Since Congressmen cannot think beyond the Family — they are programmed that way, you see —, the mere appearance of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at a meeting of party leaders convened by Rahul Gandhi was enough to lift their spirits. In her they see their latest saviour, particularly when the mother-and-son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi had failed miserably in the recent Assembly polls. Afraid of a similar hammering in the general election a few months from now, the sycophantic brigade felt immensely enthused when Mrs Vadra put in a brief appearance at the fag-end of the meeting at the Congress vice-president’s office the other day. Immediately, the media too began to speculate whether or not the good sister would come to the aid of the distressed brother in his hour of need.
Now, this is a free country and she has as much right as the next person to embrace electoral politics as a profession. And given her exalted family name, she is extremely fortunate that if she ever decides to take up the family business, she is assured of being inducted at the very top. For the Gandhis, internship in active politics too must begin at the seniormost position. But the question that needs to be asked is this: Will she join politics, and, if yes, why now? Both questions are easily answered. It is recognised that the Family Firm is under great stress, its pulling power with the voters diminishing progressively with the passage of each month, especially with the rise of newer outfits which seek to make electoral space for themselves on grounds of caste and regional identities.
The answer to the first question automatically takes care of the second. If she has to take the plunge, Congressmen will insist, there could be no better time than this. After all, there is a clear and present challenge to the smooth graduation of the heir apparent as the rightful successor to the mantle of her mother and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. By all accounts, Rahul Gandhi has muffed his chances to grow into a confident young leader who can carry on the family business of controlling the country’s oldest political party. Though his father too had bungled, after the Ottavio Quattorocchi operations as a long-term New Delhi-based commission agent had cast a shadow over the First Family of the Congress, in the case of the son, the polity had undergone a sea-change, with many more rival formations ready to challenge the Congress’s grip over the voters.
Besides, Rahul has not only proved disinterested in political, nay, current affairs, but he is also a terribly slow learner. In the age of the 24×7 news television, his slow and often confused responses to urgent matters of public interest has left his listeners decidedly underwhelmed. Thus, the need for someone who can help him in finding relevance in these tough times cannot be disputed.
But, then, the question is whether the sister can succeed where the brother, the mother’s preferred heir for the Family Firm, has failed. For the answer to be in the affirmative you will have to establish that the appeal of the Gandhis continues to be as strong as it was, say, a decade ago. It is not. Electoral politics is far more competitive, far more broad-based now than it was only a few years ago, thanks to the growing awareness and the growth of the social media and 24×7 television.
So far, aside from waving at crowds or flashing a comely smile, Priyanka Vadra has provided little proof to establish that she has the requisite intellectual and organisational capabilities to take up a major political role. Thus far, she has confined herself to campaigning in Amethi and Rae Bareilly, along with her husband, one Robert Vadra. Sometime ago, this gent had gained national notoriety for his alleged land scams in the Congress-ruled states of Haryana and Rajasthan.
Therefore, Mrs Gandhi-Vadra cannot go to the people as plain Mrs Gandhi, can she? In the current anti-corruption atmosphere, her very appearance at the Congress platform would immediately revive memories of the get-rich-quick scams of her husband. In fact, the opposition, most likely, will use her formal entry into politics to rake up the various Vadra scandals and raise the pitch for an independent investigation.
Besides, it is not guaranteed that Priyanaka Gandhi-Vadra would be a better vote-getter merely because she is photogenic. Frankly, the most propitious time for her to make a formal debut in politics is when the things are going well for the Congress and not when nothing seems to be going right for it. But, ultimately, it has to be her decision, never mind what the self-interested sycophants say.