The BJP is yet to recover from its shocking defeat in the recently concluded Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan assembly polls. And, its opponent — the Congress — has unleashed its Brahmastra just months ahead of the general election. Appointment of Priyanka Gandhi as AICC general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh (East) is being viewed a masterstroke of the party to take on the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine of the BJP. The party has also appointed Jyotiraditya Scindia as the AICC general secretary in-charge of UP (West). These appointments attach considerable significance in the political circle, because winning UP, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats, remains the top agenda of any political party, as it paves way to New Delhi.
History has proven that there would be no Congress party without the glue of the Gandhi family, just as the BJP would collapse without the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, its mother ship. The Congress party, on January 23, has finally exposed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to mainstream politics by appointing her as AICC general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh (East).
The move is being seen as one to strengthen the party’s hold in the Hindi heartland ahead of the 2019 general election, due in a few months. This comes close on the heels the astounding victory of the Congress in the recently concluded assembly elections in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
Priyanka’s appointment as the general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh East is also significant because Uttar Pradesh East is where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency — Varanasi — is located. However, the Congress has not yet said whether she would contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
The Congress has also made several changes in its structure. The party has appointed Jyotiraditya Scindia AICC general secretary for UP (West) and replaced Ashok Gehlot as AICC general secretary with K.C. Venugopal. Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has also been appointed AICC general secretary in-charge of Haryana.
Priyanka has often been described as the party’s ‘Brahmastra’ to take on the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine of the BJP. Given that Modi-Shah have a declared intention to create a Congress-mukt Bharat, and are succeeding at it, one would think this is the time when the ‘Brahmastra’ would be used. But Sonia Gandhi’s ‘putra-moh’ (love for the male child) may be coming in the way of using the ‘Brahmastra’.
Priyanka has for some years been playing the role of a backroom trouble-shooter, cleaning up the mess. Her brother goes to Singapore for a public event, and she is tasked with organising the AICC plenary session. Rahul takes months to form a new Congress Working Committee, but Priyanka picks up the phone to soothe the leaders left out. The hard work of running an election war-room for 2019 is likely to be done by Priyanka.
Just a couple of months ago, she was part of several closed-door meetings to help her brother Rahul decide the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. She has also campaigned for her mother Sonia Gandhi in Raebareily and Rahul in Amethi several times. Thus the role is not new for her, but the expectations surely are!
Will it turn tables for Congress in UP?
Uttar Pradesh has 80 Lok Sabha seats — the largest of any state. So it is obvious that winning in UP remains the top agenda of any political party as it easily paves way to New Delhi. This year the electoral contest has taken an intriguing turn with the Congress deciding to play its trump card — Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
The decision did take most political observers by surprise. The questions that crop up with Priyanka’s appointment are: Is this good time to officially step on the political stage? And is UP the best place? Has the Congress gifted away the state? Has it just made things easier for the rival Bharatiya Janata Party?
However, it shows how the Congress leadership had to give in to the demand of its workers and people. For the past several years, the workers of the Congress have been demanding Priyanka’s presence in the national politics.
On her appointment, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said, “I am very happy that my sister Priyanka will assist me in UP in the Lok Sabha polls. She is very capable.” The decision of the Congress leadership will, of course, boost the morale of the workers. But it also raises a question about Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Priyanka Gandhi obviously chose to stay away from politics for a reason. But her stepping out of the shadows a year after Rahul took over as Congress chief can be read as vote of no confidence on Rahul’s leadership.
Opposition leaders have always questioned his capabilities as a leader. Though he has managed to revive the Congress to some extent with the recent wins in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh but his leadership quality is not extolled by many.
Priyanka Gandhi’s formal entry also means that now she is on the radar of the BJP. As her husband Robert Vadra is already being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate for his land deals in Haryana and Rajasthan, the party would use the Vadra card and go all out in its attack on the Congress and Priyanka.
Will the move backfire?
