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Booster and a shocker

Like her mother Priyanka Gandhi took her own sweet time in joining politics; like her mother it was not her first choice and like her mother she was a reluctant candidate
Kumkum Chadha
Booster and a shocker

It was a bolt from the blue: good news for some and a kind of a death knell for others. Politically, it took India like a storm would, unsettling almost everyone:  even those who later jumped with glee once the news  sank in.

For others it was distressing and a situation in which one would only want their enemies to be. Their hearts sank.So what is the hullaballoo about? It is about a Gandhi: not the Mahatma but one of the heirs to Indira Gandhi’s political dynasty. And while on Indira Gandhi, India’s former Prime Minister, this Gandhi in question has often been compared to her: “She is so much like Indira Gandhi” is something one has heard over the years here in India. “She is her natural heir” is another thing which initially was freely and later guardedly uttered at least within the Congress: freely when the political space was available and guardedly when it was occupied by Rahul Gandhi first as a party functionary and later as the Congress President.
This time around it is about Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi’s second child and Rahul Gandhi’s younger sister. From working behind the scenes helping her mother Sonia and brother Rahul Gandhi and nursing their  constituencies, Rae Bareli and Amethi respectively and  to fervently campaigning for them during successive elections, Priyanka has always remained low key and made it known that she is not interested in carving a niche for herself:  quite content playing mother and wife and remaining house-bound as it were.

This is a situation that has not changed for years: first when her children were young and later even when they became young adults. There were requests from all quarters: sycophants, well wishers, friends, loyalists and well meaning associates but no signs of Priyanka Gandhi relenting. Not until earlier this week when news broke that Priyanka Gandhi was appointed the Congress General Secretary For Uttar Pradesh (East) which includes one of the constituencies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Varanasi.

Other constituencies in this region include  Rahul Gandhi's Amethi, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's Rae Bareli and Azamgarh represented by Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's former Lok Sabha constituency Gorakhpur, too, is in this region. The Pratapgarh Lok Sabha constituency is also in this region as are Allahabad, Bhadohi, Jaunpur, Basti, Chandauli, Deoria, Sant Kabir Nagar, Ballia and Maharajganj.

In 2014, it was Narendra Modi versus Arvind Kejriwal contest in Varanasi, Rahul Gandhi versus Smriti Irani in Amethi, Mulayam Singh versus BJP's Ramakant Yadav in Azamgarh, Sonia Gandhi versus BJP leader Ajay Agarwal in Rae Bareli and Samajwadi Party's Praveen Kumar Nishad versus the BJP's Upendra Dutt Shukla in Gorakhpur.

With 80 Lok Sabha seats, Uttar Pradesh is key to winning the parliamentary elections and the bigwigs that have been in the fray in the past underlines the importance of this region.

Like her mother Priyanka Gandhi took her own sweet time in joining politics; like her mother it was not her first choice and like her mother she was a reluctant candidate. But when the challenges were grim and the scene dismal both took the plunge. Sonia Gandhi came in seven years after Rajiv Gandhi’s death when she realised that the Congress is on a downslide. It needed one from the Gandhi family to steer the party and put it back in the reckoning; Sonia Gandhi took the plunge and led from the front and helped salvage the fortunes of a beleaguered party. This time around the situation is not that bad given that the Congress showing in the recent state elections has been rather impressive yet the 2019 challenge is a tough one and cannot be dismissed lightly. Therefore the Priyanka-push to boost the Congress prospects in the general elections. Even the timing is significant: just a few weeks ahead of the forthcoming elections.

Like her father Rajiv Gandhi, Priyanka has made an entry that does not match her stature or clout: she had any post for the asking but she chose to handle only a part of Uttar Pradesh: her father too had started his political innings with the Youth Congress and organising the 1982 Asian games after his brother Sanjay Gandhi died in an air crash. It is true that he contested an election, something that Priyanka has not so far indicated whether she would or not though it would be politically prudent to do so because it would indicate that she is willing to be a full time politician and not one who comes in only as a crisis manager.

Irrespective, her entry has sent shock waves across the political spectrum. Except for the Congress it has upset the calculation of every other party including the Samajawadi and Bahujan Samaj parties that were riding high on an alliance that had kept the Congress out. Priyanka’s entry has upset not only their calculations but also BJP’s game plan in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh which often shows the way in the government formation at the centre. They are, to out it mildly rattled and will now have to work on new political strategies to undo the damage that Priyanka’s entry will cause to their electoral prospects. That the BJP is unnerved is also evident from the fact that no less than the Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan chose to comment on her by saying that her entry indicates that her brother Rahul needs help and cannot handle politics alone. Apart from the Congress, Mahajan’s remarks invited the ire of other parties too with former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah tweeting: “Ma’am you are the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Can you save the cheap shots for when you no longer occupy that high office.”  Ordinarily, the Speaker refrains from making political comment because it denigrates the constitutional office. Mahajan belongs to the BJP but as Speaker is supposed to be non partisan.

Meanwhile, Priyanka’s formal entry is like a magic potion for the Congress. Its rank and file are jumping with joy holding posters that read: “We’re fired up & ready to go!” and “Indira is back”. Add to that  Rahul Gandhi’s comment that Priyanka will work hard to give UP a Congress  Chief Minister and that the Congress will “play on front foot” is enough indication that Priyanka’s entry while it is a sure booster for the Congress could turn to be a shocker for the Opposition, particularly the BJP.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

SHK

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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