File photo of Indian Congress Party leader Priyanka Gandhi as she arrives at a rally held to support party candidates during the Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections at Rae Bareli, Feb. 17, 2017. (Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)
Resting much speculation for nearly a decade over the admission of the other sibling of Rahul Gandhi, the President of Indian National Congress (INC), into active politics, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been designated as the Congress General Secretary for Uttar Pradesh (East) in a bid to unseat Prime Minister Narendra Modi, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.
For the 48-year-old Priyanka, whose father, grandmother and great grandfather were all Prime Ministers of India, this is a formal induction in the Congress that is essentially a sort of Family Firm with its top layer dominated by her Italy born mother Sonia Gandhi, by way of her marriage to Rajiv Gandhi, and her brother Rahul, the incumbent President.
Constitutionally, India may have adopted democracy and banned monarchy, but nothing contradicts this better than the Congress high command that is the 21stcentury royalty and decision-making in the 133-year-grand-old party of the freedom movement is concentrated around One Lutyens bungalow, with the family firm more determined than ever to never buck this trend.
Press releases have stated that the debutant will mark the initiation of her political innings with the Kumbh Snanor holy dip in the Sangam, the confluence of Rivers Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, either on Feb. 4, on the occasion of “Mauni Amavasya” and the second “Shahi Snan,” or on Feb. 10, during ‘Basant Panchami’ and the 3rd‘Shahi Snan,’ something in line with the soft Hindutva gambit to dislodge the BJP from its monopoly of broad swathe of the country’s Hindu electorate and woo the upper caste Hindus, non-Dalits and Muslims to the Congress fold in the upcoming 2009 polls.
While this risky and gutsy move places her in the path of direct confrontation with Modi and the saffron-robed Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, there may be a probable benefit to the rival Bharatiya Janata Party in the event of splitting up of anti-BJP votes.
Cognizant of the advantages of Priyanka’s formal entry into the Congress the party at large had first vociferously demanded for her active participation in the aftermath of the worst ever drubbing of the grand old party in 2014 when it scraped through with a mere 44 seats.
Now, with her formal plunge, the cadre is highly enthused as her appointment extends her political role from strategy decisions and overseeing campaigns from family pocket boroughs in Amethi and Raebareli to shouldering organizational responsibilities for eastern UP — an area which contributes 33 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats and is crucial for government formation at the national level — a state that was a Congress bastion till 1980s, with another senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia.
It cannot be ruled out that the immediacy of the development is linked to the fast approaching General Elections and despite leading the Congress from the front and gaining victories in the Hindi heartland of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh, constant attacks on the BJP-led NDA government especially over Rafael deal, media blitz projecting the INC President as a mature political contender against Modi, and Modi’s popularity ratings on a downslide, the performance of the INC on a pan-India basis remains at a low and Rahul’s acceptability ratings are not stronger from what it was since 2004 when he debuted on the political stage, and continues to be referred to as “Pappu,” a pejorative used for him by his rivals and critics.
These reasons contribute to the Mahagathbandhan(mega-coalition) too reposing much faith in the idea of Congress spearheading their anti-Modi campaign aimed at hitting the projected 2019 threshold.
But much to the annoyance of the rivals and to the enthusiasm of the Congress workers, Priyanka’s official entry has become a huge talking point, as a more natural heir than her brother and with her uncanny resemblance to her paternal grandmother, Indira Gandhi, who is often hailed by Congress loyalists as the ‘Iron Lady’ of Indian politics, her better grasp of Hindi, the language of the masses in North India, and her personality appeal it gives the Congress a better chance to manage the anti-BJP coalition, and pressurize the Akhilesh-Mayawati (Samajwadi Party – Bahujan Samaj Party) combine to accommodate the Congress.
So far, if some of the opposition parties such as Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Telugu Desam Party, and Trinamool Congress Party have been seen ignoring the Congress and benefitting from the loss of Congress in their areas, others such as the DMK, RJD and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha too appear to be in no mood to go for justifiable seat-sharing with the INC.
Hence, given the scale of countering the massive BJP election machinery in 2019 and prevailing circumstances the INC has only one respectable or rather viable option, of attempting it alone in the General Elections, and then making its move based on its electoral performance.
As for the issue of alleged money laundering charges, murky land dealings, controversial SPG cover and exemption from airport security checks, and run-ins with the media of her husband, Robert Vadra, the fact that the BJP government was not able to come up with any substantive case against Vadra in the last 56 months rules out any chance of the Congress heiress’ image being heavily besmirched by the allegations in the near future.
Whether Priyanka’s advent injects a new lease of life in the INC and acts as a game changer in the short term or paves the way for the entry of her better half, known to be nursing big political ambitions according to those close to him, for now the Congress has risked its trump card.