All the Opposition parties are trying to come together in an alliance against the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Following the trend, the two rivals of Uttar Pradesh — the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party – have made an alliance sans the Congress. The thinking was that a 50:50 SP-BSP partnership would have a better chance of defeating the BJP.
In 2014, the BJP and its ally won 71 seats in Uttar Pradesh with a vote share of 42.3 per cent. The combined vote share of the SP and the BSP in 2014 was 41.8 per cent, and the Congress was able to get only 7.5 per cent. With a rejuvenated SP-BSP fighting the polls together, it was expected that their vote share would increase. Now, that the Congress is going all alone with a strong face of Priyanka Gandhi, the party is likely to eat into the anti-BJP votes, especially the Muslim and the Dalit, making it advantageous for the BJP.
In 2017, when the Congress decided to team up with the Samajwadi Party, it was the BJP that got to reap the harvest. Meanwhile, the BJP is also trying to woo the Dalits and the OBCs in the state which make a large chunk of the voter base. BSP chief Mayawati is a Jatav and traditionally the community has been loyal to her, though in 2014 and 2017 the BJP claimed to make dents into that vote bank.
So, was it actually a good idea for the Congress to bring in Priyanka Gandhi at this time or has it just made the way easier for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh? Well, the team of SP-BSP has left the seats of Amethi and Raebareily for the Congress as compensation. And the Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has said that there’s no enmity against the SP and the BSP. May be there’s still time to join hands against the BJP?
Congress shares throwback post
A day after Priyanka’s political debut, the Congress’s #ThrowbackThursday post dug out a memory in black-and-white that illustrated her connection with grandmother Indira Gandhi.
For years, Priyanka stayed in the backroom of Congress politics, shining in a cameo rather than stepping into the spotlight like her brother, mother and all the others of the Nehru-Gandhi family before her.
Political analysts said she was a natural and more suited to the political life than her brother Rahul, older by two years and seen for a long time as a reluctant politician. The mother of two also wore her grandmother’s trademark handloom saris, amplifying the resemblance.
Her charm and easy connect with the masses, combined with a strong personality and sharp political reflexes, felt to the Congress like a throwback to the 1970-80s, when Indira Gandhi reigned supreme.
UP Cong leaders hopeful of winning more seats
After the SP-BSP stitched an alliance, the announcement by the Congress to contest all 80 Lok Sabha seats was seen as bravado and posturing. That bravado may turn into a political reality.
Rahul Gandhi reached his Lok Sabha constituency on January 23 and told a Congress leader congratulating him for the recent victory of the party in three states that he has brought `Dawa’ (medicine) for Uttar Pradesh.
This was followed by the announcement in Delhi that Priyanka has been appointed as the Congress general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh east and Jyotiraditya Scindia for UP west. The rank-and-file of the Congress in UP have welcomed the development. “Right decision at the right moment,” said Ashok Singh, general secretary of UP Congress Committee.
UP east includes 47 districts and nearly three dozen Lok Sabha seats fall in this region. Barring Azamgarh, Amethi, Rai Bareli and Kannauj, all were won by the BJP and its ally Apna Dal in 2014. Two days after the SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh the Congress had criticised the move saying “it was exactly what the BJP wanted initially and the two regional parties have fallen into the ruling party’s design”.
The Congress said the BJP wanted the secular parties to remain divided in the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh before the 2019 Lok Sabha election and contest independently so that their votes could be split. Its attempts have proved successful.
The move has come as a setback for the SP-BSP alliance which had shared 38 seats each. The SP, BSP appeared over confident of their electoral arithmetic comprising of the Dalits, OBCs and Muslims.
“The likely improvement in the electoral fortune of the Congress has brought a new hope for those SP and BSP leaders who were at the dead ends of their political careers because of the alliance of the two parties. Now they have the option of knocking at the door of the Congress,” said a political analyst.
