- Priyanka Gandhi, the newly-minted general secretary (eastern Uttar Pradesh) of Congress party, is playing for the biggest sweepstakes in India's politics
- Her formal plunge into her destiny as a legatee of Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru has set the party ablaze in delighted anticipation on the eve of the general elections
- The BJP has reacted with talks of dynasty, but several dynasties flourish within the BJP itself
Priyanka Gandhi, the newly-minted general secretary (eastern Uttar Pradesh), has loomed large in the imagination of the Congress karyakarta (worker) and, curiously, BJP leaders for entirely different reasons.
Priyanka’s formal plunge into her destiny as a legatee of Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru has set the Congress ablaze in delighted anticipation on the eve of the general elections.
BJP leaders appear nervous and jittery as the Congress has finally used its nuclear option and upped the stakes in east Uttar Pradesh from where both Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath contest.
Priyanka has upped the stakes in the 21st century Mahabharata.
Priyanka’s formal launch into politics was done in “typical Congress style,” says an astute observer who would have preferred a Big Bang debut.
The hope of Congress workers was buried in a dry press release signed by her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Priyanka was not even in the country. She was away in the US for her daughter’s treatment.
Priyanka will address a joint press conference in Lucknow with Rahul on February 4 and then make a trip with him to Amethi and Raebareli. This will be a full circle of sorts as Priyanka had done the honours of introducing her brother to politics.
Yet the debut of the 47-year-old Priyanka broke the Internet with Priyanka Gandhi hashtags trending in several countries. Fittingly, Priyanka is still not officially on Twitter.
The Gandhi siblings are a tight knit unit. And, now it can be told in exclusive detail that Rahul Gandhi was extremely keen that the Congress shake up things in the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and project Priyanka Gandhi as chief ministerial face. It was a brilliant plan of shock and awe dreamt up by now full time politician and then über political consultant Prashant Kishor.
It would have galvanised the Congress in the bellwether state, which has the biggest electoral heft with 80 Lok Sabha seats. Both the siblings were game. They realised that the Congress could only revive via Uttar Pradesh. However, the plan was nixed by the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
This time around when Rahul Gandhi proposed it, Sonia Gandhi accepted it as the decision of the Congress president. Unlike most politicians, Sonia Gandhi is actually clear that she wants to retire from politics and wants to cede decision-making to Rahul.
Priyanka is playing for the biggest sweepstakes.
Eastern Uttar Pradesh is Yogi land from where he has been elected five times from Gorakhpur.
Modi is the sitting Member of Parliament from Varanasi. Priyanka wants to take the battle to them.
With Rahul saying the Congress will now play on the front foot and that he has not sent Priyanka and Jyotiraditya Scindia for a mere two months, Uttar Pradesh politics just got very interesting.
The BJP has predictably reacted with talks of dynasty, but with several dynasties flourishing in the BJP such as Piyush Goyal, son of Ved Prakash Goyal, Pankaj Singh, son of Rajnath Singh, Anurag Thakur, son of P.K. Dhumal, and numerous other families, it won’t get much traction.
Even the alleged corruption of Robert Vadra has lost much of its sting as the BJP government has done nothing of note about his allegedly corrupt deals. Modi had promised to put “damadji” (son-in-law) in jail in a week. Nearly four-and-a-half years have passed with no action.
While I don’t think that Priyanka Gandhi’s entry at this point will have much impact on the Congress’s electoral prospects, it will certainly capture headlines. That is Modi’s biggest weakness and he has a mastery in it. The optics of the united Gandhi siblings has the media slavering.
So what of the mahagatbandhan (alliance) between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the changed political equation of Uttar Pradesh?
Will Priyanka’s entry help the BJP?
She is a double-edged sword. The Congress has a core vote of around 6.7 percent in Uttar Pradesh, which mainly comprises upper-caste Brahmins and Dalits, plus some Muslims.
This is likely to go up now and then later for the assembly battle. While the BJP always benefits in a four-cornered fight, this time around it is banking on upper castes. Priyanka will certainly eat away at this chunk.
The SP and BSP will now have to accommodate the Congress, perhaps in tacit seat adjustments to take on the BJP.
Priyanka’s debut is signal to Uttar Pradesh that the Gandhi’s take the state seriously. Says a political observer: “They have seen it all. These two don’t have the normal politician’s hunger for office.”
But both do have angst about Modi because he has made politics personal. Now wait for the reply.