Indian politics looks more gracious with Priyanka's entry

For the electorate of a country reeling under the jadedness of Modi's over-promising-under-delivering rhetoric, will Priyanka hold out a beacon of hope?

By Sushmita Bose (Freewheeling)

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Published: Thu 24 Jan 2019, 7:42 PM

Last updated: Thu 24 Jan 2019, 9:50 PM

My father, whenever besieged by political thought interventions, makes it a point to ask: "Why isn't that Gandhi girl entering Indian politics? It's exactly what India badly needs: a strong woman to lead from the front." Expectedly, he was most chuffed when news reached him that Priyanka Gandhi has decided to take the plunge, and emerge captain of the (main Opposition party) Congress ship in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Away from family WhatsApp groups, in the broader circuit, it's been quite the masterstroke. The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, up until now, has been a volatile playing field for the (ruling) BJP. Hosting a total of 80 Lok Sabha seats in the Hindi heartland, of which 71 were won by the BJP in the last general elections (in 2014), it was credited as being the tipping point for the party's fortunes. The eastern region - to be helmed by Priyanka now, for the Congress - is home to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's own constituency, Varanasi, while the rabid Yogi Adityanath, UP's sitting chief minister (the BJP swept the state elections in 2017 as well), has his constituency in Gorakhpur - again, in eastern UP.
It's clearly the state to watch out for: a good report card here can tilt the overall balance for both the BJP and the Congress in the upcoming general elections.
Which is why Priyanka's induction - much-needed optics in the Indian political landscape aside - is causing such a frenzy. What if Jawaharlal Nehru's great-granddaughter, Indira Gandhi's granddaughter and Rajiv Gandhi's daughter manages to turn the tide in the Congress's favour? (Even detractors of "the dynasty" feel this a clever move at consolidating the party base.)
The most significant bit about Priyanka throwing in her hat at the last moment is the promise of the seal breaking on her personification of 'enigma'. She's stayed away from the limelight so far (although she has campaigned for the Congress occasionally), wrapped a blanket of quiet dignity around her, and never displayed much interest in active politics. "I have said it a thousand times, I am not interested in joining politics," she had said (in a rare interview to the BBC) in 1999.
Many were disappointed. Indira Gandhi had maintained Priyanka - not Rahul - was a lot like her, and had implied she'd be the one who should be carrying forward the legacy; with such a powerful endorsement, why would she not want to follow in her grandmother's footsteps?
Better late than never. Priyanka's now jumped on to the bandwagon - suddenly making Indian politics appear way more decent, gracious and egalitarian.
While I was looking at her recent photographs/video footage, it struck me how much she resembles her grandmother now - even more than earlier. Her speaking style (which is way more evolved than her brother), her body language, her hairstyle, and her array of impeccable saris - there's a sense of déjà vu.
For the electorate of a country that's reeling under the jadedness of Modi's over-promising-under-delivering rhetoric, will Priyanka hold out a beacon of hope with her matter-of-factness?
Well, fingers crossed! I'm not quite sure of the impact of the baggage her businessman husband Robert Vadra will bring to the electoral table: he's been mired in corruption allegations, and (reportedly) has a lot of nuisance value (keep hearing stories of traffic jams piling up each time he hits the gym with his entourage). But, who knows, maybe like Indira Gandhi, Priyanka - if she chooses to go the whole hog anytime in the future - may just insulate herself and (like her grandmother) be her own person?
And if nothing, Priyanka's dramatic entry into the Kurukshetra of Indian politics just upped the ante of the run-up to the general elections in April-May. I can barely stop myself from rubbing my hands in glee. Game on.

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