There is no empirical evidence yet that Priyanka Gandhi is an effective politician or a vote-catcher. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s entry into politics was, oddly, both expected and unexpected.
Expected, because the clamour among the Congress workers for Priyanka’s formal induction had been on for years. The 47-year-old has anyway been an active manager and trouble-shooter for the party behind the scenes and her brother, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, clearly needed some rescuing. Unexpected, because its suddenness and timing took everybody by surprise, as did the role she chose for herself—in-charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, which by any measure is a tough turf for her party.
Anticipated or not, Priyanka’s formal foray into politics sure captured news space, television studio space, social media space and mind space in a way little else has in recent times. A small case in point—after the announcement was made Wednesday, there was a point when all, or at least most, of the top 10 trends on Twitter were related to her entry.
So, what does this move mean for the Congress and is it really as earth-shattering as it is made out to be?
Undeniable is the fact that Priyanka’s entry caused much flutter because of her family name and the dynasty she carries forward along with Rahul. To be fair, there is no empirical evidence yet that Priyanka is an effective electoral politician or vote catcher. So far, she has managed the Amethi-Rae Bareli region—her family stronghold—and the assembly poll results there in recent times haven’t been too encouraging.
In the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections, for example, the Congress managed to win just two of the 10 assembly seats in Amethi and Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituencies. In fact, Rahul’s own victory margin in Amethi in 2014 Lok Sabha polls—managed minutely by Priyanka—saw a drastic dip from well over 3 lakh in 2009 to a little over 1 lakh votes. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and now union minister Smriti Irani managed to put up a spirited fight in the Gandhi family bastion.
Her involvement has been backstage and so outside the realm of formal politics that it is difficult to ascertain the level of her success. Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, for example, Priyanka was actively involved as a backend manager, bridging the gap between the party’s old guard and Rahul’s team, and smoothening the many glaring creases.
How much she succeeded in this task is difficult to assess considering the Congress saw its worst-ever electoral performance in that election.
Thus, despite no real and tangible record, Priyanka’s entry shook the political ecosystem. The perks of being from the first family of Indian politics have ensured she could choose to enter the field when the Gandhis felt it was right, and with a handpicked, though undeniably tough, role.
Besides making headlines, Priyanka’s entry has brought much energy to the Congress rank and file and given a desperately needed boost to its workers. Perhaps, due to her breezy charisma, or the freshness she promises. This is also a great opportunity for her to rebuild the party organisation in a state where it has been increasingly, to put it euphemistically, rickety.
Priyanka benefits from the advantage of being underexposed—something that her brother, unfortunately for him, lost long ago.
One hasn’t even heard or seen enough of her to really judge her. A strong physical resemblance to her grandmother and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gives the impression of her being a natural in politics, and the one better suited for it among the siblings.
Despite his fumbling and bumbling, Rahul has been the heir apparent of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, earlier uncrowned and later, crowned. Priyanka, meanwhile, has not had a crown, but a halo around her head. She is perceived as the Congress’ ultimate trump card.
The journey for Priyanka could, therefore, be tougher. She doesn’t have the crown, and she can’t afford to lose the halo. #KhabarLive