Predictably, Priyanka - Only One Name On Congress Shortlist

So how do you replace a President named Rahul Gandhi? Well, if you are a member of Dynasty Central, otherwise known as the Congress party, the only choice is his sister, Priyanka Gandhi.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, a rare commodity currently in the Congress in that he is a successful and mass leader, has now joined Shashi Tharoor's cry of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for President. Singh said that "PGV was an ideal candidate for Congress president while adding "Rahul Gandhi would need to take a call on that but there would be absolute support from the party if he wishes that."

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Sources say Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has told senior Congress leaders that there is no question of her taking the top post

Tharoor in an interview to the wire service PTI said yesterday that he hopes PGV will throw her hat in the ring when the party calls for the election of its president. Tharoor added it was up to the Gandhi family to decide if she would contest for the job. He also spoke with candour - arguably another rarity in the Congress - about "lack of clarity over the leadership (is) hurting the Congress." Tharoor wants elections for all key posts including the Congress Working committee (CWC) as a way "to legitimise the incoming set of leaders". In an interview to NDTV today, he said that the Congress Working Committee cannot decide the next president since its own members are not elected.

The new call for PGV comes as the Congress flailed in its efforts to save the Karnataka government.

And though this was perhaps the biggest sign of its coma since Rahul Gandhi quit nearly seventy days ago, the party showed some signs of perking up after the Singh intervention was made public - "PGV for President."

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For the party headed by a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family for much of its 134-year history, it is a tough break

The problem with this premise is that her sibling Rahul Gandhi had expressly stated when he quit that he did not want a member of his family to replace him. While this seemed to render PGV off-limits at the time, senior leaders who I spoke to for this column say that it can only be PGV who can prevent a Congress implosion or a party split as Team Sonia (senior leaders) squares off against Team Rahul (Young Turks).

RG had a turbulent 18-month tenure as party chief compared to his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who clocked 19 years to become the longest-serving Congress president.

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Congress has been flailing since Rahul Gandhi stepped down just two years after taking over from his mother Sonia Gandhi 

"Rahul Gandhi has not thought his decision through. How can he bar his sister from being President, specially as the party wants her?" argued a senior leader. "Which non-Gandhi president will be able to function with all the members of the Gandhi family in active politics?"

Clearly, the Gandhis are the humongous elephant in the AICC office as no senior leader is inclined to think about running against them - or in spite of them. And while PGV was extremely reluctant earlier to consider the job, the existential crisis that has gripped the party may be too much to turn her back on. Significantly, the only recent sign from the Congress that is still a force to be reckoned with was the PGV face-off last week with Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, as she tried to meet with the families of 10 tribals who had been massacred in Sonbhadra. Even when PGV staged her all-night sit-in at the guest house where she was detained, she insisted that she "had been sent there by Rahul-ji".

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Priyanka Gandhi spent the night at a government guest house after being taken into custody on her way to a village where 10 people were shot dead over a land dispute

RG at that point was away in the United States. But this indicates how warily PGV, otherwise an aggressive leader, is treading so as not to stop all over her brother's explicit wish for his family to no longer lead the party.

I had written earlier that while Sonbhadra was no Belchi moment, comparing PGV to her grandmother Indira, it did showcase PGV as a politician with sharp instincts. And the Congress managed to stir itself as some leaders tried to reach the guest house to support her.

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Priyanka Gandhi has often been talked about as a "born leader" with several traits similar to her grandmother and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

But while for the Congress, no Gandhi can do wrong, PGV still has a long way to go to establish herself as a mass leader with the voters and to ensure that Sonbhadra does not become like Rahul Gandhi's Bhatta Parsaul moment. Gandhi had sneaked into the UP village in May 2011 on a bike to protest the then Mayawati government's land acquisition and was arrested. Eventually it became just another moment in the shoot-and-scoot school of Rahul Gandhi Politics, with him failing to maintain any consistency on the issue.

Tharoor and Singh have voiced what the Congress is thinking and it is unlikely that they would have done it without a cursory sign off from PGV. Sonia Gandhi has already rejected an appeal from senior leaders that she take over as interim president. Perhaps the extent of the party paralysis where communiques and decisions are issued in the name of the Rahul Gandhi despite his checking out have persuaded the family to take another shot.

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Rahul Gandhi had reportedly said, while conveying his decision to give up the top job, "leave my sister out of it"

Or perhaps the trigger is the draining away of political power evident in the Karnataka government collapse and the giant hint by Tamil Nadu ally Stalin - the DMK chief who has invited Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal CM to inaugurate a statue of his father, political giant M Karunanidhi, in Chennai on August 7. Banerjee is not a formal ally and in December last year, Sonia Gandhi had been invited to do similar honours.

So while the Gandhis doth protest too much, the signs are that the party has no fall back but them. The Gandhis are both the stress factor and stress response. This while eating the BJP's dust.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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