Photo by SAM PANTHAKY / AFP
Photo by SAM PANTHAKY / AFP

With the announcement of Seven-Phase Lok Sabha election schedule, the Election Commission of India has set the ball rolling and the most frenzied election campaign has begun. Now, apart from political philosophies, personality classes are also surfacing and new faces have started emerging on the political horizon of the nation.

In Maharashtra, third generation faces of Parth Pawar and Sujay Vikhe-Patil have dawned while on the national front, its fourth generation daughter of Nehru-Gandhi family — Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra is shining. She is seen by many in the Congress as the imprint of Indira Gandhi, and thus often described adoringly by them as the party’s “brahmastra” (ultimate weapon).

She was launched into this election’s war zone by brother and Congress President Rahul Gandhi on January 22 this year, when he named her Congress general secretary (Eastern UP) while she was abroad. Even though, the wisdom and efficacy of an absentee launch is debatable, especially when India is gripped by the spectacle of the go-big-or-go-home events that Modi and Shah choreograph for their big election announcements — in fact, they do this deftly even for smaller ones, lending a ho-hum event the sense of far more importance than it carries.

Upon return, “PGV”, as she is known, dropped off husband and controversial businessman Robert Vadra to the Enforcement Directorate for interrogation en route to get first official visit to the Congress headquarters in Delhi, ensuring cameras and headlines stayed with her.

But that appears to have been the only manoeuvre worth commemorating thus far in her political debut. Her cause has not been helped by Vadra’s broad hints on a near-daily basis that he is ready to embrace a public role and contest the elections.

A roadshow in UP
A month ago, the Gandhi siblings held a roadshow in UP together, accompanied by a grim-looking Jyotiraditya Scindia who has been appointed the general secretary of Western UP. Scindia has been shoe-horned into UP politics after his ambition to be the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh was thwarted by Kamal Nath.

With a few days to go for the general election, Priyanka cancelled three trips to Uttar Pradesh. Now, a boat ride is planned for her on the Ganga. Curiously, while she is entrusted with Uttar Pradesh, she made her debut speech as the general secretary in Gujarat where the Congress Working Committee was held this week. Again, the admirers within the party offered the breathless comparisons to Indira Gandhi.

What they should be pondering is that like her brother, are they now stuck with another reluctant or occasional politician? After the initial huge amounts of newsprint and non-stop channel coverage of her debut, she vanished from the headlines before her return. Then, a trip to Meerut to meet Chandrashekhar “Raavan”, the Bhim Army chief, made Mayawati so furious that she lashed out and announced publicly she would not ally with the Congress.

There is a theory that Priyanka intended to signal to Mayawati that in Chandrashekhar, the Congress has a charismatic Dalit leader who it can turn to when spurned by her. But it may not be a wise dare. Given the years, she has spent managing Amethi and Raebareli for her mother and brother, PGV cannot be oblivious to the conspiracy theory about the Bhim Army and its affiliation and funding.

Chandrashekhar started his politics as a student activist of the RSS, and senior BSP and SP politicians hold that the RSS has created, or at least covertly funds, the Bhim Army as a counter and check to Mayawati, much like what Amit Shah has done with Akhilesh Yadav’s estranged uncle Shivpal who has founded a party to cut into the votes of the Akhilesh Yadav-Mayawati alliance.

Chandrashekhar, before the Priyanka visit, had always maintained that his outfit would not enter politics and it was confined to social activism for Dalit rights. Now, he has decided to contest against Modi in Varanasi who will be delighted with this newbie opponent. Chandrashekhar has also announced his intention to field candidates where he says the BSP candidate is weak.

This is a move that will weaken Mayawati and the alliance and thrill the BJP. Says a furious BSP leader, “If Priyankaji knows so much about politics, she should fight the election, not hurt the Opposition. Bhim Army will only cut our votes. Does she know of their RSS past? We have come together to save India and the Congress is just on a giant ego trip. Behenji may now field candidates in Amethi and Raebareli.”

The Congress does not have the nuts and bolts of a functioning campaign. The BJP has “Modi hai toh mumkim hai” as their slogan and tag line playing on loop in the country and the Congress does not even have a slogan yet. Reminder: Only three weeks to go for the voting.

Debut in Congress style
Priyanka has visited Uttar Pradesh twice and not exactly set the Gomti on fire. Ace election strategist Prashant Kishor said it in private that her debut was done in “typical Congress style”. He refused to elaborate on whether it meant was good or bad. The Congress leaders who were hoping that she would contest the election by taking on a senior BJP leader in the Big Bang contest are disappointed.

The grand old party barely exists on the ground in UP and an epic battle would have at least dramatised it in the headlines. While the BJP is fighting to win, the latest thrill of the Congress party is that PGV has finally tweeted. Someone please remind them an election needs to be fought.

The substance of the story is though Priyanka’s entry, like few more new celebrity entrants, has provided sure headlines for the media, none is yet sure if they would make any mark on the future of the India’s politics.

Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former  Member of Parliament (RS)

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