The media is going gaga over Priyanka Vadra (nee Gandhi) these days, to get her reactions on every matter related to Congress ideology, poll strategy, prospects, policy making or even the choice of candidacy! Reporters are dashing across her cavalcade, desperately, to get the latest news bytes and a glimpse of her decisive body language!
As if, in this extended elections season, her pluck in Congress’s national politics has become just a fait accompli!
Speculations are ripe these days that, she has already decided and altered many Congress tickets, not just in UP buy all over India, dwarfing many senior Congress who’s who! Its she whom, the Congress President gives utmost importance in decision making, sometimes further than her elder brother. She has the uncanny similar looks and unfailing charisma of her legendary Grandmother!
And eventually, if Rahul Gandhi flops in the 2014 mega show, then not just her face value, but her networth in the party will grow remarkably !
The Allahad Hoarding
In October last year, some mysterious hoardings appeared in the busy thoroughfare of the Allahabad’s Civil Lines area, taking the local Congress leaders out of guard! The Hoardings stated in unequivocal terms, in candid Hindi:
“Maiya Ab Rehti Bimaar
Bhaiya Par Badh Gaya Bhaar
Priyanka Phulpur Se Bano Ummidwaar
Party Ka Karo Prachaar
Congress Ki Sarkaar Banao Teesri Baar!”
In English, this can be translated roughly: “Mother is keeping unwell lately and the responsibilities have now burdened on your brother. Priyanka, please come forward and contest from Phulpur. Campaign for Congress and make the party a third time winner!”
The two small time local Congress leaders, whose names were on the Hoarding, Haseeb Ahmad and Shrish Chandra Dubey, were suspended immediately. As Congress felt: “Some outsiders are getting these things done and are depicting party Chief Sonia Gandhi as unwell. The party has taken a strong note of it.“
Haseeb Ahmad who was later thrown out of the Party was a Secretary of Allahabad City Congress Committee.
Surprisingly by then, a resolution had already been passed by the Allahabad Congress Committee asking Priyanka to contest from Phulpur Parliamentary seat, which was once Jawaharlal Nehru’s constituency.
Some party leaders had also urged UP Observer Anil Singh to field Priyanka from Phulpur in the 2014 general elections.
Allahabad City Congress president Abhay Awasthi told the reporters, “We were discussing who should contest the seats of Phulpur and Allahabad. The Congress workers thought that the Phulpur seat has belonged to the Nehru family for decades. We unanimously agreed that Priyanka Gandhi should contest from the seat“.
Jawaharlal Nehru had won the polls from here in 1952, 1957 and in 1962. His sister, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, won the seat in 1967.
Congress General Secretary Ajay Maken had however accused the Television Channels with spreading wrong information on Priyanka’s role in the next general election to divert people’s attention from real issues!
Alleged Mafia done-turned-politician Ateeq Ahmed (SP) won the seat in 2004. In 2009, BSP clinched the seat, Congress in 2014 has allotted the Phulpur seat in Allahabad district to cricketer Mohammed Kaif.
Priyanka To The Forefront
The same ’embarrassed’ party insiders have now, within six months have started an implicit internal campaign to bring Priyanka in Party’s forefront!
Janardhan Dwivedi, the senior Congressman and party General Secretary, has recently stated that Rajiv Gandhi had cherished his daughter Priyanka’s political understanding way back in 1990!
“All I’ll say is that Rajiv Gandhi told me something about this in 1990”.Dwivedi confirmed.
Many Congress insiders however taking this with a pinch of salt. How could the former Prime Minister express his aspirations about his daughter to Dwivedi, who in 1990 was just a joint secretary of Congress, in its legal wing and virtually had no access to PM’s residence!
But Dwivedi was not alone.
This has been followed by another whisper campaign that Indira Gandhi had reportedly acknowledged the resemblances between Priyanka and herself and was keen to have her granddaughter to be her political heritor!
There were rumours that Priyanka was interested to take on Modi, contesting from the Varanasi seat.
‘Times of India’ has reported that, Priyanka was keen on contesting Narendra Modi in Varanasi because she felt that the BJP’s PM candidate Modi was “bad for the country” and should be halted in his way.
Though Priyanka has denied it, but naming the Congress’s Varanasi candidate, too late, has just fuelled the speculation.
Has the time come for the struggling Congress party to bring out its trump card now?
Pleading for Priyanka
Reportedly first it was Indira Gandhi herself who had desired that her granddaughter Priyanka should be her political heir.
About a fortnight before her assassination, Indira Gandhi had gone to Kashmir with her grandchildren. She supposedly told her Political Adviser and close aide Makhan Lal Fotedar that she had visualised political possibility in Priyanka and ensured that she would enter into politics.
Sources say that, after Indira Gandhi was assassinated, Fotedar told Rajiv Gandhi about his mother’s wish. Rajiv had not commented or instructed about it. In 1991 Rajiv too was assassinated.
When Sonia Gandhi joined politics and took over as the Congress Chief, the issue of Priyanka’s entry into politics was an imminent possibility. Fotedar was in the coterie of Arjun Singh and K. Natwar Singh, who showed Sitaram Keshri the door to bring Sonia on his pedestal.
Fotedar raised the issue of Priyanka’s entry into politics, to Sonia Gandhi. Sonia showed no enthusiasm. Priyanka was married to Robert Vadra in 1999, later had kids. Family was her priority.
