Expert Speak India Matters
Published on May 06, 2019
Congress’s Puzzle Priyanka: A challenge to media?

By not fielding Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, its newly appointed general secretary in-charge of 40 odd Lok Sabha seats in eastern Uttar Pradesh, in the current general election from Varanasi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Congress gave ample opportunity to media and host of column writers to speculate and take a critical view of the decision.

Depending upon the ideological tilt, it was a disappointment to many and glee to others who went ahead pronouncing that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra after raising expectations had deserted the battle ground fearing defeat. “Finally, it was a no show from Priyanka Gandhi who had teased, hinted and finally said that she would not contest….” observed a commentator.

There were others who judged her party’s decision as weakening of a resolve to take Modi head on. Still, others, with or without information or knowledge of the decision-making process that are followed by the country’s oldest party, pronounced their respective judgements ranging from betrayal to being selfish or worst being in hand in glove with the ruling BJP.

Notwithstanding media speculations, ‘Puzzle Priyanka’ has been a challenge for many decades now. Every time elections come, media would indulge in games like “is she, is she not” joining active politics. Tonnes have been written on her and would continue to be written raising expectations or dumping them.

When in January this year, Congress chief appointed his younger sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra along with former union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia general secretaries of the party with specific responsibilities of eastern and western Uttar Pradesh to help the party broaden the party’s appeal in a State which sends 80 MPs to parliament, brief was explicit and clear.

For the party’s electoral convenience, the biggest State of the country has been divided into two and each newly appointed general secretary had been given specific responsibility for 40 Lok Sabha seats where the two were expected to strengthen the party’s organisation with the objective of maximising of the electoral fortunes, particularly in the backdrop of a possible opposition alliance for which informal talks were going on between Congress leaders and BSP-SP combine.

It was known to the top Congress leadership, rather they had enough knowledge about BSP supremo Mayawati’s reluctance, for various reasons, to include the country’s oldest party into BSP-SP alliance.

One of the basic operation principles of the political system across the world is that each political party notwithstanding its tall ideological claims tries to preserve its self-interest. No political leader would consciously or in full understanding commit hara-kiri of keeping the party’s interest supreme while deciding on issues of seat sharing or making an electoral alliance or agreeing to common minimum agenda for governance.

The Congress, the BJP, SP, BSP, TMC. DMK, AIADMK, TDP, TRS or any party is an exception as no political leader would like to do down in history as presiding over the liquidation of his or her own party.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s role, thus, was categorically defined and it was to help the Congress to win more Lok Sabha seats either on its own or in alliance with the possible partners which in case of UP were BSP and SP.

From the day of her appointment, she embarked upon her given task and held meetings with party’s local and state leaders in state capital Lucknow and other places taking into count both the possibilities of the party contesting alone or in alliance while keeping the goal of defeating the BJP in sight.

Speculation about her contesting from Varanasi against Modi began when she was asked by a party worker whether she was going to contest from Rai Bareli from where her mother Sonia Gandhi is the sitting MP. She threw back the question at the party workers saying “Why not from Varanasi?”

Rahul Gandhi kept the suspense going by giving evasive replies to media persons. No Congress leader was categorical in dismissing the possibility as it helped the party to hog media headlines. Being in opposition and the state of media, it is even otherwise to get space in media at large and in audio-visual media particularly. If the Congress did not keep the pot of suspense boiling, it would have been a foolhardy on its part.

Tactics and strategy are two very important tools or weapons of the political armory. The state of politics in the country ever since the ascendency of ideological driven agenda of Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the country and the devaluation of legacy of the Gandhi-Nehru that was an inheritance of the freedom struggle to the vast majority of the people is fragile and is prone to innumerous challenges.

After its historically worst electoral performance in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress if it is at all serious to play an effective role in national politics of being a leading player to protect the Constitution and inclusive nature of politics and society, it is imperative for the rand old party to strengthen itself to be able to stand up to the BJP which in its assessment is out to take the country to Hinduatva agenda.

Possibility of a victory in Varanasi was not uncertain and even a chance of her becoming a joint candidate of the entire opposition was remote. In this background, Gandhi-Vadra’s clarification that her task of helping party’s candidate in eastern UP’s 41 Lok Sabha in the last three phases was far more relevant then concentrating on one seat of Varanasi for symbolic significance sounds credible.

Her explanatory clarification might or might not find acceptance among media pundits but results and percentage of votes polled by the party in eastern UP would be a better clue to the Priyanka puzzle.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Satish Misra

Satish Misra

Satish Misra was Senior Fellow at ORF. He has been a journalist for many years. He has a PhD in International Affairs from Humboldt University ...

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