Campaigning in her mother’s constituency in Rae Bareli –– in the heart of Uttar Pradesh (UP) –– ended on April 28, but Sonia Gandhi’s daughter, Priyanka, had already brought the fight back into the Congress Party. Over the weekend she had declared that Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was running around like a pack of panic-stricken rats and that the insults hurled against her and her family would only strengthen her determination to take on the BJP.
From all accounts, the charge has come a bit too late. Modi is all over our television screens, radio jingles and print ads, imploring the people to vote for the BJP because their “vote will go straight to him.” He has also upped the ante, targeting Farooq Abdullah’s family in Kashmir, accusing it of being communal against Kashmiri Pandits. And in West Bengal last week, he targeted Bangladeshi migrants, telling them to get ready to leave India after May 16.
But the biggest diatribe was reserved for Priyanka’s husband, Robert Vadra, a businessman from Moradabad. Unveiling a video that alleged he had made hundreds of millions of rupees from insider trading in land in the Congress-ruled states of Haryana and Rajasthan, the BJP acknowledged that they considered Priyanka their chief opponent in the Congress party.
Certainly, the cheer inside the Congress has been muted because ‘Rahul bhaiyya’ is still at the helm of affairs. Priyanka, who is said to adore her brother, agrees. Moreover, she has a husband and two children. Rahul, on the other hand, must lead such a lonely life despite being in the constant eye of the storm.
The truth is that despite the near-certainty of the BJP coming to power in just two weeks –– the satta bazaar has even stopped betting for Rahul’s Congress –– there remains in India an unquenched desire to know more and more about the Gandhi-Nehru family. They are the ultimate Indian tragedy, soaked in both blood and power, so remote that you know nothing about them and yet so intimate that when her audience in Rae Bareli told Priyanka that they couldn’t see her because of the forest of TV cameras, she simply came down from the stage, stepped out of the TV cordon, picked up a chair and sat down in front of them. “Ab to main dikhti hoon?” she asked.
How can you not shower your love and praise –– and your vote –– on this girl?
Contrast this with the night Rahul Gandhi spent in the hut of a Dalit in 2009 in his own Amethi constituency in UP (neighbouring Rae Bareli), taking then British foreign secretary David Miliband with him. When the media found out, they splashed it all over the place. Rahul reacted by being shy and reserved and gauche, insisting that this was none of the media’s business. The media reacted by making fun of his intermittent visits to Dalit homes, as if it were an excursion or something.
But we can all imagine what Priyanka would have done with that event. She would have celebrated it and converted it into a headline on the status of Dalits in an opposition-ruled state. She would have sat on the mud floor and eaten with her host family –– all of which Rahul did too –– and insisted that they tell her their story. In the best, possible way, she would have humanised herself and her hosts.
It has been fascinating to see how the BJP has reacted so violently to Priyanka’s comments over the weekend. The video against her husband is an unmitigated mix of allegation and a cheap shot. Certainly, some of the rumours about him benefiting in land transactions through inside information are true, but to bring down the level of political discourse to attacking Sonia’s son-in-law is pretty low, even for the BJP.
So why is the BJP reacting so adversely to Priyanka and her husband? Firstly, because it is clear that Robert Vadra is the Congress party’s Achilles’ heel. Second, Priyanka is such a natural that in a time when the Congress is so down and out, the BJP doesn’t even want the smallest sympathy wave generated on her count.
Imagine then, what would happen if Priyanka actually decided to enter politics?
That question must now be kicked down to 2019. Until then, India prepares for a whole new government in power.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2014.
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