Dynastic politics in India began more than a hundred and fifty years ago with Motilal Nehru and continues till today. It is increasingly becoming a cornerstone in political establishment with more dynasties entering the fray. However the one clan that has been at the centre stage and hogged all the limelight, for good reasons and bad, has been the Nehru-Gandhi family.
In the light of such a fact, the continued obsession with the clan has been extended to Priyanka Gandhi, or more correctly Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The recent appearance of Priyanka Gandhi on campaign trails in Uttar Pradesh, in support of her brother Rahul Gandhi, has set off a series of debate and speculation about her political career, her political impact and her political clout or the lack of it all.
The opposition has termed her as ‘barsaati mendhak’ or the frog of the monsoon, referring to her campaigning in Amethi and Rae Bareily only during elections and her lack of appearance in the political circuit at other times. Whether the term is part of a rebuke, a discrediting manoeuvre, a response to perceived threat, a mockery, disenchantment with dynasty, is anyone’s guess.
In a county where politicians strive for that one thing which makes them leaders, Priyanka Gandhi has that naturally – charisma. Would that charisma be immaterial without the Gandhi tag? Possibly so. But given the fact that she is a Gandhi, and has the charisma of a mass leader, parallel of which has been drawn to her uncanny resemblance to her grandmother, she is a force to reckon with, or at least that is what the grand old party hopes for.
Priyanka Gandhi is a crowd puller, and so is her brother. But Rahul Gandhi has not shown conversion of those numbers in rally to votes in the ballot. Does Priyanka have the ability to cause that conversion? The answer to this question can only be given if her effect is tested in constituencies other than the home turf of the Gandhi family – Amethi and Rae Bareily.
Priyanka Gandhi comes with the ‘Vadra’ tag attached. Her husband, the businessman who flourished quietly after getting married into the most important political family of India, recently expressed his desire to join active politics. Whether it is what the family approves of or he went solo on that is to be seen. Priyanka’s own plans to enter active politics will probably be determined by the success or the lack of it of her brother.
The opposition however is unruffled at the spate of events. They feel that a charismatic Gandhi, nicknamed ‘bhaiyaji’ by her SPG, with deep dimples and a remarkable screen presence, pulling it all together for the party is a theory of bygone era. The voter is smarter today and will not succumb to lure to instate someone Gandhi at the helm of affairs of the country. The regional parties, their politics, their vote base, their local issues have indeed made it difficult, for any one national party with however charismatic a leader in their kitty, to call for shots with comfort.
The other contributors to make the Priyanka effect look larger than life primarily are sycophancy of congress leaders and the English media. That congressmen exhibit heightened sycophancy regarding the first family in not unknown. Dibyakant Barooah’s ‘Indira is India and India is Indira’ is the example that will be cited for a long time. As time flows by with Rahul Gandhi not achieving the desired result for the party, increasingly a section of the party is looking forward to what is considered as plan B, the catapulting of Priyanka Gandhi to centre stage.
Also the English media has given footage on unparalleled time and importance to Priyanka Gandhi. It has equally covered Rahuls Gandhi’s every single move and every single statement. It assumes significance given the fact that Congress is not a force to reckon with in UP elections, with a resurgent Samajwadi Party and weakening yet formidable Bahujan Samaj Party. What is the obsession all about then? It could just be the simple logic - anything about the Gandhi’s sell.
India has not had an iconic political leader post Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was a leader of the masses. There is an increased demand for another one especially in the wake of a descending phase in the country. Priyanka’s grandmother Indira Gandhi, who was termed ‘goongi gudiya’(dumb doll) by her detractors, for all her follies of emergency and other corrupt ways was one of the tallest leaders the country had seen. The similar expectations from this ‘barsaati mendhak’, fortified by her charisma, her reaching out to people, the long since will-she-wont-she question, and most importantly her surname Gandhi, makes what can be called as the curious case of Priyanka Gandhi.