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Hari Jaisingh
Opinion

Will Political Priyanka click in 2019 poll?

Amidst the fast changing national scenario for the 2019 general elections, Priyanka Gandhi’s formal entry into the Congress as General Secretary-in-charge of Eastern UP would make a difference to the overall fortune of the 136-year-old historical organization. This is not my guess work, but is based on my grassroots assessment and personal interaction with her in the late nineties during her poll campaign at Rae Bareli. I was then at the helm of The Tribune group of publications in Chandigarh.

I remember to have greeted her and told her that “I am a friend of her father, Rajiv Gandhi”. She gave me a broad smile and asked me to hop in her vehicle for a chat.

I was with her for over an hour and saw closely her personal charms, warmth, pleasant mannerism and the ability to communicate with ordinary rural folks as she occasionally stopped her vehicle to meet them. They were mostly women and youngsters. She would shake hands with them, asking them about their well-being and problems, if any! There was nothing artificial about her natural art of communication. She instantly hit off with the people. This is not a small feat for a novice in the electioneering arena in sharp contrast to today’s VVIPs who have to be especially guarded by the Z-plus security cover!

I am recalling my first observations about Priyanka as she has been formally inducted in the party today. I could see she retains the same charming mannerism which is rare in today’s mud-slinging politics during poll campaigns of the country’s two major parties, the BJP and the Congress. I must say that the young electorate today are getting sick of this politics of abuses and counter-abuses which are generally based on half lies, quarter truth and jhumalabazi.

This is not the way electioneering has to be conducted among the people assembled at rallies in a country where the national motto is Satyameva Jayate – Truth will Always Triumph. Truth will surely prevail, sooner or later. But what I saw during the Gujarat and Karnataka poll campaign by our leaders has jolted me.

Before I make an assessment of Political Priyanka in today’s hurly-burly of politics in the name of secularism, communalism and non-issues, I would like to talk about the ups and downs of the Congress over a period of time. It once provided a political umbrella to all shades of opinion and ideological groups, thanks to the party’s wide-ranging sweep and enlightened leadership. The situation has now changed dramatically. Today, the Congress has emerged as an amorphous umbrella organization consisting of conflicting interests. And it has so happened that after each split in the party it has had to redefine itself to suit the occasion. It is a fact that the Congress has been a personality-oriented party most of the time. It drew its substance from the quality of the dynasty person.

Today the Congress is no more the umbrella and therefore it has lost the support of most people. The Congress has only itself to blame for the prevailing state of affairs, especially under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. Much will now depend on how new youthful leaders like Rahul and Priyanka as well as senior stalwarts conduct themselves during the critical months ahead. The forthcoming elections, for that matter, will show where the party stands on the new chessboard of power in New Delhi and beyond.

I do not see the Congress as Rahul vs Priyanka. I do not think that Priyanka’s formal entry into politics will harm the prospects of her brother as a front-runner for the PM’s position.

We must not overlook the fact that Rahul Gandhi has already established himself as a leader in his own right. Recently, he won his first three state elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh after his poor performance earlier. He even did well in Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat earlier as well as in Bihar.

This is no mean achievement besides the way he has racked up several popular issues such as farmers’ distress, youngsters’ joblessness, demonetisation and traders’ plight in the wake of GST. Now he has announced minimum income guarantee for the poor, if voted to power in the 2019 polls. I keep my fingers crossed over his poll promise!

Of course, he has still a long way to go to emerge as a formidable challenger to Prime Minister Modi. In this context, I feel Priyanka Gandhi will play a supplementary role to strengthen the hands of her brother.

It is also noteworthy that looking at the tough challenge posed by Yogi and Modi in UP, the Congress leadership has taken quite an innovative approach to take on the BJP- run Uttar Pradesh through its decentralised mantra. It has installed youthful, popular faces of Jyotiraditya Scindia as in-charge of Western UP while Priyanka is at the helm of Eastern UP poll affairs. This is an intelligent, well-thought-out move which will probably pay dividends to the Congress, though the BSP and the SP have already upset the saffron party’s poll calculations.

A lot will depend on the way Priyanka conducts herself. If she is able to maintain a natural profile of herself as seen by me in Rae Bareli, she will be quite a force politically. This will add a new chapter to the evolution of the Congress, notwithstanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s never-ending campaign of Congress-mukt Bharat. Far from it, he has helped revive the grand old party. The credit for this ought to be given to Rahul Gandhi’s fighting spirit, though some of the issues raised by him were weak and lopsided.

Be that as it may. Here comes a new twist to the swinging politics of the 2019 general elections. Union Minister and senior BJP leader from Maharashtra Nitin Gadkari said on Sunday (Jan 27) that “People like political leaders who show them dreams. But if those dreams are not fulfilled, people thrash these leaders”.

These loaded remarks by Gadkari have made most of the BJP leaders jittery. They are desperately trying to cover up these controversial comments by saying that he was targeting the Congress which “has the habit of making tall promises in a poll season and its subsequent failure to fulfill them.”

This looks like being a ridiculous explanation by the BJP leadership. We all know that Nitin Gadkari is very close to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. He could not have made such a loaded remark publicly without the blessings of the RSS supremo. Even otherwise, it is no secret that the RSS chief is not all that happy with the Modi government’s performance during the past four and a half years. There are a number of grey areas in PM Modi’s tall promises which he has badly failed to fulfill. Gadkari’s remarks, therefore, have to be seen in this light. The BJP leader from Maharashtra has the reputation of being a pragmatic politician with a readiness to work with business and trade. His remarks, therefore, have to be seen through this prism.

By the way, how does the Congress come in the Gadkari picture? The Congress has already paid a price for its past failures. It got the drubbing from Narendra Modi’s campaigning in the 2014 election. It is the time for PM Modi’s jumlabazi to get “judged” by his non-performance in the people’s court.

Narendra Modi, of course, is a master tactician. He knows the art of “rope tricks” to mislead people despite his shrinking popularity graph. I am not sure if the “charms” of the youthful Congress leaders like Priyanka, Scindia, Sachin Pilot and Rahul Gandhi will click decisively.

There are wheels within wheels in Indian politics! That way the 2019 general election is going to be an interesting battle ground for the 50 per cent revived Congress and yet-to-be-born mahagathbandhan of non-Congress and non-BJP leaders. It could be anybody’s game in India’s 2019 post-election alliances!

- Hari Jaisingh, Senior Journalist.

(The views expressed in the article above are those of the author.)