India Insight

What’s in a (Gandhi) name?

A boy plays cricket near a poster of India's former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, inside the premises of the Congress party headquarters in New Delhi April 7, 2009.  REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/FilesFor the past 63 years in India, it wasn’t too difficult for most ministers to think up a name for a highway, a nuclear plant or a scheme to crank up the production of solar energy.

They just picked one of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasts who had ruled the country for most of the years since Independence and whose members are widely seen as the power behind the present Congress party-led federal government.

That cosy — and politically expedient — practice is getting frowns from the top levels of government. Local media have quoted the country’s top civil servant asking ministers to go easy on the “widespread and indiscriminate” practice, with many of the projects not delivering results.

No one doubts the practice is widespread. Delhi’s airport is named after Indira Gandhi, a leading university has her father Jawaharlal Nehru’s name, and the centre of the city was renamed after her son Rajiv. These are just three of the hundreds of projects and institutions named after the three prime ministers, who ruled in total for 38 years.

To be fair on the Congress, it is hardly an exception in these matters. It just has the advantage of being in power longest and widest.

Will the Gandhi magic work again?

The countdown has begun in India. As political pundits peer into their tea leaves before the results of another marathon election, the question on everybody’s lips is: will the Gandhi magic work again?

Exit polls show the coalition led by Sonia Gandhi will fall short of an outright majority, but her Congress party has a slight edge over its rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
But then exit polls in India have been way off the mark in the past. Like the last election.

In the 2004 election, the Congress scored a shock victory over the BJP, which many said was a result of Sonia Gandhi’s tireless campaigning and, more importantly, the magic of the Gandhi name. Nobody, just about nobody, had expected the BJP to lose? Or the Congress to win. Not even the Congress itself.