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.

News
Alex Salmond said he accepted 'the democratic verdict of the people'
newsSNP leader says Scotland must move forward as 'one nation'
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Foundation Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Nursery Teacher position in Devon Dev...

Primary Teacher

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers ...

Nursery Assistant Plymouth

£10000 - £20000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week