The recent social media spat between Sharmistha Mukherjee and Abhijit Mukherjee, children of the late Pranab Mukherjee, has once again laid bare the intricacies of how political legacies can be decided. In India, the orthodox and outdated view prevails -- son gets primacy over the daughter.
Sharmistha was always by her father’s side when he was president from 2012 to 2017 while Abhijit was busy as an MP. But even after his shocking defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Abhijit was never considered to be close to his father. Daughter Sharmistha, who never had any qualms in taking on her brother publicly over issues, was feisty, aggressive and closer to the Gandhis. She chose to take a break after her father’s death, but may soon have an important role lined up for her.
Their public rivalry begs a recall of similar sibling spats in Indian politics where, unlike the case of Pranab Mukherjee’s children, the son was preferred and earned the father’s legacy.
CONRAD SANGMA AND AGATHA SANGMA
Conrad and Agatha are children of former Meghalaya chief minister PA Sangma. While Agatha, who became the youngest MP in 2009 from the NCP, carries a low-profile now, her brother Conrad carries their father’s legacy and is the current chief minister of Meghalaya. He became president of the National People’s Party (NPP) when Sangma senior died. In fact, Agatha had contested from family constituency for assembly polls in the state, but gave it up to make place for her brother. Agatha, while reticent, was also the youngest minister in UPA-I till she fell out with the NCP and resigned. Her political graph since then has fallen. She is now happily married and is rarely seen in Parliament despite being MP from Tura.
KAVITHA AND KTR
Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter Kavitha quit her stint in the University of Mississippi to return to India to “carry on her father’s legacy”. She was the first MP from the newly formed Telangana state and won from the Nizamabad constituency in 2009, but lost the next elections. When her father KCR became the CM of Telangana, it was her brother KTR who was made the working president of the party. But his defenders say that unlike Kavitha, KTR was in politics much earlier and began as an MLA, therefore deserves the post.
But Kavitha has enjoyed a national profile and some feel that making her the working president would help TRS emerge onto the national stage.
RAHUL GANDHI AND PRIYANKA GANDHI
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been more of a backroom person first for her mother Sonia Gandhi and then her brother Rahul Gandhi. Priyanka handles her mother’s constituency and there has been much demand that she contest from Rae Bareli once Sonia retires. Each time Rahul Gandhi has not delivered at the polls, there have been demands that Priyanka be made the party chief.
After much delay, Priyanka finally entered active politics when she was made general secretary in-charge of UP ahead of 2019 general elections. But she was careful to accept her brother as her leader and, interestingly, shared responsibilities with Jyotiraditya Scindia. There is no denying that Priyanka nurtures political ambitions. Many feel she has more charisma like her grandmother Indira Gandhi and carries her steely resolve and aggression. Many argue this is the reason she should take charge. But then, sources say Sonia Gandhi would never accept this and, therefore, even as Rahul remains reluctant to be president again and the party faces leadership crisis, Priyanka is not even being considered as the party chief.
It’s, however, not right to conclude that daughters have never been the torchbearers of father’s legacy in Indian politics. Indira Gandhi is the most glaring example. From being called a ’Gungi Gudiya’ (mute doll) to becoming one of the most powerful prime ministers in the world, Indira broke the glass ceiling. In Jammu and Kashmir, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti has been carrying her father’s legacy. In Maharashtra, Supriya Sule may take over from NCP chief Sharad Pawar. But an argument can be made that they have done so as there are no brothers around to challenge their claim to the legacy.
India has had several women politicians with nerves of steel -- Jayalalithaa, Nandini Satpathy, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee to name a few. But in the wars for legacies, daughters have been rather short-changed.