The formal entry of Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra in politics has always been a gleam in the eye of her admirers periodically given to sloganeering, “Priyanka lao desh bachao”. The slogan is a throwback to the old chant, “Indira lao desh bachao,” raised during her years in the political wilderness between 1977-80.
Ask the most hardened dynast in the Congress and he/she will tell you that the slogan is destined to remain the same as long as there is a single member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan alive on the face of Mother Earth. Only the name keeps getting updated with the generational change in leadership — from Indira to Sonia to Priyanka.
The party may be undecided on which Gandhi to crown next, not the admirers of Priyanka. They feel the time may be ripe for another turn of the wheel after the Congress’ second successive rout at the hustings in 2019. And with added urgency after brother Rahul’s resignation from the party presidency and retreat to the house of sulk.
Some in the old brigade, all loyalists of the current party chief Sonia Gandhi admit the silent churn to bring Priyanka center-stage. Put bluntly, get her anointed once and for all the firm successor to mummy rather than confine her to eastern Uttar Pradesh, and the Amethi-Rai Bareilly belt in particular, as her sullen sibling’s locum around poll time.
In fact, Bharat’s most watched TV anchor, Arnab Goswami, now openly refers to the Grand Old Party as the “Vadra Congress”. A full front-page advertisement sponsored by state minister Sajjan Singh Verma (a long-time Kamal Nath lieutenant) in an afternoon daily published from Bhopal on the occasion of Priyanka’s birthday on 13 January makes the prevalent mood more than evident.
“Indira is back…”, says the ad, English words scripted in Hindi with the familiar blown-up pictures of Priyanka and her late grandmother placed side by side to underscore the uncanny resemblance: beaked nose, winsome smile, cropped hair. A similitude, which according to the ad sponsors, seeps into the domain of Priyanka’s deeds, words, character, action, attraction, and commitment to public service: Wahi doordarshita…wahi nishtha…wahi iccha shakti…wahi akarshan, wahi jan sewa ja bhav…sabhi dharmon aur samaj ko ek sath vikas ki disha mein laane ka jazbaa (the same far-sightedness, sincerity, attraction, commitment to public service, and determination to carry all religions together on the path of development).
Appended below the twin portraits is a quote ascribed to Ms Vadra of which a rough and ready translation reads: ”I don’t give speeches, I just speak what’s in my heart. Cowards can conquer the earth, but never rule hearts. This country was founded on the principles of compassion and mutual love. What is happening in the country today is saddening. But I will not allow the nation’s unity to be torn apart. I hereby promise…”
The intended message of the advert, however, lay right on top of the page. Affixed there are the customary passport size photos of Sonia, Manmohan Singh, and Kamal Nath on one side, and slightly larger visages of Rahul Gandhi in triplicate — in fade out mode – on the other.
Predictably, not many were inclined to take the ad seriously. Proffered was the argument that neither Sonia nor Priyanka herself would consciously agree to the displacement of Rahul whatever be the thinking of party elders or followers. What cannot be ruled out, however, is that she may have been given a limited sanction to increase her public appearances given the uncertainty of the party’s electoral prospects. Plus Rahul’s own diffidence and lack of confidence.
The hullaballoo over the withdrawal of Priyanka’s SPG cover, and her false claims that rank strangers barged into her house to take selfies gave the game away. This was further confirmed when she trotted out a tissue of lies during a visit to UP in connection with protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). She alleged being manhandled by the UP Police while on her way to the house of a retired IPS officer arrested over the anti-CAA agitation.
Besides the general impressions about Priyanka are not flattering. Her electoral appeal has not proved any better than Rahul’s. At best it remains untested though the BJP landslide in UP in the assembly and twice in the LS polls leaves no place for doubt. Both are poor public speakers with matching intellects. A pre-2019 LS poll video showing her giggling with a bunch of tutored kids sloganeering, “Gali gali meiyn shor hai, Pradhan mantri chor hao,” showcased her lack of gravitas.
The one place where Priyanka scores over her brother is her refusal to get personal with the prime minister — at least, so far. But things may change in the coming months if she opts to get more political. Exploiting her outward resemblance with her grandmother may thus well be the last proverbial straw on the camel’s back — a sign of how vexed and desperate is the crisis of leadership within the Congress.
How many in today’s Bharat would want “Indira” back is a question whose answer is blowing in the wind.
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