India's young and old jockey to fill shoes of the late Sanjay Gandi
New Delhi — The vacuum left in India's political scene by the death of Sanjay Gandhi has touched off a scramble for a share of his power. It pits the younger generation against the old guard. And in India's highly personal political terms this means gaining the ear and elbow of the party chief and head of government, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Young Gandhi, killed in a stunt plan crash June 23, was the heir apparent to the Nehru-Gandhi line of prime ministers that has governed India for most of its life as an independent nation.
Widely credited -- and criticized -- for bring upstart new blood into the ruling Congress-I (I for Indira) party and government at the expense of aging party stalwarts, Gandhi was his mother's closest political adviser and second in command.
Now Sanjay loyalists are jostling for position. Among the leading contenders are his followers in the Parliament, in state legislatures, and in state governments formed after Congress-I victories in state assembly races in May. Young Gandhi handpicked them for their personal loyalty rather than political experience. Most have no political bases of their own.
Another group is the old-guard congressmen brusquely edged out of party and government positions by Sanjay in the transformation heralded here as India's "cultural revolution." their offenses: questionable loyalty to him and his mother during the 1977-79 interrugnum of Janata government power, or adopting a too lethargic "business as usual" attitude for the young man impatient to modernize India.
In between are politicians with their own regional power bases who kept a foot in Sanjay's camp, and young Sanjay followers such as Delhi Youth Congress President Jagdish Tytler and Calcutta industrialist Kamal Nath who built their own lines to Mrs. Gandhi.
On the side is the question of new leadership of the party's youth wing, the Youth Congress, which Sanjay long ago built into a potent personal political force. Members fear that without a leader of national stature, they will be swamped in the post-Sanjay political realignment.
Among the names most frequently surfacing as new Youth Congress leaders or contenders for Sanjay's two official jobs -- member of Parliament from the Amethi district and Congress-I general secretary -- are his older brother Rajiv and young widow Maneka.
Rajiv Gandhi, an Air India pilot, has shown little interest in politics, however, and 23-year-old Maneka Gandhi, editor of a monthly magazine, is too young to run for Parliament.
Few Indians have any doubts about who will make the final decisions. mrs. Gandhi remains the unquestioned leader of her party and government. But observers are divided on whether she will turn for advice to party men of her own generation and rein in Sanjay's tempestuous young followers, or give the young politicians their lead as a kind of final memorial to her son.
Mrs. Gandhi has not yet shown her hand, and it may be months before she does. One clue, however, may be in her recent public message of thanks for the hundreds of thousands of sympathy messages she has received from around the world. "His spirit will live on to guide the youth of India, to whom the orch must pass," she wrote.