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Glue for Alliances, Balm for Old Guard: Why Sonia Gandhi Didn’t Make Way for Daughter Priyanka in Family Bastion


New Delhi: It came as little surprise once the Congress first list for Lok Sabha elections was released on Thursday evening that Sonia Gandhi will not retire before the polls and will once again contest from Rae Bareli, the Congress stronghold from where she has been elected since 2004.

This also lays to rest speculation that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra would take over the mantle from her mother in the family bastion, at least for now.

There are several reasons why the UPA chairperson will have to wait longer for retirement.

Her sticking around as an active politician underlines the harsh reality that at a critical phase when the Congress is trying to stitch up strategic alliances to take on the BJP, she remains the glue. Many alliance partners and potential ones would prefer to speak and negotiate with her rather than Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
A stark example of this was when Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee went on record to say that she was more comfortable with Sonia Gandhi, and that Rahul Gandhi requires some more time.

Although Rahul Gandhi has come a long way and evolved over the last one year, the preference for mother over son still remains.

This feeling also persists in the old guard of the Congress, for whom the 72-year-old’s continuance is a big victory. According to sources, they were uncomfortable with the thought that she would quit active politics and had urged her to contest again.

With Sonia Gandhi still around, these leaders feel that their political future too remains intact.

Had Priyanka Gandhi been fielded from Rae Bareli, as the rumour mill was so confident of, it would have been a huge setback for them because it would have meant that the brother-sister duo would call all the shots.

By not naming Priyanka in the first list of candidates, the Congress has shown that it is still too early to bring her into active politics and to let her over take over from her mother.

Instead, she has been asked to concentrate on building the organisation and focus on the campaigning for the election.

Rumours of Sonia Gandhi’s retirement had stemmed from her ill health and her drastically reduced public appearances. She has hardly visited her constituency in the last term, and the last few times that she was supposed to, she had to cancel it because of medical check-ups.

It was left to Priyanka Gandhi to look after the constituency, and hence, it gave rise to speculation that she could contest this time.

But the Congress believes that Sonia Gandhi can still pull the votes, and is also a key to wooing voters in Amethi as well. The Rae Bareli seat has also largely been left alone by the BJP, unlike Amethi, where the saffron party has thrown a stiff challenge.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently visited Amethi, soon after a visit by union minister Smriti Irani.

Sonia’s continuance as a candidate also sends out another important message to the party cadre that Priyanka Gandhi will focus on all seats in eastern UP and not just her own.

Had Priyanka Gandhi contested, she would have had to pay more attention to Rai Bareli and campaign there extensively. However, sources in the party say her contesting this election should not be ruled out in the future.

But for now, it’s very clear that in what is going to be a tough election, Sonia Gandhi is still indispensable for the Congress.

| Edited by: Aakarshuk Sarna

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