by Florine Roche
The Congress Party has made a grand comeback by winning the by-elections to the three crucial states in Hindi heartland in December 2018 and this has changed the political equations of the country a great deal. The win has given a new lease of life to the battered Congress Party that saw its fortunes dwindle considerably in the last 5 years. Considered as a semifinal before the big general elections of 2019 the defeat of BJP in its traditional stronghold just six months before the battle ahead, has been like a morale booster to Congress party’s supporters and sympathizers. The Modi juggernaut, which had till then swept every other by-election, is grounded, at least temporarily, giving a new lease of life to the embattled Congress as well as hopes for other regional satraps who, are eyeing the Delhi gaddi.
Having tasted victory that put the Congress back into the reckoning Congress President Rahul Gandhi sprang another surprise, a long awaited one, by appointing his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the AICC general Secretary for Uttar Pradesh, something which the Congress grass root workers were demanding for quite long time now. With an uncanny resemblance to her grandmother Indira Gandhi, Priyanka’s active entry in politics is being viewed as an effort to strengthen the Congress party’s position in Uttar Pradesh which holds the key to government formation at the centre. However, this surprise move has rattled the BJP which is already facing the heat with its recent electoral setbacks.
Priyanka’s formal entry in active politics has put to rest the much discussed ‘will she or won’t she’ debate that has been going on for the last two decades. Though Priyanka has been in politics all these years, having managed election campaigns of her mother and brother, her active political entry has sparked off wide political debate and many view this move as the Congress party’s ‘Brahmastra’ in its efforts to dislodge the Modi government. It remains to be seen whether she will be able to convert her charm into electoral success for the Congress or not. She has a tough task ahead because UP is the stronghold of BJP and Yogi Adithyanath’s popularity is still high. The coming together of SP-BSP is also posing a serious challenge to the Congress in its efforts to make its presence felt in the state.
Her decision to embark on a political journey, from which she managed to keep away for all these years, did take many political observers and other political parties by surprise. Some argue that it is not the right time to take the plunge and that too in UP because the stakes are too high in this politically significant state. A few others observe that the Congress has made the BJP’s task easier by giving the BJP a stick to beat it with. It is a matter of only next 100 days to weigh the pros and cons of her active political role.
However, at the moment the Congress cadre is jubilant that Priyanka has finally taken the long awaited political plunge. In fact the writing was clearly on the wall for quite some time now. Ever since the Congress party’s fortunes were steadily declining in the last few years party workers, supporters, sympathizers and family retainers in the corridors of power have been openly shouting and chanting slogans like “Priyanka lao Desh Bachao” (bring Priyanka and save the Congress). Such a demand also demonstrates the excessive dependence of the Congress on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and servitude or blind adulation towards the first family of Indian politics. It looks as though the Congress party timed her active political role just at an opportune time when it felt that it needs to checkmate Modi juggernaut at any cost. Now that she has finally taken the plunge there is a sense of déjà vu in the Congress party which firmly believes that Priyanka Gandhi will prove to be their trump card against Modi in the 2019 general elections which are due within three months from now.
While some consider the Congress party has sprung a surprise by roping in Priyanka, there are an equal number who believe that her entry is a foregone conclusion and that she has been active in politics for the last two decades. Her political entry has been received with mixed reactions from across the political spectrum. Charming that she is, there have been a barrage of sexist and misogynistic remarks which she had been facing ever since her entry into active political field. Remarks such as ‘merely a pretty face’ ‘beautiful without political experience’ ‘beautiful without any talent’ , ‘votes cannot be won on the basis of pretty faces’ ‘woman with a tainted partner’ and such other personal comments. Resorting to personal comments show the desperation of those who are rattled by her political entry and it may even help her to gain public sympathy.
While the Congress cadre is buoyant, firmly believing that Priyanka Vadra Gandhi will bring ‘achhe din’ for the party, the BJP sharpened its attack on the Congress with dynastic politics barb once bringing to the fore the Congress party’s dependence on the Nehru-Gandhi family for its survival. Priyanka Gandhi became the 11th member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan to join politics reinforcing the party’s perpetual reliance on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
But for Priyanka the road ahead is going to be a long and hard one for obvious reasons. The shadow of her corruption tainted husband Robert Vadra’s business deals will give the BJP an opportunity to make corruption a major issue once again in the 2019 general elections. Her resemblance to her grandmother late Indira Gandhi is no doubt her main plus point and that has been the reason why Congress rank and file wants Priyanka to be in the forefront in the next elections. However, it is a double edged sword and her similitude to Indira can prove to be counterproductive reminding Indians the dark days of emergency, which is a blot on Indian democracy. The younger generation which forms a sizeable chunk of today’s voters may not get swayed by the Indira aura which Priyanka carries and which her supporters are openly flaunting. Political analysts believe that politics is much more than a pretty face and Priyanka Gandhi will have to pass the acid test because at the end of the journey merely a pretty face or surname may not
The BJP is sure to use Priyanka’s political entry to target Rahul Gandhi and question his leadership capabilities. It may also give an impression that Rahul Gandhi has failed to inspire the Congress rank and file, his recent victories in Hindi heartland notwithstanding, necessitating Priyanka’s entry. It would also make way for two power centers – and there is speculation as to whether she would push Rahul out of the frame. Questions are being raised on whether Priyanka will be projected as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Congress party. In such an eventuality Rahul Gandhi’s position in the Congress will be a tricky one. Whether Priyanka will be able to deliver the onerous task assigned to her will depend on how she conducts herself in the next three months in her new role. In the absence of administrative or electoral experience, it is not easy for her to carry on the mantle of reviving the Congress party’s sagging fortunes that has hit an all time low in its 135 year history. She has to take calculative risks and a few bold initiatives to prove that she is not just a pretty face.