TAKING THE PLUNGE
On January 23, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra announced her formal entry into politics taking the country’s political circles and rival camps by surprise. Priyanka, who has always been reluctant to taking active part in politics and never showed any signs of nursing a political ambition, was appointed Congress general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh East. Her appointment was announced by her brother and Congress President Rahul Gandhi. For her party, this was the best news ever given that the country goes into polls few months down the line.
Priyanka’s appointment, a gamble by Rahul throwing her into full-fledged politics, is aimed at galvanizing Congress cadres in the state where it has been marginalised over the years and where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a whopping 71 of the 80 seats Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) seats in 2014.
Shortly after the appointment, Rahul told reporters that naming Priyanka and Jotiraditya Scindia as General Secretaries for Uttar Pradesh was a “big step” to spread the party’s “real” ideology for poor and weaker sections and to rebuild its base. She will now ensure that a Congress Chief Minister gets to rule the state, he added.
With this, Priyanka, married to businessman Robert Vadra and mother of two children, makes a full-fledged entry into politics casting aside her earlier role that was mainly confined to the constituencies of Sonia Gandhi (Rae Bareli) and Rahul Gandhi (Amethi).
Speculation of Priyanka contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha polls from her mother’s constituency Rae Bareli immediately gained ground. To this, Rahul said, “We are not going to play on the backfoot. We have not played on the backfoot in Gujarat also. We do politics for people. So we will play on the front foot. “I have given them (Priyanka and Scindia) a mission in Uttar Pradesh for spreading the real ideology, the ideology for the poor and weaker sections. Priyanka and Scindia are powerful leaders and I have full faith that they will work and give what Uttar Pradesh needs and what its youth needs. We will have to build our space.”
This is perhaps the first time the Congress has split the organisational responsibilities of its General Secretary in Uttar Pradesh into zones.
This week Priyanka was cheered by thousands as she rode in an open truck in Lucknow along with her brother on her first visit to Uttar Pradesh after becoming the Congress General Secretary East UP. Priyanka , who opened her Twitter account this week, said that she wanted to “build a new future, new politics”.
As the newest fifth generation of the Gandhi-Nehru family, Priyanka’s formal debut in politics has re-ignited a fierce debate on political dynasties and opinion is sharply divided if family lineage is a slur or works as a spur in public life.
The BJP said such a development was only expected of a “family party” that has believed in dynasty rule from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra described Priyanka Gandhi as a “crutch” for Rahul Gandhi who as the Congress President was unable to get accepted as part of ‘mahagatbandhan’ of opposition parties.
BJP President Amit Shah ridiculed Priyanka’s entry into active politics as “the entry of third G” in Congress and claimed that with her, the party will now indulge in more scams than before.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a jibe at the Opposition parties saying, “BJP does not take decisions based on what one person or one family wants, and that’s why it is said mostly in the country family is the party, but in BJP party is the family,” he said.
1998: Priyanka accompanies her mother Sonia Gandhi for her first election campaign in Tamil Nadu and makes a short speech seeking votes
1999: Campaigns for family friend and Congress candidate Satish Sharma in Rae Bareli
2004: Takes charge of the general election campaign for mother and brother at Rae Bareli and Amethi
2008: Meets Nalini Sriharan, one of the her father Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins, at Vellore Central Jail and says she has no objection to her release
2009: Modi calls the Congress an old party, to which Priyanka retorts, “Do I look old to you?”
2012: She is among the 40 star campaigners for state elections in Uttar Pradesh
2014: War of words with Modi
2017: Plays key role in Congress’ alliance with Samajwadi Party for Uttar Pradesh elections
2019: Is appointed Congress general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh East
A potent campaigner
An effective campaigner, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will be fulfilling a long-cherished wish of Congress workers and injecting a new enthusiasm in the party’s preparations for the coming general elections by making a full-fledged entry into active politics in the treacherous battleground of Uttar Pradesh.
A mother of two, Priyanka Gandhi, 47, has been reluctant to take a full political plunge even though she has been campaigning for Rahul Gandhi and her mother and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in their constituencies in the parliamentary polls and has been involved in party decisions and strategy concerning Uttar Pradesh.