“The entry of Priyanka Gandhi could be setback for the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance. The strategists of SP and BSP were confident that there will be direct fight with the BJP, now the electoral battle is likely to be triangular one that may benefit the BJP,” said Beni Prasad Verma, Rajya Sabha MP from Samajwadi Party and also a former member of the Congress Working Committee.
A former BSP MP, while refusing to be identified, said the SP-BSP leaders should have made efforts for an honourable accommodation of the Congress in the alliance. He said this would have sealed the fate of the BJP and the tally of the ruling party at the Centre could have been reduced to a single digit. “If 2017 UP assembly election is the benchmark, then the alliance plus Congress would have secured 52.08% vote share as compared to 39.67% of the BJP,” said the BSP leader.
The entry of Priyanka Gandhi, the UP Congress leaders say will bring cheers on the faces of several key leaders like Salman Khurshid, Sanjay Singh, Ratna Kumari Singh, PL Punia, RPN Singh and Raj Babbar among others.
The observers, however, point out that during 2009 Lok Sabha polls the Congress had lost six seats it had won in 2004 and could retain only Rai Bareli, Amethi and Kanpur. But it made up for the losses by registering a stunning victory in 18 new Lok Sabha seats.
This victory was largely due to the alliance of the Samajwadi Party with the former BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh, an accused in Babri demolition case—leading to Muslim votes shifting to the Congress. Senior SP leader Azam Khan had launched a fierce campaign against the party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, leading to his expulsion from the party, thus alienating a large chunk of Muslim voters and enabling the Congress to win most of the seats from Faizabad to Moradabad.
Priyanka would have done a better job than Rahul Gandhi
It came as a surprise when the Congress party announced Rahul Gandhi’s entry into politics in 2004. “It is a baffling decision. The general impression was that Priyanka was more articulate, forceful and more charismatic. I am not sure anyone knows what the real story is. Perhaps it is more personal or family related,” academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta told the BBC.
Sons above daughters
It is obvious as daylight that Priyanka is the greatest victim of patriarchy in Indian politics. There are others like her. Kanimozhi in the DMK has been sidelined for M.K. Stalin as the heir apparent. In Lalu Yadav’s RJD, Tejashwi Yadav has been chosen by his father over his sister Misa Bharti.
From her few public appearances, Priyanka appears to be a smarter politician than Rahul. She’s a better speaker, especially in Hindi, more rooted, more natural. She reminds people of Indira Gandhi. Nobody says Rahul reminds them of even his father Rajiv. Priyanka appears to be more aggressive, more political.
There are still no signs of a front-facing role for Priyanka. The reason is not hard to imagine. If Priyanka becomes a public face of the Congress party, she will overshadow her brother so quickly and surely that there won’t be a single party worker left to say ‘Rahul Gandhi ki jai’.
Apart from Priyanka, Varun Gandhi is the other member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan whose political actions spell uncertainty. On November 19 — the birth anniversary of his grandmother, Indira Gandhi — Varun tweeted something that caused ripples in the political arena. He wrote that Indira was the mother of the nation. He also wrote that courage is the most important quality because you can’t keep other qualities alive without courage.
Before the UP elections, some said he might join the Congress and the party might even declare him as the CM candidate. In pre-poll surveys, Varun was declared as the most popular candidate for the CM’s post. However, he was apparently told to decrease his activities and as a result, he didn’t campaign for the party. That is why there is speculation that he could change his stance.
All about Priyanka Gandhi
A hands-on mother, you could find Priyanka Gandhi shopping for groceries at Delhi’s Khan Market.
She has a secret hobby and it’s not politics: Priyanka has inherited her father’s love for photography. She started taking photographs aged 12. Like her father, who took photographs of people, Priyanka’s exhibitions reveal that she has a penchant for capturing the various human moods.
She has a collection of her late grandmother’s saris: In an interview, Priyanka revealed that ‘he (Robert) never treated me different.’ ‘Robert treated me just like anybody else when I first met him. I liked that,’ she said. When Priyanka tied the knot to Robert, she chose to wear a beautiful South Indian temple sari that belonged to her late grandmother. Known for her fashion sense, which is basic and comfortable, Priyanka has saris from the late Indira Gandhi’s collection.
