NEW DELHI: Priyanka Gandhi. The news tickers finally flashed the name with a piece of news that has been long heralded, awaited, beseeched for, speculated upon, debated, decried, and denied multiple times. And the curtains have risen on a political event — and perhaps a political career — that has potential to be transformative and, equally, just a piece of theatre.
With just three months left for a momentous general election, it was with the flourish of finally deploying his brahmastra that Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday chose his sister Priyanka as the party’s general secretary for eastern Uttar Pradesh with effect from the first week of February, marking her entry into formal politics. Simultaneously, he inducted Jyotiraditya Scindia as general secretary, western UP, thus putting some big firepower into a state where the party had long attritied.
Whether Priyanka’s arrival will galvanise the voters to the same extent as party cadre, the timing, the circumstances and the event itself are very interesting and hold significance in many ways.
To begin with, Priyanka has the curious status of being both Rahul’s closest ally and also, in popular perception, his antithesis. Charismatic, relatively more eloquent and less inhibited than her brother, she has often been seen as the real heir to the Indira legacy. And she was the original choice of party cadre, who have spent years wishing for her arrival on the stage during the long dry spell the Congress has had, thinking of mother Sonia Gandhi as a mere regent, and Rahul as somewhat of a dud.
Those days are gone. Sonia proved herself to be quite capable of steering the UPA for a decade. And now, the battle-hardened Rahul too has come into his own. Yet, in a party where dynasty is both a bane and a boon, one inevitable line of speculation is whether Priyanka at this stage can still present the spectre of a dual power centre, if not an actual rival claimant.
The second is the peculiar flux pre-electoral UP politics is in. With the Mayawati-Akhilesh mahagathbandhan keeping the Congress out, will a stronger Congress actually turn it into a three-cornered contest, thereby benefiting the BJP. That may depend on which precise seats the SP and BSP fight, though it’s not without significance that eastern UP is a BSP stronghold. At another level, this may also be a gambit to force the SP-BSP axis into a tacit understanding with the Congress, threatening an erosion of votes if that is not forthcoming.
And why did Priyanka agree? Perhaps because this is the most important political battle for her brother, and she wants him to be in the frontline for the PM’s chair, not just be an adjunct to an unstable opposition coalition.
The Congress is already threatening to wean away upper-caste votes from the BJP, and Priyanka’s arrival can do that project no harm. And the constituencies of both PM Modi and UP CM Adityanath fall in the east. At the same time, moulded in the old ‘social umbrella’ type Congress politics, she perhaps has no real access to the complex caste matrix of UP, especially when the BJP has unleashed Mandal 2.0. And the party’s footprint has been declining even in Amethi and Rae Bareli. Priyanka takes over on February 1. Expect that to be a spectacle, and the mood-lifting effect on the party will be undeniable. The biggest attendant negative is the corruption taint haunting husband Robert Vadra. Expect action on that front too, as the BJP will make a counter-move, hoping to tarnish and bog her down.