Priyanka’s choice of political challenge & timing underline an audacity rare among risk-averse dynasties. But that won’t be enough to revive Congress in eastern UP.
Usually, there isn’t much of a story to prominent politicians’ children joining politics. It’s an inevitability. Over the last four decades of dynasty-fication, Indian leaders have converted their constituencies into ‘riyasats’ (estates) and anointed themselves the new maharajas. Succession, then, follows naturally. So, why the excitement over Priyanka Gandhi now? She is only doing what she was always expected to. What’s the story in the inevitable coming about, except the timing?
Now think harder.
There is also another, equally important “usual” to dynasty politics. Any offspring is given a convenient and safe launch-pad in the political principality’s pocket borough and then nurtured along to take over. From Indira Gandhi beginning comfortably in the Rajya Sabha to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in Rae Bareli-Amethi, to Jyotiraditya Scindia in Gwalior-Guna, Deepender Hooda in Rohtak, Supriya Sule in Baramati to Ashok Chavan, Milind Deora and practically anybody new-gen within the UPA has been gifted a soft launch. The BJP-NDA can’t feel smug either.
The Yadav families in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have their own respective princely enclaves. All the new kids, of Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh, Maneka Gandhi, Prem Kumar Dhumal, Pramod Mahajan, Gopinath Munde, Purno Sangma, Ram Vilas Paswan and even others such as Piyush Goyal owe their political birth to some kind of “assisted” delivery, through daddy’s Rajya Sabha franchise, even if not the constituency. No new dynast, whether child, child-in-law or widow that I can remember, has yet been denied an easy pass. You can’t afford to see your child and successor lose. Risks are for the foot-soldiers, or political wet-nurses.
This is the law of Indian dynastic politics Priyanka Gandhi has broken. Instead of moving quietly into Rae Bareli (even if she were to take it later) and claiming the goodwill her mother and grandmother have built over five decades, she has taken over the party’s campaign in the most challenging political geography for it in all of India. The Congress has been dead for long in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Even its mummies or fossils are hard to find.
Further, it is the home of Yogi Adityanath, and includes Narendra Modi’s much-pampered Varanasi. Even under Priyanka, how likely is the Congress party’s revival here? The truthful answer is, nearly zero. This underlines what is different about Priyanka’s formal entry into politics. Her choice of the challenge, and the timing, underline a go-for-broke audacity rare among our risk-averse dynasties.
We don’t know enough about her to say what impact her entry would make on the party. Will she be the first among the equals, which is 13 general secretaries of the party, or president Rahul Gandhi’s de facto no. 2, as tradition would demand? Or, can she surprise everybody by focussing on her charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh while Jyotiraditya Scindia picks up the pieces in the polarised west?
Here is what we know about her. She, more than Rahul, has rootedness, focus and a sense of destiny. You can dismiss it as the chip on a mere royalty’s shoulder, if you so wish. But play that short clip as she walked out of the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting in the summer of 2004 after her mother announced she wasn’t accepting the post of prime minister. Priyanka said, paraphrased, that sacrifice, physical risk and the burden of governing India was the family’s responsibility.
It was spoken with a curious mix of pain, helplessness and also pride bordering on dynastic entitlement, if not vanity. She is more her reluctant-politician father’s child than the grandmother she physically so resembles. She has spent years in deep Buddhist training and meditation to rid herself of the pain and anger of his cruel assassination, and ambition for power. This had enabled her to duck a greedy party’s pressures and prayers and keep clear of politics.
We don’t know what changed it now. But now that she is there, she is not the type to step into anybody’s warm shoes or chappals. She’s in it for a fight. It can revive her party, or leave her stranded in the “dal-dal” (sounds better in Hindi than the English quicksands) of eastern UP politics and finish the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty with no other to fall back on. For her personally, the move is comparable with Indira Gandhi breaking up the Congress in 1969, exactly 50 years ago. To that extent, it is out of her fighter grandmother’s book, not her hesitant father’s.
That’s why we say that Priyanka’s is a go-for-broke plunge.