She likes the ordinary life: Having grown up in a household of politics, Priyanka chose to consciously stay away from it. She craves an ordinary life. She has several score thousands queuing up to listen to her, yet at the same time, she is just like us all. One of her strengths is the ability to keep it real.
She practices Buddhism: Priyanka is a graduate in psychology from the University of Delhi. She finished her master’s in Buddhist studies in 2010. A follower of Buddhist philosophy, she is also a practitioner of Vipassana.
She likes baking cupcakes for her children: Priyanka, who turned 47 on January 12, is a mother to two teens — Miraya (16) and Raihan (18). She likes reading, studying and looking after her children. In an interview with Outlook, back in 2009, she said, ‘On a typical day, I get up in the morning, get my children ready and take them to school.’ ‘Sometimes I make the children something so when they come home there is something nice to eat — they like cupcakes, so I often make them.’ ‘They come home, I help them with their homework. We relax. That’s my typical day.’
Five challenges before Priyanka in UP
Priyanka Gandhi’s big poll plunge as the AICC general secretary in charge of eastern UP is no soft launch. Uttar Pradesh is one of the toughest regions for the Congress and Priyanka would be directly taking on PM Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Dance of dynasty: Priyanka will come under direct attack from the ruling BJP. There is a possibility of questions arising on five generations of the Gandhi family calling the shots in Congress. Also, the fact that Priyanka has zero experience in electoral politics is something that will give ammunition to her opponents.
The Vadra factor: Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra’s pictures of him roaming in big cars might be talked about again. The land scam and FIRs, in which severe allegations have been made against Vadra, will be brought up again. Apart from this, she will also face questions on Vadra’s businesses.
Two power centres: With Priyanka Gandhi joining as general secretary of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Congress will now have two centres of power. According to sources, when there was an assembly election in three states and when it came to choosing the chief ministers, Priyanka’s suggestion was given more consideration than Rahul Gandhi’s.
Eastern UP ethnic math: Priyanka is more comfortable with the Hindi-speaking public. People see the image of Indira Gandhi in Priyanka but the big challenge before her will be to pull Muslim votes on her side along with the Brahmin votes and in this way, they will stand in front of the SP-BSP alliance being spearheaded by Mayawati and Akhilesh.
Independently regain stronghold in UP: Congress in Uttar Pradesh went marginal in three phases. The first phase was 1989 when Rajiv Gandhi opened the lock of Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi and started campaigning for Lok Sabha elections from Ayodhya. The second phase was in 1996 when Congress president Narasimha Rao made an alliance with the BSP in UP. In 2017, Rahul Gandhi made an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav. And now there is Priyanka Gandhi. Her official responsibility is of eastern UP, but responsibility is also ethical and this ethical responsibility will be applicable also to western UP, Bundelkhand, Ruhalkhand and Awadh.
The 11th member of Nehru-Gandhi family joins politics
Priyanka Gandhi has become the 11th member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to join politics. The Gandhi family’s involvement with politics can be traced to Motilal Nehru, the father of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Motilal Nehru: Motilal was a member of the pre-independence Congress party and was involved in the fight against the British. He was twice the president of the party, first between 1919 and 1920 and then from 1928 to 1929.
Jawaharlal Nehru: His son, Jawaharlal Nehru, joined politics in 1912 after he completed his education at the Cambridge University. In 1923, Jawaharlal became the general secretary of the Congress party. Jawaharlal rose through the ranks of the Congress party and became one of the leading freedom fighters. In 1947, when India attained Independence, he became the first prime minister of the country.
After Jawaharlal’s death in 1964, Indira Gandhi remained part of politics. She ultimately became the prime minster of India in 1966. She remained prime minister for the next decade. During this ten-year term, she infamously declared Emergency during which many civil rights were curbed.
