One year after her dramatic entry into politics, the Congress party is still waiting for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s magic to appear. When she was inducted, last year, as AICC General Secretary, the party believed that she was their “Brahmastra” and would restore the party to its old glory. After the passage of one year, many Congressmen feel that she has not delivered as much as the party had expected.
Priyanka is not new to politics—she has grown up in a distinguished political family. Because of an unwritten pact in the family she had taken a back seat allowing her brother, Rahul Gandhi, to be in the limelight for the past two decades. In any case, Sonia Gandhi preferred her son to be her successor.
After taking charge of the Uttar Pradesh unit she began well with a mega 17 km long road show in Lucknow. She accompanied Rahul to visit the Pulwama victims. She also visited the families of the victims of the Sonbhadra massacre, Unnao rape case and violence during the anti-CAA protests, taking the UP chief minister Yogi head-on. Before the Lok Sabha polls, she visited the Bhim army chief, Chandra Shekhar Azad, in hospital creating ripples. During the polls, till the last minute she kept up the suspense whether she would contest against Modi from Varanasi. But unfortunately, all this is not enough.
Despite all the hype, in 2019 the Congress won only one seat, (Sonia Gandhi) while even Rahul lost his Amethi seat. In 2014, the Congress secured just two seats—those of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. The Congress leaders, who were betting on the Priyanka magic are unable to comprehend why it’s not working. On one level, she has many things going for her—she has the family name, presentable personality, charisma, her uncanny resemblance to her grandmother Indira Gandhi, articulation, and many more positives. But obviously these are not enough.
Why is Priyanka unable to wield her magic wand? Is it because of the lack of backing from the family? Is it the sibling rivalry? Is the old guard resisting her rise? At least three opportunities came her way in the past one-year. The first was when Rahul Gandhi resigned after the party lost in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. She could have easily succeeded Rahul, as no one would have opposed her. Ultimately the old guard prevailed on Sonia Gandhi to come back as the interim party chief.
The second was when the anti- CAA protests started picking up. Though Priyanka had tweeted and had visited the victims in hospital, taken lead in sitting in dharna with the students at the India Gate, many feel that she could have taken up more burden on behalf of the party as UP is one of the states which had faced the impact of the anti-CAA movement.
The third chance would be when Sonia takes a back seat again.
Sonia is said to have conveyed to her close aides (read the old guard) that they should choose a new party chief in view of her deteriorating health. When they suggested the name of Priyanka Gandhi, they got the hint that she would prefer Rahul to come back.
Priyanka’s report card for her one-year in office is not all that impressive. But there are many reasons for that. First of all, PVG as Priyanka is called within the party, was deployed very late. Had she been inducted ten years ago, she would have matured politically. Also her entry was at the wrong time. The party was in disarray losing one state after the other after the miserable performance of getting just 44 seats in 2014. Rahul-led Congress had not been able to provide an alternative to Modi.
Secondly, the Gandhi name no longer creates magic, which the family refuses to recognise. No one in the present generation is in awe of the family. The unfortunate thing is that while Modi has found a way to connect with the voters, the Gandhis are still to find their narrative. While Rahul has some electoral wins, PVG does not have that though she is considered more articulate and charismatic than her brother.
Thirdly, Priyanka might become a good leader in time to come but, for that she should become a vote catcher. Looking back, it is not clear what Priyanka’s brand of politics is except her sporadic activities. She must work out a strategy for the 2022 Assembly polls. For this she must hold the flock together and also get new faces. But if she had the spirit of Indira Gandhi, Priyanka too, should become a street fighter and be seen more on the ground than on twitter. If she has to lift the Congress from its present decline in Uttar Pradesh, there is no other alternative than building the organisation at the grass root level and becoming a 24/7 politician. The 2022 Assembly polls are not far from now.
By arrangement with IPA