Priyanka Gandhi: The Last Resort Of The Dynasty?
For several weeks before the current Lok Sabha polls, there had been speculation whether Priyanka will campaign for the party in the rest of the country. Rahul Gandhi had indicated during his visit to Mumbai that his sister might play a bigger role
Will Priyanka Gandhi Vadra play a bigger role after the 2014 polls? Will she enter politics as desired by a section of the Congress party? Will she be able to sustain if she decides to do so? These are some of the questions that are being asked in the Congress circles. There is nothing surprising about these speculations because the Gandhi family has always maintained some mystique and suspense about their politics. Rajiv Gandhi did it. Sonia Gandhi did it and Rahul Gandhi is still keeping people under suspense whether he will be a 24X7 politician. So it is Priyanka’s turn to do so.
There is nothing wrong in the entire Gandhi family plunging into active politics for after all Priyanka belongs to a traditional political family. The Congressmen depend on the Gandhi family’s magic because they know that they cannot agree on any other person as their leader. In fact, even Robert Vadra has electoral ambitions as he had once said in an interview that he would win from any constituency. But the Gandhi family has been careful not to have more than two members from the family at the same time in politics. As long as Sanjay Gandhi was there Rajiv Gandhi, though elder to him, did not join politics. Only after the untimely death of Sanjay Gandhi did Indira Gandhi bring Rajiv to help her. Insiders say that when Sonia Gandhi decided to come to the rescue of the Congress party in 1998, it was the three-member family conclave, which decided on the issue. Rahul Gandhi entered the political world, only after the family had sat together and decided that Rahul should first get a chance to prove himself and Priynaka should wait for her turn. Insiders also point out that the family is so close knit that any effort to create some mischief between the brother and sister cannot succeed as Priyanka has made it very clear that she will help her elder brother in every possible way. So, if any Congress faction believes that it can create a third power centre within the family, it would be in for disappointment.
For several weeks before the current Lok Sabha polls, there had been speculation whether Priyanka will campaign for the party in the rest of the country. Rahul Gandhi had indicated during his visit to Mumbai that his sister might play a bigger role. The Congress sycophants in the Allahabad Congress Committee passed a resolution asking Priyanka to contest from Phulpur Parliamentary seat, which was once represented by Pandit Nehru.
When the Congress was looking for a suitable candidate to contest against the BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, the first name that was suggested was that of Priyanka Gandhi. A section in the Congress party has been clamouring for Priyanka as she is seen as the replica of her grandmother Indira Gandhi and also for her political responses. To add to all these, Janardhan Dwivedi, party general secretary, recently stated that Rajiv Gandhi had cherished his daughter Priyanka’s political understanding way back in 1990
When a prominently displayed story in a leading newspaper recently suggested that Priyanka’s name was considered to contest against Modi from Varanasi but the party ultimately decided against it, Priyanka herself came out in the open declaring: “My decision not to contest is personal. I will only change it when I feel from within that I should.” The Gandhi family often uses the inner voice theory. Didn’t her mother Sonia listen to her “inner voice” and decide not to become the Prime Minister in 2004?
Priyanka reiterated her earlier stand that she wanted to campaign only in Amethi, from where brother Rahul is standing, and in Raebareli, from where mother Sonia is contesting. “My brother, mother and husband (Robert Vadra) would wholeheartedly support me if I ever wanted to contest,” she said in a TV interview. She also claimed that her mother and brother had asked her several times to contest but she was not so inclined. “This certainly is my own personal decision and I will change it only when I feel from within that I should.”
Having said all these, there is no doubt that Priyanka has been playing a role from behind the scene. Insiders recall how she was a pillar of strength when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in May 1991. She and Rahul stood by their mother throughout and saw through the most difficult times even though they were young and inexperienced. They sat with their mother when the world leaders came to call on Sonia Gandhi for condolences and held her hand.