In 1977, she was voted out of power in elections she held to mark the end of the Emergency. However, she returned to power in 1980 and remained prime minister until 1984, when she was assassinated.
Indira had two children from her marriage to Feroz Gandhi, who himself was active in politics and was part of the Quit India movement — Rajiv and Sanjay.
Sanjay Gandhi: Indira’s younger son Sanjay Gandhi was actively involved in politics during his mother’s rule as prime minister. In fact, it was said that Sanjay wielded influence within the Indira cabinet. He was believed to be Indira’s chosen successor to lead the Congress party. However, Sanjay died in 1980 in a helicopter accident.
Rajiv Gandhi: In 1984 when Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, her elder son, Rajiv Gandhi, became the prime minister, just months after joining politics. In 1989, the Congress lost power and two years later, in 1991, Rajiv was assassinated in a bomb blast.
Sonia Gandhi: With Rajiv Gandhi’s death it seemed as though the Congress’s involvement in politics had ended. His wife Sonia was completely averse to joining politics. In fact, during a speech in the Nehru-Gandhi stronghold of Raebareli, Sonia said that she would rather have her children become beggars than enter into politics.
However, due to a lot of pressure from party leaders, Sonia ended up joining politics in 1997, when she became a member of the Congress party. In 1998, she became the president of the party, a post she continued to hold until December 2018.
Rahul Gandhi: In December 2018, her son Rahul Gandhi took over as the Congress chief. Rahul had been active in politics since 2004, when he first became a Member of Parliament from Amethi, which was his father’s Lok Sabha constituency.
And now, after much will-she, won’t-she speculation Priyanka Gandhi has formally joined politics.
Priyanka and Rahul’s cousin Varun Gandhi, who is the son of the late Sanjay Gandhi, and his mother Maneka Gandhi are also active in politics. They, however, are in BJP.
Robert puts up adorable Facebook post: Robert Vadra posts adorable Facebook post on Priyanka joining politics. “Always by your side in every phase of your life. Give it your best: That was Robert Vadra’s loving reaction to wife Priyanka Gandhi Vadra joining politics.
Kapil Sibal: We welcome Priyanka Gandhi’s appointment as General Secretary. Her entry into active politics will energise cadres and be a catalyst for the rising fortunes of the Congress Party.
Prashant Kishor: One of the most awaited entries in Indian politics is finally here! While people may debate the timing, exact role and position, to me, the real news is that she finally decided to take the plunge! Congratulations and best wishes to Priyanka Gandhi.
PM Modi takes a dig at Priyanka’s poll plunge
Taking a dig at Priyanka Gandhi’s appointment, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “BJP does not take decisions based on what one person or one family wants, and that’s why it is said mostly in the country family is the party, but in BJP party is the family.” He was interacting with booth workers from Baramati, Gadchiroli, Hingoli, Nanded, and Nandurbar.
Move shows Rahul Gandhi’s failure: BJP
BJP trained its guns on Congress after Priyanka Gandhi’s appointment in AICC. The party renewed its charge of nepotism. Party Spokesperson Sambit Patra said that for BJP, the party itself is a family. Appointing his sister Priyanka Gandhi in-charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh ahead of the Lok Sabha polls shows the ‘failure’ of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, the BJP said.
“As the Congress is not being accepted as part of ‘Mahagatbandhan’ in states, a crutch is being searched in the family. Priyanka, who is from his (Rahul’s) family, is like a crutch for him,” Patra said.
Reluctant politician joining politics because of dynasty: Shobhaa De
Indian columnist and novelist Shobhaa De has taken a dig at Congress over finally exposing Priyanka Gandhi to mainstream politics. She has referred to Priyanka as the reluctant politician who was not ready to come to the forefront, as reported by The Print. The columnist further took a jibe at the Congress and termed Priyanka Gandhi’s poll plunge as Congress’s ‘dynasty politics’.