You can take politics away from a Gandhi, but you cannot take a Gandhi away from politics. By now reams have been written about Priyanka Gandhi’s formal anointment as a politician, the Indira comparison, the Vadra albatross and dynastic politics. She has sprung a surprise, but it is an expected surprise if oxymorons can be forgiven. But then politics is the rationalisation of oxymorons, by morons, for morons. The fight is no longer Modi versus Rahul. It is Modi versus the Gandhis. And the Gandhis versus the Gathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh, where the outcome of the battle decides the war. Congressmen say Priyanka navigates the multi-layered terrain of politics like a pro while her brother is unidimensional. Perhaps. She is no novice in backroom politics or poll management. She did not join politics. She never left it.
Priyanka’s passage from the political foyer to the Grand Hall has many implications. The Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh results were important lessons for the Congress. The infighting between Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot, between Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia had affected grassroots coordination. The Gandhis realise that such rivalry will lose them precious seats in the Lok Sabha polls. Rahul represents the new Congress while Priyanka is at ease with the old. The gap is now bridged. Her counsel went a long way in soothing ruffled feathers after the state polls.
A tried and tested rule is that repetition creates expectation. Rahul was for over a decade seen as a millstone around the party’s neck. ‘Priyanka lao, Congress bachao’ was the party’s refrain. Rahul may be evolving as a platform pugilist, but the jury is still out whether it is his newfound appeal, aggressive social media smarts and fresh organisational skills that won the day or anti-incumbency, demonetisation and unemployment. Priyanka’s charisma is expected to boost Brand Gandhi Public Ltd and infuse new votes into Congress Pvt Ltd. Irony is, she was already accepted as a leader without being tested.
Legacy counts in public life. The underdog wins when all pedigree has to offer is the runt of the litter. Ancestry matters in India, where reservation stumps meritocracy. The Gandhis already have reservation in their party. Youth admire and aspire to lineage while the poor and the villagers revere it. Such is the nature of feudal India.
The BJP’s fight will be against a formidable legacy which Sonia Gandhi, being an outsider, could not fully claim. A knee jerk response would be tax raids on Vadra, escalating the National Herald case and flinging more vitriol against the Gandhis. It would be a bad idea to turn them into martyrs, for Priyanka knows how to work the crowds. It would also be foolish to speculate that she is the prime ministerial candidate. It is Rahul. But sis is the captain of his team. Will Sonia now put her feet up? Talk to the Hand.