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28 April, 2019 10:42:53 AM


Hullabaloo over Priyanka Gandhi vs Modi

While the rank and file is disappointed at her exclusion, the prudent feel that the leadership did the right thing by keeping Priyanka Gandhi away from such a formidable and challenging contest
Kumkum Chadha
Hullabaloo over Priyanka Gandhi vs Modi

“Band mutthi Lakh ki, Khul gayi toh Khak ki,’: a closed fist is worth lakhs, but worth nothing when opened. This is what Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had to say about Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her much publicised intention to contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi.

Through this proverb, Jaitley meant that all the myths of Priyanka Gandhi have been debunked. Priyanka Gandhi is Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s younger sister and Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter. She is married to Robert Vadra, a businessman who has been in the news for his controversial land deals.
It all started with Priyanka Gandhi indicating her  willingness to contest from Varanasi while interacting with party workers in UP: “Why not Varanasi” she had then said giving rise to speculation that the high profile constituency could be an option were the Congress leadership to decide to field her.
Priyanka’s campaign has  so far been limited to UP with just two exceptions - one in Wayanad in support of her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi and another for Sushmita Dev, president of the All India Mahila Congress and party candidate seeking re-election from Silchar in Assam. The cadre in UP has been demanding that Priyanka should take on Modi.

 The Party’s “wait and watch” posturing however came to a grinding halt when the Congress went ahead and fielded Ajay Rai instead of Priyanka to take on Prime Minister Modi. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Rai had contested against  Modi but was  a distant third ranker.

While the rank and file is disappointed at Priyanka’s exclusion, the prudent feel that the leadership did the right thing by keeping Priyanka away from such a formidable and challenging contest. Her candidature would surely have boosted the nearly dead cadre in Uttar Pradesh and perhaps elsewhere but at what cost?

Priyanka’s much awaited debut in politics was shrouded in speculation and one from which there are high expectations. Therefore if the trade-off is between enthusing the party workers and Priyanka’s defeat it was too high a price to pay. Had Priyanka lost to Modi, which was a given, the myth as Jaitley says would have been debunked.

Challenging the Prime Minister may be a great talking point but for Priyanka and her political career, if she is planning one, would be nothing short of  suicide.

A counter argument to this is that Priyanka taking on the Prime Minister would demonstrate her grit, determination and courage as also demonstrate that she is made of sterner stuff. But an election is not bravado or sending signals. It is real and actually about winning or losing. And as for party cadres if they need a sacrificial lamb (who besides being one of their own is also a Gandhi), to gear up then they are not worth their salt. Also fighting a stalwart like Modi would keep Priyanka  confined to Varanasi and take away the advantage of her campaigning in  other constituencies.

Priyanka has the additional  responsibility of canvassing in the high stake seats of Amethi and Raebareli. The challenge is quite tough in Amethi because Rahul is pitted against BJP's Smriti Irani, who lost by a small margin in 2014. Priyanka needs time to canvass in several crucial seats including Wayanad from where Rahul is contesting in addition to Amethi. Her fighting against Modi would impact canvassing in other crucial constituencies.

The Congress , it is well known, needs Priyanka to campaign in its “winnable” seats for the next  phases, instead of getting bogged down to one seat of Varanasi, which in any case is going to be impossible to win. It believes that Priyanka can help the party win several seats and therefore confining her to only one, where she is fighting is neither wise nor politically prudent. After all Priyanka’s political debut was keeping the macro in mind rather than the micro: namely influence and work for victory rather than fight for one seat to get into Parliament. That in any case is not a Herculean task because Priyanka could well fight a by-election from one of the seats her brother Rahul later vacates. Political sense says that it would be Amethi because with Smriti Irani eyeing it and BJP making it a prestige battle, it would need someone to devote more time to it and between Rahul and Priyanka, it is Priyanka who would be able to nurture the constituency more than Rahul,  given his responsibilities as Congress President.

Party leaders were also off the mark when Congress leaders had said her taking on PM Modi would not only set up Varanasi for the biggest contest of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, but also have a ripple effect elsewhere that would benefit the party. Instead this was seen as putting Priyanka’s head on the chopper block. Moreover, a loss by a big margin could hurt Priyanka’s future career.

Therefore the very thought of pitching Priyanka against Modi was premature and a gross miscalculation. Credence is lent to this by the fact that internal surveys showed that Priyanka does not stand a chance against Modi:  a foregone conclusion.

Reportedly, Sonia Gandhi was also not keen on fielding Priyanka even though there was enough evidence to suggest that the move would help revive the party in Uttar Pradesh and galvanise its cadre.

This is because the risks  were greater than the gains. Priyanka’s defeat, particularly with s huge margin would be a loss of face and morale of the party. The damage would double given that this is Priyanka’s debut election.

The Congress, however, did make a mistake by creating a hype about Priyanka contesting from Varanasi. For one it raised expectations; for another her ‘backing out” if it was one, gave the impression that she had developed cold feet  and was not confident about taking on Modi.

 The move was  counter-productive and did more damage than good to Priyanka’s image. It is against this backdrop that Jaitley went ahead and said that she had “chickened out” and helped the BJP upped the ante.

None of this augurs well either for Priyanka or the Congress Party. Therefore the Congress needs to think things through, take steady steps rather than fall prey to the bring Priyankacacophony of the rank and file who are ready to crawl when they are asked to bend .

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


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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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