Ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and not Priyanka, faces a bigger challenge.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s much-anticipated plunge has definitely brought in a freshness in the political theatre.
But whether the freshness would prove to be a game-changer or not will be seen only after the election results are out. What nobody can deny is that she has jolted the conventional wisdom and the jaded political debates.
She could be the opening batsman for the Congress, the way Sunil Gavaskar was for India in the West Indies tour five decades ago. She can score a century, or a double century and become a star. Even if she is not the match-winner, her role of an opener, having faced the BJP’s bowlers, can’t be dismissed easily!
And so, ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and not Priyanka, faces a bigger challenge.
In a league of her own
Most so-called weapons to stall Priyanka’s entry have been overused and rendered useless.
She could not be ridiculed by calling her ‘dumb’—the equivalent of Pappu, a pejorative once used for her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
She could not be condemned as a ‘ruthlessly ambitious’ or ‘power hungry’ leader. Though she is often compared with her grandmother Indira Gandhi, no political analyst has seen in Priyanka any trace of authoritarianism.
She could not be labelled a ‘foreigner’, or criticised for ‘not knowing Hindi’—as her mother Sonia Gandhi was. She is neither seen as the ‘Lutyens’ elitist’ nor as the globetrotting person with no roots.
Given there were no chinks in Priyanka’s armour, during last few years, the rumour mills in Delhi have suggested that she was moody. Some have even tried to corner her over husband Robert Vadra’s alleged financial irregularities.
And yet, her definitive political foray became so sensational and at once hyper-dramatic because it provided a refreshing change in today’s claustrophobic political environment.
What propelled Priyanka foray
In the past few months, panel discussions on primetime debates had progressively become jaded and the headlines exceedingly irrelevant.
The newspapers—and despite there being so many—resembled one another so much that reading them added very little to our information. Of course, there were a few notable exceptions. Perhaps these are subjective assertions.
Yet, the media practically manifested the political fatigue that had set in. The only relief from this fatigue, it appeared, was the speculation of ‘numbers’ that would decide the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.
However even in that, the figures for the BJP (read Modi) fluctuated only between 150 and 200. So it is just a matter of 50 seats, and leading with this number, Modi cannot become Prime Minister again. On the contrary, at 180 or 200, he can manoeuvre to win the ‘confidence vote’ by winning opportunist friends.
These friends could come from the same crowd that gathered in Kolkata to respond to West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s appeal. Offers of deputy prime ministership, important cabinet berths, or even cajoling can be the means to the end. Once the ‘confidence vote’ is won, it could be smooth sailing, or let us say this could be the plan B or Plan C of the Modi Brigade.
And such tiresome political permutations propelled the entry of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra the Congress’s wild card.
Congress’s Act East policy
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra could have chosen Delhi as her entry point replacing Congress leader Ajay Maken who made way for Sheila Dixit, or she could have entered the Rajya Sabha like a political star.
She could have become the ‘working president’ of the party to help/assist her brother, to reduce his national burden.
But Rahul chose her as in-charge of Eastern Uttar Pradesh and gave the less tumultuous Western Uttar Pradesh to party colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia.
That was of course upon Priyanka’s suggestion or perhaps her acceptance—indeed, the most difficult assignment.
The timing also is crucial. A few days ‘after’ Akhilesh and Mayawati sealed the formidable Bahujan Samaj Party-Samajwadi Party alliance and following the three stunning victories in the Hindi heartland-in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi.
Had Priyanka entered the political arena before these assembly elections, the victory could have been attributed to her ‘charisma’ and not Rahul’s aggressive campaign.
Had she joined active Congress politics when Rahul was literally in the dumps, reviled and ridiculed, that would have been for her brother’s political future—end of story.
It is obvious that such factors have been minutely scrutinised by the Congress’ first family, before Priyanka’s plunge. The detractors from the Sangh Parivar or from the BSP, the media critics of the dynasty or Vadra’s deals, will surely be looking at some faux pas so as to mount the offensive on her.
But they will have a logistic problem. They will have to target her, not Rahul and that would give Rahul some operational space.
Remember issues like the National Herald controversy are unlikely to stick on her.
Then and now
Will her entry be a game changer? Sample a few non-analogous but rather relevant comparisons:
1. Soon after former Prime Minister and Priyanka’s grandmother Indira Gandhi declared elections in January 1977, after the 19-month Emergency, most people believed that she will win.
But within a fortnight, leaders Jagjivan Ram, Hemavati Nandan Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy broke from the ruling ranks and formed their own party, Congress For Democracy (CFD).
The atmosphere then was claustrophobic, and one of fear psychosis—much like India in 2019. There was a similar fatigue about the PM at that time and her younger son Sanjay Gandhi.
The media in general was non-confrontational but many analysts agree that the political equations, particularly in North India, changed radically in 1977, making Janata Party a winner!
2. The Janata Party had found itself in a gridlock within two years of being in power. The political discourse was jaded and there was no way out. But Raj Narain’s rebellion within the party, under Charan Singh’s leadership, changed political situation and six months later, the election saw Janata Party’s rout. One could also say that but for V.P. Singh’s rebellion confronting Rajiv Gandhi in 1987, it was unlikely that the Congress would have suffered a shock defeat, from 414 seats to about 197 in 1989.
Note that, so far, there is no open revolt in the BJP but the game changing arrow can strike from anywhere—given India’s political history.
The unexpected and dramatic, with the freshness of personality, may bring about cathartic change. It is not necessary that the Congress should win a staggering number of seats to prove such a change.
It is enough to put the so called ‘invincible’ forces on the defensive—and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s entry has done exactly that!
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha.