The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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GandhiNext joins the party

New Delhi, Jan. 22: The Congress best-kept secret is out: Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi are primary members of the party.

Spokesman Anand Sharma did not come to the routine party briefing to formally announce the news of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi’s children joining politics but blurted it out apparently under provocation.

“Both Rahul and Priyanka are primary members of the Congress. I am confirming it,” he said in exasperation while responding to a question.

The root of his anger lay in the BJP criticising the Congress for promoting dynastic politics. “They (Priyanka and Rahul) are an integral part of the Congress, not second, third, fourth but fifth generation, stepping out boldly to serve the people. Let the collective BJP leadership claim one family or leader who participated in the freedom struggle,” Sharma said.

“The RSS role is well known and recorded by historians... supporting the colonial rulers,” he added.

“Rahul and Priyanka did not even announce their entry into politics, their mere visit to Amethi and Rae Bareli has sent jitters to the BJP,” he said.

Asked if under the party constitution, they had become members, Sharma let the cat out of the bag. He then went on to explain: “They are an integral part of the Congress, there is an emotional and historic dimension and when it comes to technicality, they are primary members of the party.”

Asked when they enrolled as members, he said: “We will let you know later.”

No one in the party knows the date the two became members or, if they know, they will not divulge. Ambika Soni, a member of the inner circle at 10 Janpath, feigned ignorance. Other senior leaders demurred in offering a political interpretation of the move.

Despite the party playing down the importance of the announcement, insiders said the veil of secrecy has been removed and the next Nehru-Gandhi generation has moved to centre stage to give a helping hand to Sonia Gandhi.

There are two views in the party on whether Rahul and Priyanka should plunge into active politics now. There is an overwhelming demand for them from several state headquarters, but a section of the party think tank feels they should first learn the ropes.

“It is one thing to draw crowds and another to fight long-term players such as the Mulayam Singh Yadavs, Mayavatis and the Pramod Mahajans,” said a source.

He believed that shifting the focus to Priyanka and Rahul might not be an effective strategy now. “It is a war of perception. Panic reaction is not good,” he said.

Sources said indications are that one of them, if not both, will contest. Contrary to popular perception, it may be Rahul — and not Priyanka — who will fight from Rae Bareli, once held by his grandmother Indira Gandhi. Sonia will contest from Amethi and Priyanka will campaign.

A close confidante of Sonia said: “This (Rahul and Priyanka becoming primary members) does not mean they have joined active politics. It is just a manifestation of intent.”

“Anybody who has to contest has to enroll as a primary member of the party, that is the first step,” the senior leader said. Asked when they joined the party, the leader parried the question: “No surprise, if they are found to be primary members.”

Party leaders were at pains to explain that it was up to Rahul and Priyanka to decide whether to contest. “Visiting Amethi and Rae Bareli is nothing new, it is a matter of interpretation,” said another senior leader.

As recently as yesterday, Abhishek Singhvi, a spokesman, had declined to confirm whether the two had joined the party. “They were in the party by birth,” he had said.

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