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It was a fine morning in 1982. There were a lot of journalists and political activists in the main hall of the Circuit House in Allahabad (now Prayagraj). Still cameras were busy clicking photographs and the room was engulfed in excitement and curiosity. Maneka, the wife of Sanjay Gandhi, the late son of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was about to announce the launch of a new party. Later, she announced ‘Sanjay Vichar Manch’ but the question that remained is how this shy young lady would be able to face the ‘iron lady’ of the country.

Akbar Ahmed Dumpy was on one side of her during that press conference, while on the other side there was J.N. Dixit, a bureaucrat-turned-politician. It was a time when heavyweights such as Jagjivan Ram, Narasimha Rao, and Narayan Dutt Tiwari were in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet. There was no comparison between the two. It is a different matter that the new party created a sensation by winning four seats in Andhra Pradesh the following year. In 1984, Maneka fought against Rajiv Gandhi from Amethi, but her timing was wrong. There was a sympathy wave after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Rajiv was on his way to power with an unprecedented majority of 414 seats. Maneka had no chance to win.

Neither could she seize the Congress nor was she able to create an equal political force. However, she cannot be called an utter failure. She won the Lok Sabha elections eight times and has been a Union minister four times. Her son Varun Gandhi has the distinction of being an MP for the third time in a row.

Will Aparna Yadav be able to emulate this feat? She is the daughter-in-law of the Mulayam Singh Yadav clan and has joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh. This question is difficult to answer. For several months, there were reports of Aparna joining the BJP. I don’t know if the party was avoiding her in those days or she herself was hesitant. Now, when she has become a part of the BJP, many see it as a reaction to three ministers and 11 MLAs of the party crossing the floor to the Samajwadi Party. Now they can say if Akhilesh Yadav can’t handle his house, how will he handle his party? However, the question still is how Aparna is going to prove herself.

Maneka Gandhi was politically active even when she lived at 1, Safdarjung Road, the then official residence of the Prime Minister. Aparna has no such record. Usually, the political legacy goes to those who have been blessed by the party chief. As long as Sanjay Gandhi was alive, Rajiv Gandhi was a professional pilot. After his death, Indira Gandhi inspired reluctant Rajiv to join politics. Maneka was also fighting this battle for the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, but Indira Gandhi’s choice was made. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has handed over his legacy to elder son Akhilesh Yadav, who has been the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for five years and is the national president of the party. He was challenged by uncle Shivpal Yadav, but today Shivpal is bound to accept Akhilesh as a leader.

This is a tragedy of political clans. In Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav, who has been the deputy chief minister and is the Leader of Opposition, has to make a lot of effort to maintain harmony with his brother Tej Pratap. His sister Misa Bharti also has political ambitions, but Lalu Yadav has pushed Tejashwi as his successor. Despite this, no one can guarantee that there will be no rebellion. In Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray, is the chief minister. His cousin Raj Thackeray’s supporters try to establish him as Balasaheb Thackeray’s successor, but Balasaheb preferred Uddhav.

There are only two big exceptions. When N.T. Rama Rao was preparing his second wife Lakshmi Parvati to be his successor, his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu snatched the Telugu Desam Party and the chief minister’s post. He has been the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh thrice so far. During N.T. Rama Rao’s time, Naidu was the most important man in his government and party.

The same thing happened with Jayalalithaa. After the death of M.G. Ramachandran, she was sidelined by his family members and senior party leaders. MGR’s wife V.N. Janaki had become the chief minister. However, the people of Tamil Nadu considered Jayalalithaa the real heir and partner of MGR, both on-screen and in politics. Once she seized the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, she remained its supreme leader till her last breath.

One lesson can also be learned from the fate of Chirag Paswan. Ram Vilas Paswan handed over the legacy to him, but because of his childish approach his uncle Pashupati Paras captured a large part of the party. Symbolism in politics works only when there is either a legacy or a personal ability to forge one’s own path. However, the BJP has already got the advantage, it is perceived.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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