The Congress insiders refer to Priyanka as PVG while Rahul Gandhi is called RG and Sonia Gandhi the CP. She has been careful to keep herself in the background all the time. When Sonia Gandhi made her first public campaign speech in 1998 in Sri Perumbudur, where Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991, Rahul and Priyanka accompanied Sonia Gandhi and insiders said that Priyanka had a hand in preparing that emotional speech delivered by her mother. Similarly, when Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar questioned Sonia’s foreign origin and the party split in 1999, Priyanka helped her mother in preparing a hard-
hitting speech at the AICC session convened immediately after Sonia took back her resignation.
When Sonia Gandhi made her maiden speech in Parliament in 1999, Priyanka was sitting in the visitor’s gallery to cheer her mother. She did the same when Rahul Gandhi made
his first speech in Parliament. In 2004 When Sonia Gandhi declined to become the Prime Minister Priyanka and her husband Vadra, though
not members of the Congress Parliamentary party, were present to watch the significant moment.
So though she is not openly taking part in the decision making of the Congress party, her stamp can be seen in almost all the important decisions. Her contesting elections could only make it official but what position can she have in the party? As Minister Shahsi Tharoor said : “There is no vacancy at the moment. We have a President and a Vice President and they are doing a job.” Can there be three power centres in a party or government for a homogenous functioning?
Insiders point out that during the current elections she has been playing an effective behind-the-scene role in helping her mother and brother. The media played up her visit to her brother’s house one evening when the top party bosses were holding a strategy meeting. But the AICC General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi downplayed it by saying: “Priyanka Gandhi may not be in active politics, but she is an active member of the Congress … working in Amethi and Raebareli. She has her own views on politics and holds deliberations with party workers. If she has held a meeting with party leaders on any issue, it is neither surprising nor new.” There are other Congress leaders who confirm about her increasing role—from where to hold public meetings, speeches and even in selection of candidates. In
her rare interviews Priyanka almost echoes the sentiments expressed by Rahul Gandhi about the party organisation and also the kind of changes he wants. She certainly is one of the strategists in the 2014 poll campaign. She is credited with suggesting to Rahul to hold meetings with various groups like , fishermen and other sections and also had a major role in the making of the manifesto. Congress leaders in the know of things claim that she was even consulted about the alliances and responses on controversies dogging the party.
There have been demands from party men from time to time that Priyanka should assume a larger role and campaign all over the country. There is no doubt a section of Congressmen are dismayed at what they see as the failure of Rahul Gandhi to connect with the electorate while Priyanka is able to do so effortlessly. This section sees her as a natural leader and should be utilised to take on Mod.
After all, she has a presence, pretty face, graceful ways, provides natural repartees, and above all the Gandhi name. She can play on the emotions and use it to her full advantage. This was the strategy used by Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and even Rahul Gandhi to talk about the sacrifices made by the Gandhi family.
The Gandhis have fielded Priyanka almost at the fag end of the current campaign. There are many in the Congress who feels that she should have been brought in much earlier to improve the chances of the
party against the Modi onslaught. Although confined to the two constituencies—Amethi and Raebareli—the media projection of Priyanka takes her message to the whole country. So she can get the same space in the television and newspapers without making whirlwind tours like Modi, Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi.
This brings us to the question why the Gandhi family has not made optimum use of Priyanka’s political appeal. From the day Sonia Gandhi entered politics the speculation about Priynaka’s entry has aways been there. It was a question of who came in first—Rahul or Priyanka. Insiders claim that Sonia preferred to file Rahul Gandhi first and the daughter would remain in the background for some time.
First of all, she is the trump card held in reserve and if Rahul Gandhi fails she is the last resort for the continuance of the dynasty. So why would the Gandhis expose her now? Most poll surveys have predicted a rout for the Congress and why should the family expose Priyanka now? She has age on her side and therefore if she has to be inducted it should be when the party is in a position to win and not when it is expecting a rout. A failure at this juncture can only harm her political future. In fact even Rahul Gandhi, insiders say, is only preparing to sit in the opposition and play a patient waiting role as Leader of Opposition as it is almost impossible for the UPA to come back to power for the third time in a row.
