Though she has been known as a backroom girl, active politics is different. Besides, she will be under constant scrutiny
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has taken charge as Congress General Secretary responsible for eastern Uttar Pradesh last week. The state is not new to her as she has campaigned earlier also in some parts apart from looking after her mother Sonia Gandhi’s constituency Rae Bareilly and her brother Rahul Gandhi’s stronghold Amethi for years. Home to 80 Lok Sabha seats, UP sends the highest number of lawmakers to Parliament, making it a key electoral battleground.
Right from her childhood, Priyanka has heard politics discussed at her dining table as she hails from a political family. She is indeed the biggest gamble of the Congress party and almost the last trump card. The question is whether she will be an asset or a liability for the Congress. Also are three months enough for her to build the origination in UP? She is a crowd-puller but it is not known whether she is a vote-catcher. Even if she is able to get the votes, does the Congress have the ability to convert the crowds into more votes? These are the questions that need answers.
The first time people got a proper glimpse of Priyanka was when she appeared in Sri Perumbudur on January 11,1998 along with her mother to pay homage to her father Rajiv Gandhi at a memorial wearing a simple red and orange saree. Though it was meant to be Sonia’s political launch, it was Priyanka who overshadowed her. People noted her striking resemblance to her grandmother Indira Gandhi and since then there has been speculation about her entry into politics. It took two decades for her to do so. “I have been talking to her about this for years but earlier she would say that her children were too young and she had to be with them. Now that her children are at a different stage in life, with one in university, Ms Vadra has decided to join politics”, the Congress president told the media.
Priyanka has been thrown in the UP battlefield pitched directly against the BJP’s two tall leaders — Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Varanasi) and chief minister Yogi Adityanath (Gorakhpur.) She has quick reflexes. When Prime Minister Modi referred to her that she was like his daughter earlier, she immediately retorted “Nobody should try to be my father. I love my father.” The ruling BJP, which won a whopping 71 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, already knows it will not be able to repeat the performance, especially in the face of the SP-BSP alliance.
Priyanka faces personal and political challenges. On the personal front, her foray into politics comes at a time when her husband Robert Vadra is facing new notices from the Enforcement Directorate in connection with alleged money laundering and land scam. Her mother Sonia Gandhi and brother Rahul Gandhi are on bail in the National Herald case. Perhaps they might have thought that her direct involvement in politics might shield her family from a perceived witchhunt. On the day she took charge last week, she had accompanied her husband to the ED office for questioning, giving moral support to him publicly.
Her political challenge is really huge for a novice who has just entered active politics. Though she has been known as a backroom girl, active politics is quite different as she will be under constant public scrutiny. Priyanka has entered politics at a time when the Congress is recovering from its existential crisis. She has an advantage as a challenger as the party has not been in power for decades. The Congress has just won three Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Modi is on the defensive. The Opposition is on the verge of coming together against the BJP. Also a section of the upper castes is angry with the BJP due to its stand on the SC/ST Act amendment. So Priyanka is expected to target these Brahmin votes as a first step for revival and then enthusing the cadre. The injection of a high-profile woman leader might galvanise the party but she alone cannot produce results as she needs the organisation on the ground, which is absent now. Second, the youth needs jobs. UP has many sugarcane farmers languishing under debts and associated issues of farm distress. What is her sanjeevini for these ills? She not only needs a new narrative but also has to inspire confidence among people that she can be a deliverer. Third, she needs a dedicated team to convert the promises to reality. This takes time to build. Above all she needs finances to lift the party against a well-funded BJP. Insiders in the Congress say that she is working on all these challenges. We may have to wait to see what goodies she has in her bag when she delivers her first public meeting after taking over. As for whether she is an asset or a liability, it will show in a few months.
(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist.)