Priyanka is seen as charismatic, poised, sharp, intelligent, combative, communicative, quick-witted and a leader who easily connects with people.
Her appointment has come at a critical time for the Congress. The party is no longer in the pole position in Indian politics, having been squeezed out by the BJP.
With her mannerisms and looks reminiscent of former Prime Minister and her grandmother Indira Gandhi – who was seen as a decisive leader and a fighter – Congress workers always have had an innate and abiding faith in Priyanka and in her ability to deliver at the grassroots.
Posters of “Priyanka lao” (bring Priyanka) have often appeared outside the Congress central office after the party’s defeats over the last four-and-a-half years.
A private person, Priyanka had, in an interview to NDTV, described herself “almost a recluse” and said she did not want to be in politics.
“I’m very happy living my life the way I am. I think there are certain aspects of politics which I’m just not suited to,” she had said.
Priyanka had also said that she sees herself more like her father, Rajiv Gandhi, than her grandmother and had expressed an abiding admiration for her Italian-born mother for the way she steered the party through difficult times despite not having a natural liking for the party. “If there’s one woman I admire in the world, it’s my mother,” she had said.
Priyanka has not eschewed political crossfire in the past, having attacked the BJP and Modi during her campaigns in Amethi and Rae Bareli. She had also taken part in the midnight protest last year by Rahul Gandhi against the Kathua and Unnao rapes.
Her entry into active politics is also seen as a step to give her a formal role in assisting Rahul Gandhi in running the grand Old Party when Sonia Gandhi is no longer very active due to health-related issues.
There has been an apprehension and speculation that two power centres could emerge in the Congress with her formal entry but observers feel Priyanka is unlikely to allow any such tendency to gain ground.
There has also been an apprehension that cases of alleged irregularities in land deals faced by her husband Robert Vadra could be a reason for the delay in her taking a more active role in politics.
Having taken the political plunge, she is also expected to contest the Lok Sabha polls. If and when she announces that decision, it will create another buzz in the Congress which could hope to improve its prospects in the Lok Sabha polls.
Like her brother, Priyanka has braved personal tragedies of assassination of her father Rahul Gandhi and her grandmother Indira Gandhi.
Born on January 12, 1972 in New Delhi, Priyanka did her schooling in the city. She later pursued her degree in psychology from Jesus and Mary College, Delhi.
Will Priyanka’s entry change the electoral arithmetic this coming general elections in India and particularly in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the maximum members to India’s lower house?
No doubt, the entry of Priyanka in politics has increased the headache for the BJP. It is said that in private conversations, many BJP leaders are not dismissing her entry as ineffective. Experts believe being presented as a Congress trump card, Priyanka will not restrict herself to the family pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli but lead the campaign in the entire Purvanchal (eastern) belt comprising 24 districts from Amethi to Varanasi. They feel this could boost the party’s momentum and refresh an exhausted dynasty.
Author and journalist Sagarika Ghose, a biographer of Indira Gandhi who has interviewed Priyanka several times, said she had the potential to command voters’ attention and had particular appeal among women. “A woman Gandhi is a very powerful symbol and Indira Gandhi’s mystique lives on,” she said. “It’s a ballsy move. Let’s face it: she’s striking and photogenic and this is the politics of spectacle.”
But Ghose, reports the Guardian, said the next months would also be an unprecedented test of Gandhi’s political skills. “So far she’s been able to just dip her toe in politics and then come out of it and go on holidays,” Ghose said. “Now she has actually taken the plunge and will really have to prove herself.”
Other opine that the Congress has definitely been re-energised but will have to work harder to regain lost ground in this part of the country.
Priyanka debuts in a state that is India’s most politically crucial battlefield, home to the constituencies of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and, most importantly, Prime Minister Modi. Her political successes as also her failures will be most visible here.
Rest assured, Priyanka has always been considered Congress’ saviour. Now the world is very curious to see what she does.
(By TIW & Agencies)