Secondly, her biggest baggage is her husband Robert Vadra. Although Priyanka has taken on Modi and the opposition boldly supporting her husband in the election campaign this time, the minute she enters politics, her detractors would begin chanting “Vadra, Vadra” whether there is any truth in the allegations of corruption against him or not. Vadra has been in a fierce controversy over the DLF property and the Congress-ruled Haryana and Rajasthan governments have been accused of favouring Sonia’s son-in-law in land deals. In the last one and half years, the Gandhis have maintained an eerie silence over these land-grab allegations but in the present campaign Priyanka has dared the opposition to prove the charges.
Thirdly, the Gandhi family never allows one of its members into the pubic glare without adequate preparations and there seems to be no such evidence of launching Priyanka now. For the family the focus is only Rahul Gandhi and how to make him succeed. The way Priyanka sticks to the family is a strong enough indication that she will never succumb to the temptation of becoming a third pole in the party. So she can only play a complimentary role.
Insiders claim that Priyanka Gandhi has virtually become one of the micro managers in executing, strategising and monitoring the 2014 campaign, when her mother and brother are busy crisscrossing the country for campaign. While Rahul Gandhi gave his first interview to a news channel, she was sitting in the room guiding her brother. When he went to file his nomination, it was Priyanka who was sitting with him atop the car waving to the constituents.
The media goes gaga on every word she utters and follows her around the two constituencies where she is presently camping. She is asked all kinds of questions about policy decision, poll strategy, Modi, BJP ideology and the Congress thinking and the OB vans are following her cavalcade to get a glimpse of her aggressive postures.
Going by all indications, at present Priyanka is not the best bet for the party although she is getting adequate space in the channels and newspapers. Right now she has four roles to play—the daughter of Sonia Gandhi, mother of her children, wife of Vadra and sister of Rahul Gandhi. She has to maintain a fine balance in managing these different roles and also connect with the people.
With Sonia Gandhi’s health giving concern, and Rahul virtually taking over the command, the election season saw the churning going on within the party with the old generation yielding the primacy to the younger generation. If the Congress loses the change will be much more drastic as is being hinted by minister Jairam Ramesh. A defeat now will prove that the Gandhi family’s magnetism can no longer play a role in getting votes for the party. But despite all that the Gandhi family continues to dominate the Congress politics as the Congressmen are waiting for the last trump card—Priyanka.
While Priyanka is still saying that her role is limited to the family strongholds of Amethi and Raebareli, her level of involvement is far beyond that. No doubt for the past two decades since Sonia came to power, Priyanka has been surfacing during every elections and her campaign in Amethi and Raebareli are highly publicised by the media. So she is in the focus in the current elections once again but she should realise that politics is a 24X7 hard work and cannot be a hobby.
It suits the Congress to keep Priyanka’s name afloat, unofficially, and assess the public opinion, as also to gradually prepare the momentum for her entry. Congress workers privately admit that Priyanka would improve the party’s electoral prospects.
But the family will give all the time for Rahul to prove himself. Priyanka is Plan B and why should the party execute the Plan B when Plan A is still continuing? The family has the final say as to when Rahul should exit and Priyanka should enter. Meanwhile, the Priyanka mystique will continue because she is new, fresh, untested and curiosity about the Priyanka factor. Even her opponents concede she has charm and charisma. The question, of course, is what can she bring to the complex nature of politics today? No one knows what are her opinions and plans for meeting the aspirations of the younger generations. Her critics also point out that in the 2012 UP. Assembly polls despite her campaign Congress could win only two seats in both the Rae Bareily and Amethi put together. Her critics also wonder whether she is the answer to the aspirational India.
By Kalyani Shankar