Can she revive Congress?

Priyanka Debuts

By Poonam I Kaushish

It’s finally official! Priyanka Vadra takes a bow as Congress General Secretary UP (East) and suddenly there is spring in the comatose Congress, notwithstanding its three-States victory. The future in UP which so far looked desolate suddenly seems upbeat after the Congress’s ‘440-Volt jolt’ Brahmastra: Political Priyanka has arrived!
Shedding her reticence, Priyanka who was campaign-in-charge of mother Sonia’s Rae Bareli and brother Rahul’s Amethi Lok Sabha constituencies is now leading the battle from the front. Since the UP Assembly elections 2017 she has been attending strategy sessions, helping Rahul select candidates, fine-tune campaigns, repair fault-lines between young Turks and Congress veterans and got the Party to focus its energies on doing well in elections.
Undeniably, the Party has thrust the 47-year old, seventh from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, into the limelight after opinion polls showed the UP voter’s disenchantment with the Congress heading for disaster against the SP-BSP combine and Modi’s BJP. In the hope that she would be able to revive a moribund Party and breathe life into it.
Raising a moot point: What are Priyanka’s political credentials? Is her political baptism a case of too little, too late? Does she have the courage and where-with-all to fight against political odds and personal controversies ensnaring husband Robert?
Can she replicate grandmother Indira’s sense of political timimg a la Belchi carnage riding on an elephant and élan, “Log kehtain hain Indira hatao main kehtein hoon desh bachao!” Is the dynasty a panacea for the Congress’s and nation’s ills? For how long can one bank on family background and sacrifices? The jury is out.
Undoubtedly Priyanka’s lineage is impeccable. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has provided three Prime Ministers, great grandfather Nehru, grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv along-with mother Sonia, Congress Party President and “power behind the 10-year UPA throne”.
Besides, Priyanka who bears a striking resemblance to Indira is viewed by Congressmen as the best hope to revive the Party’s fortunes and be the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty torch -bearer in the State post the BJP announcing 10% quota for the unreserved poor despite Rahul’s new-found élan and confidence of taking Modi head-on. Like Indira, she has the clarity and confidence, is lucid and easily ‘connects’ with people having them eat out of her hands.
Already, she is getting under Modi’s skin by taunting him, “A 56-inch chest is not needed to run this country, a big heart is needed to run it,” she said. Said a family retainer, “She is a born natural, has spontaneity and ability to deliver a punch that has crowds eating from hands, unlike Rahul who is much sober.”
Remember, over the years, time out of number Sonia has discounted Congressmen demand for Priyanka’s induction into the Party and lead from the front. The reason is understandable. Her charismatic daughter not only has the political savvy, killer instinct but also grabs eyeballs and media headlines and could politically give Rahul and rivals a run for their money.
Yet, her political CV is zilch, she has had no active political experience, if one discounts her stints as campaign manager for Sonia in Rae Bareli. How electrifying Priyanka’s induction will be is anybody’s guess. For starters, eastern UP isn’t exactly a friendly terrain for the Congress. Of the 21 seats it won in 2009, 15 were from there but in 2014, it drew a blank except for the two family seats Amethi and Rae Bareli.
Either way, three things are clear: One, her entry has told the UP voter that the Congress is no longer content to be a pushover in UP, India’s most politically-significant State with 80 of 543 Lok Sabha seats. It has not given it up in favour of Bhua Mayawati-Bhatja Akhilesh’s alliance or BJP and is serious about its fight, so serious that it has risked its biggest trump card.
Two, it has told people outside UP that the stakes for Rahul have gone up with another Gandhi at the Congress’s high table. Three the Rahul-Priyanka duo plan to connect to women and the youth and has fresh ideas for the State, different from poverty and conflict.
What next? Will Rahul’s out-of-the-box strategy to get his sister to officially debut change the complex political scenario specially in UP? It is too early to say but as things stand Rahul has to think on his feet, reinvent the Party and change the political discourse in its favour against the backdrop of Bhua-Bhatija’s snub.
Certainly, Priyanka’s entry will not only energise workers by conveying that she has stepped out of the shadows to bat along with her brother and mother to strengthen the Nehru-Gandhi family’s grip on the Congress leadership and affirming its role in deciding the Party’s future.
However, there is a down side. In the event she eclipses Rahul, makes him redundant and becomes a power centre it could prove disastrous for the Party. Succinctly asserted an old timer: Ek mayaan main doh talwarein nahin rahe saktee hain. Priyanka is a sure winner.”
It remains to be seen if she proves to be a big crowd puller and an asset in the perception battle and transforms the State. “Whether she occupies the voters mind-space or not, Congress candidates will benefit by her presence,” said a senior UP Congress leader, adding, “we intend to be an alternative for minorities, upper-castes and non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs the combination which we lost to BJP, SP-BSP. Priyanka is the all-important roll of dice for us.”
With expectations running high, Priyanka has her task cut out and will be judged by her ability to deliver electoral victories. The enormity of the task can be gauged from the fact that the Congress won only two Lok Sabha seats in UP and BJP 71 in 2014. Also, anti-Modism cannot be an ideology or an electoral alternative as the Congress no longer has a critical mass of loyal voters in States.
It could see the Party’s metamorphise into a duet between brother and sister given the strong bond between them and Priyanka would leave no stone unturned to help Rahul but without overshadowing him.
But she is no Indira or for that matter no Sonia either who resurrected the Congress’s fortunes. At least, not yet. Her intellectual ability is untested. True, she has succeeded in the family pocket boroughs but they do not represent the whole country. In an aspirational new India with over 50% of the electorate between 18-35 seeking jobs and good quality of life, charisma is not a prescription drug for election victory.
Moreso, in the backdrop of Priyanka defending her husband’s controversial land deals and questionable ill-gotten wealth. Also, one can win elections by invoking the family name but for how many elections and how long? She has a long way to go to prove a leader who can resurrect the Party’s fortunes.
Priyanka would do well to remember that politics is not a part-time occupation nor a cameo to re-emerge every five years or when the ‘family business’ is in trouble. Also, votes, not media space win elections and electoral success or failure is the only test of political legitimacy. Even as she represents a rainbow in the Congress distant horizon today she connotes an ephemeral reality: A gamble which could bomb dramatically or blaze a trail of fame. —- INFA