family. ''We will revive all cases touching Sonia Gandhi - including Bofors,'' said BJP spokesperson Sushma Swaraj, referring to the alleged payoffs in the 1986 deal by the then Gandhi government with the Swedish arms maker.
Of the many scandals involving the Congress party, the Bofors deal to purchase artillery for the army has hurt the party most and led to the Gandhi government's fall in the 1989 election.
The Congress party, however, rode back to office on a sympathy wave following Gandhi's killing by a suspected Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger suicide bomber at a poll rally in Tamil Nadu May 1991.
The successor P.V. Narasimha Rao Congress government was also quickly mired in scams with no less than 15 of Rao's cabinet colleagues having to quit over corruption charges. Rao himself is undergoing trial on some of charges, including one of bribing opposition deputies to survive a confidence motion in July 1993.
Through his five years in office, Rao had uneasy relations with Sonia Gandhi, facing demands by party members that she, as heir to the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, take over the party.
The fortunes of the Congress party haves almost inextricably been linked, since Independance in 1947, with the ''dynasty'' which started with India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and was carried on by his daughter Indira Gandhi and grandson Rajiv Gandhi.
Sonia Gandhi's son, Rahul Gandhi, heir-apparent the dynasty, voted in the third leg of parliamentary polls and said he would pursue social work whether or not he won a seat.
The 33-year-old financial consultant is contesting for the first time from the northern Indian seat of Amethi, which returned his father Rajiv Gandhi three times to parliament until 1991.
Sonia Gandhi vacated the family constituency for him in the runup to the elections and is contesting from nearby Rae Barelli, which picked her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi several times until her assassination in 1984. The emergence of both Rahul and Priyanka will also help to blunt the issue of their mother's foreign origins, which has been ruthlessly and successfully exploited by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. A recent opinion poll showed that 70 per cent supported the entry of the Gandhi children into politics, and 67 per cent said it would enthuse young voters, who make up half of India's 1 billion people.
The BJP, which heads India's ruling coalition Government, attacked the latest move, saying that it would have "no effect".
"India has rejected dynasty for more than a decade, so this attempt to win votes will fail," said BJP chief spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
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