Priyanka Gandhi is an enigma for a male chauvinist RSS

The Sangh bigwigs seem jittery about Priyanka Gandhi forging the kind of connect with the masses that Indira Gandhi had, particularly with women. They just don't know how to tackle her

Priyanka Gandhi at Barabanki, walk in step with local women, her arm around one of them, a senior citizen (photo courtesy PTI)
Priyanka Gandhi at Barabanki, walk in step with local women, her arm around one of them, a senior citizen (photo courtesy PTI)

Sujata Anandan

In my many conversations with RSS insiders of late, they have sounded rather frustrated about Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. For all their targeting of her husband, they have been unable to stick any allegations on him and thus draw a line to the Nehru-Gandhis.

Then they had Priyanka manhandled by some women cops and, on one occasion, even arrested. She showed no fear of authority.

So they changed their tactics and tried to discredit her personal style. “Koi saree pehen lene se aur baal kate rakhne se Indira Gandhi nahin ban jaata hai (one doesn’t become Indira Gandhi by wearing a saree and copying her hairstyle), ” one of them told me rather viciously, startling me no end.

But then, apart from their obsession with Indira Gandhi, and Narendra Modi’s inability to surpass her record in any way, I realised they were jittery about Priyanka Gandhi being on her way to forging the kind of connect with the masses that Mrs Gandhi had, particularly with women.

Given Priyanka’s compassion for the mother of the Hathras rape victim and her Ladki Hoon, Lad Sakti Hoon [I am a girl, I can fight (like a girl)] campaign, they seemed afraid that their own efforts to make use of women as a force subservient to men would be endangered.

But it became increasingly obvious that they did not know how to tackle this Gandhi sibling of the female gender. Sexism, misogyny, anti-feminism, discrimination, objectification, chauvinism, even a fair amount of male machismo were all being brought into play in their targeting of Priyanka Gandhi, the way it was not in their harassment of Rahul Gandhi or even in their dismissal of Sonia Gandhi as a person of foreign origin.

They have always been afraid of Priyanka’s responses. One of my RSS sources still talks resentfully of the time when Priyanka found herself a couple of places ahead of former Jammu and Kashmir governor Jagmohan in the queue at a voting booth in New Delhi. She stepped back and offered him her place. When he began to refuse, she said, “Hamari maa ne hamein hamesha buzurgon ka aadar karna sikhaya hai (Our mother has always taught us to respect our seniors),” leaving him with no option except to sound churlish if he refused.

There were so many messages in that one statement and the RSS recognised that well. They could hardly challenge Priyanka without sounding equally churlish and misogynist, even highly biased and bigoted. And all these years they have been fearing the very things that Priyanka Gandhi stands for, and their inability to combat her in civilised terms.

Then there was the time one April a few years ago when Priyanka had tweeted a picture of a thaali full of things like rice, walnuts, fresh flowers, a mirror and other things Kashmiri that her mother had placed on her table so that she would not forget to usher in the Kashmiri new year as she had been too busy campaigning. "How sweet are Moms!" Priyanka had captioned that photo before wishing all Kashmiris a "Happy Navroz".

My RSS friends thought they had got her—for she was wishing Kashmiris a happy 'Navroz', instead of a happy Navreh. Their happy frenzy lasted only until Kashmiri writer and economist Vivek Kaul pointed out that in Kashmir it was both Navroz and Navreh, just like both Deepawali and Diwali were correct names for the festival of lights.

With egg on their faces, they had to accept the fact that Sonia Gandhi was keeping the Kashmiri heritage alive in the family with all the traditional rituals and observations—and that it was something she most certainly learnt from Indira Gandhi who, despite being such a powerful and busy politician, never forgot her roots. For, as with the statement to Jagmohan, Priyanka’s messaging was multi-layered, holding both the personal and political in a message about mother–daughter relationships and addressed to all Kashmiris.

I can see that Priyanka continues to defeat the RSS-BJP as she gets politically more combative. As she tore Narendra Modi apart at a recent political rally in Karnataka, pointing out that the PM keeps crying about his personal woes rather than listening to those of the people, all the BJP ecosystem could come up with against her was that she was allegedly spotted offering namaz on the road in Amethi.

And who should they press into making that allegation? None other than Smriti Irani who is married to a Parsi gentleman whose origins are in the Islamic republic of Iran!

Now, apart from the fact that Irani made that statement as though it is a crime to offer namaz, her lie has already been debunked by fact checkers who have pointed out that offering a chadar at a mazar—something that Modi has often done at several Muslim shrines—is not the same as offering namaz.

And what if one wants to offer namaz, anyway? It is just another way of reaching God, isn’t it? Hadn’t Jaya Bachchan offered namaz one time at Haji Ali when her husband lay badly injured in hospital after an accident during filming? No one thought anything of that and, in fact, people egged her on to visit all places of worship to pray for the recovery of India’s favourite star.

But while Irani is personally threatened by Priyanka Gandhi (she may well contest Amethi next year), there is also an element of desperation in that attempt. As for the BJP-RSS, they simply do not know how to deal with her.

That is the power of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

(Views are personal)

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