How strong is the Gandhi name?

The nature of of Indian politics is changing.

Questions:

1. Rahul Gandhi suffered crushing defeat in crucial Uttar Pradesh state election. Does this mean that the name Gandhi is already not what it has been in India or was it just Rahul’s wrong political strategy?

2. The Gandhi-Nehru dynasty is prominent in the Indian politics for several generations already. Does this defeat maybe signalize the dusk of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty or is it just a temporary setback?

3. What is the real political power of the family anyway nowadays? Can you maybe compare them with the Kennedys in the US, or such comparison could be misleading?

Answers:

Pradeep Taneja, Research Director, Australia India Institute, University of Melbourne

1. Although the Gandhi name still has brand recognition in Uttar Pradesh, as indeed in the rest of India, the failure of the Congress Party in this month’s elections in Uttar Pradesh is a reflection of the changing nature of Indian politics. The Indian voter now wants more than just patronage. While Rahul promised a lot of things during the election campaign, the defeat of his party would indicate that he has failed to connect with the ordinary people of the state. It perhaps also indicates that caste politics continue to play an important role in UP. The more things change the more they remain the same, it would seem.

2. I think it is a temporary setback. Rahul comes across as a very determined man and if he has the stamina to continue to build his party’s grassroots support base in the state, Congress should be able to improve its standing.

3. I think a comparison with the Kennedys is rather superficial. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has a direct connection with India’s independence movement, although its members can no longer rely on their family name. They now have to work hard to win the people’s trust, as the UP elections have so clearly shown.

Sunita Parikh, Associate Professor of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis

1. I think that the Gandhi name is still strong, but the combination of poor local Congress organization in UP and the corruption scandals at the national level made a Congress win much more difficult. Rahul Gandhi remarked on the poor organizational resources of Congress in UP. This has been an ongoing problem for Congress, and they have regularly lost to regional parties over the last two or three decades. This is definitely a blow, but it’s not as if it hasn’t happened before.

2. I doubt that this signals the dusk of the dynasty, although it is clearly a setback. The Congress organization is predicated on the Gandhi family’s leadership, and there is no evidence that Sonia Gandhi is interested in yielding control of the party. It is also worth noting that while Priyanka Gandhi has stepped back and allowed Rahul to take center stage, she is considered a smart political mind and a formidable campaigner. I don’t think she’s likely to return to the political limelight any time soon, but she should not be counted out.

3. The real political power is in its ability to dominate the national organization of the Congress Party and its ability to block genuine rivals for national leadership positions. The BJP is the only party that has been able to mobilize at the national level in a way that is comparable to Congress. All other national coalition parties have depended on the temporary alliances of regional parties. It’s worth noting that the Samajwadi Party, which defeated both Congress and Mayawati’s BSP, is explicitly a regional party.

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