AHMEDABAD: Ganapatibhai has come with his family and young brother-in-law to the much-ballyhooed Ahmedabad rally of the Congress, just to “see Priyanka”. Hundreds of kilometres away from eastern UP, the turf earmarked for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as party general secretary by her brother and party president Rahul Gandhi, there’s no limiting the public’s interest in her, it seems.
Yes, he hastens to add, “And also Rahul Gandhi. Baki sab ko toh dekh hi chuka hoon...(the rest I have seen!)” But there’s no doubt in the pot-bellied Ganapatibhai’s mind that witnessing this debut — the first public rally of Priyanka outside the pocketboroughs of the Gandhi family in UP, that too in Gujarat — makes him feel special. There are many more like him, and the crowd indeed is substantial. But, as the election season warms up (quite literally, the sun is already blistering the skin), what’s his takeaway from this family outing?
Before he can answer, his twenty-something bro-in-law chips in, “Poora Indira Gandhi hai!” (She’s all Indira). As the small crowd that gathers looks at him quizzically, he adds a bit embarrassedly, “I haven’t of course seen Indira, but I’ve heard Priyanka is like her.”
Is this the Congress brahmastra then? Priyanka, on Modi-Shah’s home turf, trying to lend a touch of Indira-like aura to the party’s narrative?
Not quite. It’s a Rahul Gandhi show. For Priyanka, that enables a soft launch, that’s all. At Sabarmati Ashram, she took a backseat, almost merging with the rest, not trying to stand out as the newest Gandhi on the block. At the CWC meeting, she sat chatting with her fellow general secretary, Jyotiraditya Scindia, not crowding the stage with brother Rahul. Later at the rally, she did take the podium but the firepower and the direct, high-decibel attack on PM Modi was left to Rahul.
Priyanka made her speech sound as low-key as possible. “I don’t make speeches, I am just sharing my feelings with you...” she said, softly smiling, entirely in line with the Congress tactic of having ‘no build-up’ around her debut, to ensure she neither overshadows her brother nor create some unforeseen twist in the script.
But her flawless Hindi (she once credited Amitabh Bachchan’s mother Teji Bachchan for her grip on the language) and her ability to nuance her speech made her stand out nevertheless. Idrisbhai, a resident of Ahmedabad, said after the rally, “What I appreciated most is that she said what she had to say without using bad words.”
There was little doubt, though, who she was targeting, “To those who talk about fitrat (nature), the fitrat of this nation is to seek the truth, the fitrat of this nation is to blow away the winds of hate with love.” Not so long ago, in another Ahmedabad rally, Modi had talked about the “fitrat to avenge every wrongdoing and hunt down terrorists in their own backyard”. That of course was a swipe at Pakistan.
Billing the current Lok Sabha polls as no less than a second fight for “independence”, Priyanka took the usual digs on the illusory two crore jobs and Rs 15 lakh in every account, also women’s security. But what marked her pitch was her direct appeal to the voters, phrases like “It’s your nation”, “built by you”, “ask questions — think and decide”, and not “get swayed” by “all that comes your way”. Also, that a “vote is a weapon” that is to be used with awareness — “a weapon that will not hurt or harm anyone”, but will “strengthen your country”.
Can Priyanka make a difference? Maybe to some voters who would care to listen. For the rest, much of the ensuing game will be hinging on candidate selection and the internal dynamics of the Congress party.
Congress is a party of great leaders: Hardik
AHMEDABAD: “It’s a party of great leaders and great legacy, like that of Subhas Chandra Bose and Rajiv Gandhi.” Talking to this newspaper after his formal induction, that’s what Hardik Patel cited as his reason for joining the Congress.
The leaders of the GOP, on their part, offered Hardik’s entry into the party as an example of its viablility among the youth and the not-so-priviledged. The young Patidar leader had famously or infamously led the movement for reservation in government jobs and education for his community in Gujarat.
On Tuesday, on the sidelines of the CWC meeting, he made formal what had only been a tacit partnership. Hardik Patel’s outfit Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti had supported the Congress in the local body elections in 2015 too, before the assembly polls in 2017. Not to much tangible benefit to either, though it became a vehicle for expressing Patel anger towards the BJP. Many felt his decision to become a Congressman has much to do with his ambition to contest the Lok Sabha polls.