What next for India's Congress party? Sandeep Chandra has the answers

But can the Indian shipping tycoon help revitalise the party in time for the next election?

Sandeep Chandra is an urbane tycoon with long term political ambitions. As a senior member of the National Shipping Board, he wants the UK to acknowledge the importance of India by the two countries buying and selling more ships from one another, and perhaps even creating a star alliance.

After an MBA at Delhi University in 2004 he met Sonia Gandhi; impressed and convinced, he joined the Congress Party.

During UP1 he was the co-ordinator in charge of media for the Karnataka Assembly Elections and in UP2 he joined The National Shipping Board. Now he plans to connect Indian States with canals, and introduce concessions to educate fisherman and bring them into the mainstream.

When I asked him why shipping his answer reveals the full scope of his ambitions for India. “Anyone who wants to rule the world has to rule the seas,” he said.

Tall and imposing, smart and well-coiffed, he is no nonsense and straight talking.

Chandra admits to being a career politician who began with a teenage interest in politics that has been augmenting ever since. He calls himself a “Congress Party Soldier”, and although he has tremendous experience in shipping it’s possible that this is just a stepping stone for his partisan aspirations.

He is not surprised at the result of the Lok Sabha elections but he is surprised the West did not see it coming. He is not very complimentary about the engagement of the British High Commission with Indian politicians. He prefers them to connect with “the third tier of politicians and the folks who call the shots”.

Unlike the monarchs in the Congress Party, Chandra knows exactly what went wrong for the incumbent government. “Times have changed the people no longer trust the feudal set up to represent them,” he says. 

According to him, the advisers around Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are “drawing room politicians” who are into theory and not practical on the ground, and had a tin ear to what was going on in the country.

He is particularly chagrined that Uttar Pradesh only managed two Congress MP’s when usually they field the largest number. Tamil Nadu managed 37 MP’s in one State, only seven less than Congress nationally.

When asked about the origins of his loyalty to the Congress party Chandra cites the two martyred Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, certainly two devastating and tragic events in the history of The Union Territory of India, he emphasises Congress is the oldest secular party in India.

When challenged if this is relevant to today when the winds of change are behind the non-elite, he suggests that Priyanka Gandhi will be the new chosen face of the revamped Congress Party, and appeal to India's youth.

But beyond just a physical resemblance to her grandmother, does Priyanka Gandhi have substance? “Priyanka is a valiant fighting machine,” says Chandra, comparing her political determination and values to her grandmother’s when Bangladesh was carved out of Pakistan.

Chandra is adamant that Priyanka Ghandi will expunge Congress of its stale leadership, and promises to introduce fresh blood into the party. The Congress mantra will be “Bring issues to the people”, he says, with the issues being liberation, infotech and empowerment.

One detail that New Congress may have to redefine is Indira Gandhi’s socialism (just as Tony Blair did with New Labour in 1994).

Whatever Congress decide to do, they are fortunate to have such a loyal “Congress Party Soldier” in Chandra, and would likely benefit from putting him in a challenging seat in the next election. Although it's still far too early to see whether he can use his powers of persuasion to win over voters. We shall have to wait until 2019 to find out.

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