Priyanka’s call to real issues, Mayawati’s no-Cong deal and Mamata’s gender politics set off cross-currents
Now that poll rhetoric dominates news and views spaces, three women leaders attempted to reset the agenda of the General Elections and rewire priorities with their forceful and impactful stands — Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee. Priyanka sounded the poll bugle from Gujarat, the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an impassioned speech on the state of the nation that is being poisoned insidiously with hatred, the institutions where democratic processes are being undermined, the real issues of livelihood that are being subverted to realise the obsession with giganticism and how the awareness of the simple power of choice could help the voter rewrite his/her own destiny. One is left wondering why Priyanka, who has effortless magnetism, charisma, oratory skill and charm, is not used more frequently and visibly by the Congress now that roadshows have picked up steam. Her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi may have worked the cadres, led them through electoral tests and stabilised the party but it is Priyanka who can rouse the masses with equal non-chalance and determination. In Gujarat, she proved how she could take on Modi in the optics department, counter his abrasive muscularity with a quiet grace — she did not once name Modi but attacked his brand of divisive politics — and energise her grassroots workers in a state that Rahul claimed as his moral victory during the Assembly elections. Choosing to wear a tricolour wristband, she packed a fistful of intentions that would metaphorically be a counter to the BJP’s fury over Pulwama and Balakot. In fact, she neutralised the bigness of Modi’s image as a deliverer by putting back the sordidness of joblessness, women’s rights and farmers’ plight on the agenda. She even mentioned the sacrifices of everybody in nation-building, subsuming the Pulwama-Balakot high as part of collective martyrdom and inspiration and eased her way as a strategic counter-weight in the debate on the priorities of the new Lok Sabha. She made social harmony saleable. And she stayed away from Rafale, knowing that issue wouldn’t sell any longer and immediately question the Congress’ priorities on the country’s defence needs. If she continues to do this frequently, electioneering would not seem a one-sided affair or a pointless bluster.
Of course, what Priyanka could not do was change Mayawati’s mind with her discourse. The BSP leader has disallowed any respectable accommodation of the Congress in the mahagathbandhan by refusing to share seats with it in any state. It would be wrong to assume that Mayawati is miffed about seat-sharing glitches in Madhya Pradesh. She has bigger concerns about firming up her party base, which has no MP and just 19 MLAs in Uttar Pradesh. With a slipping Dalit votepie in states, she knows she cannot afford further dilution. So she is being honest when she argues that past experience has taught her that in shared seats, the Congress loyalist vote doesn’t shift 100 per cent to the caste contender but splits while the “instructed” Dalit vote goes to the partner. She needs UP seats to stay relevant. And lest anybody think that she could conveniently switch sides post verdict, she renewed her commitment to stay with the Samajwadi Party (SP) and tame the BJP far more successfully in UP in unison. That is a power tool which works for her. TMC’s Didi has set her own workable strategies. Knowing that women make half of the country’s electorate and having aggressively pushed the women’s reservation Bill as MP at one time, she has apportioned 41 per cent of her party tickets to women candidates and fielded them from key constituencies, blunting the edge of the Opposition. Sagaciously, she has relied on star power from Tollywood and a widow of a murdered MLA to turn the tide in seats that the BJP is betting on furiously. In a country where women only make 12 per cent of MPs, Mamata has shown why change in discourse can come only when women seize political power decisively enough. Come May and we would know if the three indeed wrested the narrative.