Priyanka Gandhi’s appointment: BJP’s reactions tell the tale
Reactions of Sumitra Mahajan, Smriti Irani, Nirmala Sitharaman and Amit Shah to the announcement underscore why the induction was necessary for the Congress
I am now looking forward to Priyanka’s foray into politics with the expectation that she will raise the level of political discourse in the country without allowing the nastiness of political rivals go unanswered.
We have not been much exposed to the Gandhi sister but I remember sitting up and first taking notice of her as she stood in a queue at a voting booth in New Delhi. The opposition, particularly the BJP, had run an intense campaign against her mother Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins and now Priyanka found herself standing in a voting line just ahead of the former lieutenant governor of Delhi and former governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Jagmohan who, after a notorious association with the Congress, had joined the BJP. Despite his nasty comments about her party and her family, she stepped back graciously and asked Jagmohan to vote ahead of her. When he fussed about breaking the queue, she said sweetly, “Bachpan se hamari ma ne hamein yahi sikhaya hai ki buzurgon ki izzat karo.”
The BJP had been talking much about shuchita, samrasta and sabhyata in those days and yet was calling Sonia Gandhi names throughout the campaign. Although the political discourse was not as low as the BJP has sunk it to today, It was obvious from Jagmohan's expression that he had clearly understood Priyanka's barb - you may call my mother a foreigner but she has been more cultured and taught us traditional Indian values throughout our lives. He gave her a weak smile as he quietly stepped forward to take her place in the queue.
When Arun Nehru joined the BJP and contested on the party ticket from Rae Bareilly, the traditional Nehru-Gandhi seat, people remember how Priyanka demolished him with just one sentence. Campaigning in the constituency, she asked the people, “Don’t you know this man stabbed my father in the back?” That was quite the end of Arun Nehru's political career.
But another reason why I believe this latest foray of the Gandhi family will be memorable is for the task Priyanka has set out for herself. As a member of the first family she could have restricted herself to her pocket borough or entered the Rajya Sabha in good time. While it is not sure if she will contest the Lok Sabha as yet, east UP is going to be an uphill task in terms of turning the vote in favour of the Congress.
It houses Narendra Modi's constituency of Varanasi and, given the dismay in the BJP at her entry, it seems likely that we are going to see a pitched battle in the coming weeks.
Priyanka, with her most fluent, dulcet and natural spoken Hindi (not a strong point of most of the Nehru-Gandhis so far) might have no such inhibitions
Why her entry is a masterstroke is also clear from the reactions of the likes of Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Union Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The former implied Rahul Gandhi is hiding behind his sister's skirts, immediately blunting the BJP’s attack on him for saying Modi was hiding behind a woman (Sitharaman) over the Rafale deal.
As for Sitharaman, her sneering comment on dynastic politics exposed her hypocrisy - for her father-in-law, mother-in-law and husband were all active politicians and elected representatives in the Congress or the BJP. Without even saying one word in response, Priyanka seems to have cut the floor from under their feet and left them looking not just foolish but against their own gender and heritage.
So, I tend to think Priyanka’s entry is not so much with the expectation of winning seats (which might be a bonus if she does turn the voters) but dampening the BJP’s rhetoric with barbs of her own. In that context, she might truly be there to aid her brother - how many times has one heard Rahul reply to Irani’s below-the-belt hits? And of those there have been plenty over the past five years for Irani seems to think that sneering at a cultured and refined gent and hitting below the belt simply because he cannot get back at a woman is somehow kosher.
As a gentleman, he cannot take on a lady or even a shrew (and most of BJP's women spokespersons are shrews) and as a party president he cannot be wasting time on motivated minions. In the process some of the barbs stick and supporters begin to wonder at the reasons for lack of answers.
Priyanka, with her most fluent, dulcet and natural spoken Hindi (not a strong point of most of the Nehru-Gandhis so far) might have no such inhibitions. A barb will be met with butter on the knife. The opponent will never even know or feel the pain. But the scars will remain. And the people left in little doubt.