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
Monday 22 May 1995
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.
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
'Fire at every person you see': Israeli soldiers reveal they were ordered to shoot to kill in Gaza – even if the targets may have been civilians
Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
Who should I vote for? The Independent quiz matches best political party for undecided voters ahead of the general election
First-time buyers in London 'need to earn at least £77,000'
General Election 2015: Photographic history of Bullingdon Club tracked down - including new picture of David Cameron in his finery
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...
£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...
Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...
£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...