Priyanka would have done a better job of taking on Modi-Shah than Rahul Gandhi.
It came as a surprise when the Congress party announced Rahul Gandhi’s entry into politics in 2004.
“It is a baffling decision. The general impression was that Priyanka was more articulate, forceful and more charismatic. I am not sure anyone knows what the real story is. Perhaps it is more personal or family related,” academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta told the BBC.
Fourteen years later, the less articulate, peripatetic and less charismatic sibling, Rahul, has formally become the head of the party and has openly declared his aspiration to be India’s prime minister.
Except that in these 14 years, there is no significant achievement of Rahul.
He has tried to revive the party’s youth wing, the Congress organisation in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, has tried to give the party an ideological coherence – and he has failed.
He has failed to defeat the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a single significant election. Not that he has any proven track record of success as an administrator – or as anything.
Not even his party’s supporters can name a single achievement of Rahul in his 14 years in politics.
History has shown there can be no Congress party without the glue of the Gandhi family, just as the BJP would collapse without the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, its mother ship. So, a Gandhi has to be the party president.
It is not as if the Congress party has to be stuck with Rahul Gandhi. It has another option it should at least have tried by now: Priyanka Gandhi.
For years, we were told that Priyanka is staying away from politics because she’s raising her children. The children are all grown up now. The line we are now given is that she’ll be in politics when she wants to. At one point she told reporters, “It could be next week”, and laughed.
Sons above daughters
We don’t know what happens at the dinner table in the Gandhi household, but it is obvious as daylight that she’s the greatest victim of patriarchy in Indian politics.
There are others like her. Kanimozhi in the DMK has been sidelined for M.K. Stalin as the heir apparent. In Lalu Yadav’s RJD, Tejashwi Yadav has been chosen by his father over his sister Misa Bharti.
From her few public appearances, Priyanka appears to be a smarter politician than Rahul. She’s a better speaker, especially in Hindi, more rooted, more natural. She reminds people of Indira Gandhi. Nobody says Rahul reminds them of even his father Rajiv. Priyanka appears to be more aggressive, more political.
As the Congress party fell to a historic low of 44 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, one would have thought it was time for Priyanka to save the sinking ship. The party’s continued failures since 2014 have shown the ship is still sinking, slowly but steadily.
There are still no signs of a front-facing role for Priyanka. The reason is not hard to imagine. If Priyanka becomes a public face of the Congress party, she will overshadow her brother so quickly and surely that there won’t be a single party worker left to say ‘Rahul Gandhi ki jai’.
Priyanka has clearly been relegated to a role behind the stage to give her brother Rahul endless time to succeed. Everyone in the party, including Priyanka herself, keeps saying the decision is hers to make, the timing hers to choose, as if Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and their respective coteries don’t weigh in on such questions.
If there’s anything we know about Italian mothers, it is that they love their sons just like Indian mothers.
Her husband’s wife
In a fair world, Priyanka would have been the face of the party to take on Modi. She has often been described as the party’s ‘brahmastra’. Given that Modi-Shah have a declared intention to create a Congress-mukt Bharat, and are succeeding at it, you’d think this is the time when the ‘brahmastra’ would be used. But Sonia’s ‘putra-moh’, love for the male child, may be coming in the way of using the ‘brahmastra’.
Priyanka has for some years been playing the role of a backroom troubleshooter, cleaning up the mess. Her brother goes to Singapore for a public event, and she is tasked with organising the AICC plenary session. Rahul takes months to form a new Congress Working Committee, Priyanka picks up the phone to soothe the leaders left out. The hard work of running an election war-room for 2019 is likely to be done by Priyanka.
She would have been particularly effective against Modi’s macho image, offering the contrast of a strong woman, as opposed to Rahul who’s seen as a man not in control of things. A hug and a wink notwithstanding, Rahul is far from being counted as a challenge to Brand Modi.
There’s of course the Robert Vadra objection to Priyanka. Vadra, accused of corruption, is a businessman from Moradabad, a bratty gym rat, and is seen as a liability for his wife’s public image. Judging a woman by her husband is par for the course in a patriarchal society where a brother gets to wear the crown no matter how much he fails.
When historians look back at our times, they will wonder if Priyanka was the face that could have taken on Modi, but wasn’t allowed to because it’s boys first.