This first appeared in CNBC-TV18 on Priyanka Gandhi’s formal entry into politics.
After spending the best part of the last decade helping the Indian National Congress in various election campaigns, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has finally taken the plunge into formal party and electoral politics. The announcement that she will be in charge of Eastern Uttar Pradesh for the upcoming general elections, the hitherto bastion of CM Adityanath, will make the state will be more keenly watched than ever before. And the electoral battle between the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party will hot up even more.
The Congress has played its last remaining ace, and one is not quite sure how that will pan out. There are pros and cons of the Priyanka Gandhi Vadra gamble, and they are often the same things.
The first is her lineage. The Gandhi name. And, that is also her biggest drawback. At one end she does not have to campaign to establish her self. She was born established. At the other end, this elections seems to be as much about the Nehru Gandhi family and their role in history, than it does about current affairs. All the sins of the ancestors, that are being visited on Rahul Gandhi, will also be visited on his sister. And, then to compound it, she is married to Robert Vadra, against whom the BJP has a list of allegations. While nothing has been proved till date, it is ammunition that will be used against her. Another point to ponder is to wonder if the name makes as big a difference to the voter as it did two decades ago.
The second is the media glare. In an election mediated by the media delivering politicians to our homes and phones, she has tremendous screen presence – she is both telegenic and photogenic. Add to that she talks well, campaigns well, and seems to have a knack of connecting with people, you have someone who will drive TRP’s for TV channels. Also, in a world where we have had a surfeit of other politicians dominating our screens, she is an exception – she has been relatively reclusive. There is going to be some curiosity value about her. What she says, what she does, the saris she wears, her smiles, and her frowns are going to be dissected ad nauseum by the TV anchors -because she is new and under exposed in the media. But the very same media will also use the scandals in her husband’s life to drive their ratings. Priyanka Gandhi is the keyword – anything about her will draw the audience.
The third is with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, because of who she is by birth, will not only take on CM Adityanath in his bastion of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, but also Narendra Modi and other senior leaders of the BJP. While it will be an attack co-ordinated with Rahul Gandhi to maximise the impact, if the BJP responds in tandem against her – they not just split their efforts on targeting Rahul Gandhi, they also give a massive boost to the image and standing of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. And, plus there will be the natural sympathy factor of a lone woman being targeted by many. Let’s not forget, Indians are sentimental about things like this – patriarchal as the attitude may be. IT is likesly that the BJP will focus the attention of their female heavy hitters – Smriti Irani and Nirmala Sitharaman – to help contain Priyanka Gandhi Vadra; but that means that they are tying up two veteran campaigners in what looks like a hard fought election.
From the Congress’s point of view the elections are make or break. And, Uttar Pradesh is the key to Parliament. The BJP and it’s ally Apna Dal won 73 of the 80 seats in the state in 2014. And, they followed it up by winning 312 out of 403 seats in the state elections. With SP and BSP entering into an electoral alliance to compete in 76 seats in the state –the Congress has indicated that it is going to fight all 80 seats in the state. In 2014, the Congress contested 66 seats and won a measly 2 – the seats of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. It is this wipe out that the Congress is trying to reverse with the induction of Priyanka Gandhi. Whether this gamble will pay off is up to the Indian voter.