Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi exemplify the harmony and unity in the ruling family of the Congress.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s entry into national politics has finally been announced with her appointment as the general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh east Wednesday. The question of the hour is: Will Priyanka be the X-factor that tilts the scales in favour of the Congress this crucial election year?
Political predictions aside, what sets Priyanka apart is the faultless equation she shares with her brother, Congress president Rahul Gandhi—it is sibling support bordering on the unusual if not superhuman that characterises their relationship, not sibling rivalry.
Indeed, one cannot recall a single careless or critical, let alone damaging comment that Priyanka may have passed against her brother. It is this remarkable trait of Priyanka that often escapes many.
Priyanka and Rahul exemplify the harmony and unity in the ruling family of the Congress.
And riding on this appeal, can the Congress’ most awaited inductee make a monumental difference to bring India’s oldest political configuration back to power?
Silent strength of the sibling
One of the most touching visuals of Priyanka and Rahul’s solidarity followed the Congress’s disastrous showing in the 2012 UP assembly elections. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav won with a landslide, his party capturing 224 of the 403 seats.
The Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came a distant second and third with 80 and 47 seats, respectively. As for the Congress, it was wiped out, managing a dismal 28.
It had been a blundering campaign for the grand old party, without a clear strategy let alone the announcement of a leader.
Rahul’s fumbling and unconvincing excuses after the defeat would have raised at least an eyebrow, if not a sigh or sneer, from even the kindest of friends or well-wishers. Instead, the one defining image that readily comes to mind is of Priyanka holding her brother’s hand in a rare personal moment before the cameras switched off. There was such non-judgmental reassurance in her gesture that no careful observer would have failed to be moved by it.
After Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati announced their decision to contest the 2019 polls together leaving the Congress out, Rahul Gandhi had promised, even threatened, a special surprise—almost a secret weapon.
If he meant his sister, he did well. It is unlikely that either his followers or Priyanka’s fans will be disappointed. On the contrary, this would be much more than they expected.
In the days to come, when Priyanka’s role is established based on how seriously she takes up her onerous responsibilities, her entry is likely to be greeted with euphoric cheer, even exaggerated optimism.
What could be the reason behind this reception given how low-key Priyanka has been so far? She has been content, it would seem, to support her brother from behind the scenes, hardly ever speaking at political rallies or campaigning actively.
The answer is simple: Priyanka enjoys tremendous reputation among not only her family and friends circle, but also the Congress’s rank-and-file. She is known for her level-headedness, practical sense, inner stability, political acumen, and poise. She has no affectations, but is still able to hold her own with just her presence.
What is more, Priyanka commands loyalty. She is also known to have considerable tenacity and persistence, inviting comparisons with the steely determination and fearlessness of her grandmother, Indira Gandhi.
Earlier this month, Priyanka turned 47 on 12 January – incidentally, this day also marks Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary, who holds a personal meaning for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi was named “Narendra” after his hero, Narendranath, which was Vivekananda’s pre-monastic name.
In fact, when the PM launches something politically important on the spiritual icon’s birthday, its coincidence and attendant irony, if not significance, is not lost on those in the ruling BJP. This year, too, 12 January did not pass uneventfully in the BJP’s calendar; on this day, an important working committee meeting of the party was held.
The cost of delayed decisions
Despite her natural political talent, is Priyanka’s entry into national arena a few years too late?
Certainly her charisma and draw were much greater nine or ten years back. In past decade, she has remained in the background, playing second fiddle to Rahul, given him a chance to establish himself rather than unintentionally overshadowing him.
This plan seems to have worked, especially in the past two years. Rahul has indeed emerged as the undisputed leader of the Congress, also anointed president of the party just over a year back. But another reason has changed the nation’s perception about the Gandhi-Vadra family.
That is the emergence and ascent of Narendra Modi after 2014 as India’s preeminent political personality. In addition to being Prime Minister, Modi commands a stature and space in the public imagination that is vastly superior to all his putative rivals or competitors.
And so, it seems as if Priyanka’s rise as the second Gandhi in Indian politics has been all but eclipsed.
If Priyanka is truly a fighter, she will see this as an opportunity, not a drawback. What is for sure is that the contest in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state which commands a staggering 80 seats in the Lok Sabha, has just become not just more interesting, but hotter.
Those against dynastic politics will only criticise Priyanka’s political debut. But those reconciled to family rule in the party, not to speak of the country, will welcome it.
The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His views are personal. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe