The widow at No 10 fails to restore Congress fortunes

Tim McGirk in New Delhi watches the scramble to capitalise on the legacy of India's prime dynasty

For Indians, 10 Jan Path has become as famous as 10 Downing Street for Britons. It is not where the Indian Prime Minister lives, but the New Delhi home of Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Rajiv Gandhi. Increasingly, the fate of the governing Congress party is in her hands.

Over the past week her driveway has been jammed withCongress ministers, parliamentarians and state legislators paying court to the widow of the late prime minister. Mrs Gandhi, 47, was wooed by two warring factions: one headed by the Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, and the other by two party rebels, Arjun Singh, a former cabinet minister, and N D Tiwari, a powerful party boss from Uttar Pradesh state.

Mrs Gandhi, a painting-restorer by training, was trying to patch up differences between the two factions before a split occurred in the party that has dominated Indian politics for nearly half a century.

More accustomed to Indian miniatures than to the broad canvas of ideologies and intrigues in today's Congress party, Mrs Gandhi failed in her restoration. On Friday the rebels broke away from the party.

Mrs Gandhi has always maintained an enigmatic silence on party affairs but this time word leaked out of 10 Jan Path that she was upset by the Prime Minister's "lukewarm'' and ``evasive" response to her fence-mending. Political observers who engage in the arcane practice of trying to interpret Mrs Gandhi's moods through her silence claim she snubbed the Prime Minister at a wreath-laying ceremony yesterday marking the fourth anniversary of her husband's assassination. Mr Rao arrived late, one minute before the service ended, and she wheeled away without greeting him.

The rebels were also hovering at Rajiv Gandhi's memorial, for they and Mr Rao are all trying to pass themselves off as the heirs of the Nehru- Gandhi dynasty which has ruled the party since even before independence in 1947.

So far, the split does not pose much of a threat to Mr Rao. Twelve MPs defected but many more are showing growing signs of discontent with Mr Rao, despite the economic growth his reforms have produced. Mr Singh, claiming to represent the "real" Congress party, and Mr Tiwari were able to attract more than 30,000 disgruntled party workers to a rally on Friday in New Delhi.

They are blaming Mr Rao for the party's debacle in the last round of state-assembly elections and are demanding that he resign as party leader.

Mr Singh and Mr Tiwari say that only by dumping Mr Rao now can Congress rebuild itself in time to stave off certain defeat in next year's general election against a growing movement of right-wing Hinduism. "There is no question of toppling the government," Mr Singh asserted.

At an emergency meeting over the weekend with his party loyalists, Mr Rao decided to take disciplinary action against the dissidents, threatening them with a six-year expulsion from the party. But the momentum against Mr Rao is rolling. Several of his "loyalists", including Sharad Pawar, the powerful former chief minister of Maharashtra, found excuses not to attend Mr Rao's council of war. In parliament last week Mr Rao narrowly escaped a no-confidence motion over the army's failure to prevent a Muslim shrine being burnt down in Kashmir.

That Congress's future depends on an Italian-born housewife with no political qualifications shows, according to analysts in New Delhi, how far the party which produced such giants as Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi has sunk.

Few observers give the party any chance of winning next year's general election. India will most probably be governed by the emerging right-wing Hindu parties or by a coalition of parties divided on lines of region, caste and religion.

It bodes ill for Mahatma Gandhi's dream of a secular, united India.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Wes Brown is sent-off
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review