Later years, the Indira loyalist, old timer, M.L. Fotedar got marginalised in Congress.
Back in early 2004, when the Congress was not sure about returning to power, the seasoned Karnataka politician and former Railway Minister CK Jaffer Sharief had come out with a suggestion in January 2004 that Rahul and Priyanka should be brought into active Congress politics.
Sharief had told the Congressmen that Priyanka was already in politics. She was diligently nurturing the constituencies of her mother and brother. She was popular among the masses. She should take prominence, as a need of the hour.
Rahul Gandhi was given a Congress ticket from Amethi in 2004. It became clear who should be preferred in politics from Nehru-Gandhi scion.
The Reluctant Entrant
In a Rediff interview in September 1999, one of the very first of her press interviews, when Priyanka was asked about her political ambition, she answered: “I have said it a thousand times now, but I will repeat: I am not interested in joining politics, and I am only here to campaign for my mother. I know it looks very different in the media, but I am very clear that I am doing this for my mother”.
The next month, while intensely campaigning for her mother in Amethi, she told the BBC correspondent Mike Wooldridge: “I am very clear in my mind. Politics is not a strong pull, the people are. And I can do things for them without being in politics.”
Serving The People
Wooldridge remarked then: India is not convinced, and the pressures that eventually propelled Sonia Gandhi to the Congress leadership are likely to be felt by Priyanka too!
In the General Elections of 2004, Priyanka became her mother’s Campaign Manager got busy in her Brother Rahul Gandhi’s election campaign. While meeting the press during busy election campaign, she said: “Politics is all about serving the people and I am already doing that.”
The UP Assembly Elections of 2007 saw Priyanka in much active role. Years out of power, the State Congress leadership was in complete disarray. Party infighting reached a new high even in Congress’s pocket boroughs.
While Rahul was leading the Campaign in the State, Priyanka concentrated on the 10 Assembly seats in the Amethi and Rae Bareilly segments, spending significant period of time there trying to control rampant infighting of the party workers and settling disputes over seat allotment.
Congress fared poorly, securing just 22 seats out of 402! But Priyanka marked her presence and organisational ability. Congress earlier had only two Assembly seats (out of ten) in Amethi, Rae Bareli region In 2002. in 2007 it wrested seven, despite a visible SP wave and heaviest inner party dissidence.
In 2002, Congress in Amethi polled 28.6 per cent votes which increased to 40.59 per cent in 2007. In Jagdishpur, there was 3.04 per cent increasing raising the voteshare to 37 percent, In Salon, it raised from 25.17 to 37.14 percent . In Dalmau constituency, it was most impressive increase of 9.32 percent , raising the share to 36.38 percent , and in Bachchrawan, an increase of 9.95 to 33.19 per cent.
Congress lost in Tiloi , Sultanpur and Gauriganj, but even there the Congress vote share. Increased substantially.
In the Congress War Room
In 2014, while Priyanka is still saying that her role is limited to the family strongholds of Amethi and Rae Bareli, her level of involvement is far beyond that.
Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka are now spending much political time together, since morning throughout the day, when Rahul and Sonia are not out campaigning. The reportedly hold long discussion not just about Amethi and Rae Bareli, but about the party’s overall strategy for the present elections.
Ahmed Patel joins them first, to decide their daily plan of action. Gradually, other senior Congress leaders join them.
Since the Congress debacle in UP Assembly elections in 2012, the Party was seriously thinking, whether Rahul would be able to deliver in the 2014 General elections! Many now admit that they feel comfortable and confident, while interacting with Priyanka.
Playing Second Fiddle
But Priyanka is clear enough, she is not in competition with her brother, in any point of time. She is still happy to play the second or third fiddle, as far as the party higher ups(specially her mother) want.
This may be one reason, she has not contested from Varanasi against Modi. But when Varun Gandhi shifted to Sultanpur, she was keen enough to protect the ‘Gandhi’ brand only for the Congress. That’s why she attacked Varun vehemently, breaking earlier conventions. Insiders say that making present MP Sanjay Singh from Sultanpur to take the Rajya Sabha route from Assam, and putting his wife Ameeta to contest from the seat, was a Priyanka prerogative. Because, through her field work in the area for years, Priyanka knows that Sanjay Singh has a soft corner for Varun, specially because Singh’s close association with Varun’s father Sanjay Gandhi.
Once the election dates were announced, Priyanka presided over a meeting of senior Congress leaders to formulate the party’s probable campaign strategy for the upcoming general election.
This was extraordinary, because Priyanka holds no official position in the party.
And it undoubtedly signalled the beginning of a new era where Priyaka will be preparing to take on a larger role in Congress politics!
Insiders say that at present situation, Rahul is preparing himself for the role of an opposition leader, at least for next five years . This would definitely make him more matured and stronger.
By this time, an ailing Sonia Gandhi is trying to groom her daughter to be an able and reliable political support of Rahul Gandhi.
Till now Priyanka’s role is limited to eastern Uttar Pradesh, may be in the next Assembly elections due this year she will spread her activities to other States too. Till date her attitude and appearance gave solace to Congress strategists, but just that is not enough.
She has to be a full time politician, not just the seasonal one.
Till now, the glamour factor has prevailed. The clamour has just been started showing , but ultimately she has to be a performer, a real big performer to fulfil her Granny’s dream!
By Deep Basu
Rahul Gandhi Biography