Long considered to be the Congress party's trump card, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s political charisma is yet again being kept in reserve for another election. Charismatic and articulate, Priyanka bears a striking resemblance to her grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. A section of the party leadership has long clamoured for Priyanka to take on a larger role in the party and many believe that in the current scenario, when the Grand Old Party has been in decline, bringing her on to centrestage may revive the party's fortunes.
There is, however, also the problem of her businessman husband Robert Vadra, whose controversial real estate dealings in Haryana and Rajasthan have made him a political liability for the Gandhi dynasty. At present, Priyanka is not the best bet for the party, unlike in the past. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has already raised the matter in his election speeches. As of now, it seems that Modi has won support to a large extent on promises to sweep out the Congress that has ruled India for most of the period since Independence in 1947.
Imaging: Ajay Mohanty“Since all surveys in recent times have suggested defeat of the Congress in a major way, bringing Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at this stage will be humiliating and embarrassing for the Gandhi family. If she has to be inducted, it is better to be sure of her success than failure as the latter would also impact on her future political career. There is no point in bringing the probable loser if the potential Gandhi dynast has to be inducted in this election,” says Asha Sarangi, associate professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
The Congress’s key target is to prevent Modi from becoming Prime Minister. If an alternative government is possible with a Congress prop, the Congress will be happy to extend support. If Modi becomes premier, senior Congress leaders — in all likelihood — would mount fresh pressure on Priyanka to join active politics and protect the idea of India as envisaged by Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
“In current context Priyanka has to be first part of the people through electoral campaigns and meetings. For this, she needs to outsmart her brother (Rahul Gandhi) in some ways. She needs to maintain a fine balance between two roles — of a being a daughter of the Gandhi dynasty family and daughter-in-law of the Vadra family, and needs to keep her own identity intact by maintaining a fair distance from the corruption charges of the Vadra family. However, it is not going to be very easy for her in this election,” argues Sarangi.
Last week, Priyanka clashed with estranged cousin Varun Gandhi, who is running in the election on a BJP ticket, in a new sign of an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation that partymen hope will draw her deeper into active politics to revive their fortunes. It was being seen as masterstroke by Priyanka. Through Varun, Priyanka launched an indirect attack on the Sangh Parivar as well as on Modi, whose persistent onslaught of a poll campaign had left the Gandhis and the Congress reeling. Priyanka raised the issue of saving ‘Bharatiyata’ and ‘Hindustaniyat’ that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had raised in a three-minute televised commercial.
“There could be no second opinion that the Congress must go for a leadership change; and the party must do it sooner than later to refurbish its image. The Congress is no longer possessed of the magnetism, especially political, that compelled voters to stick to the party. Of late, the charisma of Gandhi-Nehru family has faded away, too. To promote a different brand of politics and function as a cohesive unit, the party should share roles in a democratic manner. The Grand Old Party needs to introspect on how to deal with situations that put Congress at a disadvantage. It is worth mentioning here that the BJP also experienced a ruthless process of leadership change last year. After the Lok Sabha polls, it would be the responsibility of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to rebuild the party. Hopefully, Priyanka might take up a bigger responsibility the Congress assigns her,” observes S K Dwivedi, professor of political science at University of Lucknow.
After all, the key question is: having such a huge public draw, why has the Congress not made optimum use of Priyanka's political appeal? Has the time come for the beleaguered Congress to play its trump card? The party must read writing on the wall before it is too late.