Priyanka Gandhi is a cheerleader. She may be seen as more assertive, but her role in the Congress Party campaign is just that. She said she would do what brother Rahul tells her. It is completely off to believe that this could mean she might play an important part in active politics. Today, there are several dynasties in India that are asserting themselves forcefully– the Yadavs, the Abdullas, the Scindias, the Pilots, the Pawars, the Dikshits, the Thackerays, the Marans, the Karunanidhis. It does not have to be blood inheritance, though.
Mayawati has inherited the Kanshi Ram mantle and taken over the Ambedkar one. In that sense, her’s is the more solid ground because it uses the heritage of ideology, irrespective of how she has faked the system to her advantage. Jayalilitha’s is similar, for she had the MGR legacy, but from there she was on her own and she is more willing to share space; Mayawati is aggressive. And she is quick to use any card, not only the one up her sleeve, but also from the deck.
The Gandhi children have not been able to sustain, or capitalise on, the heritage link. Is there anything about their conduct that is reminiscent of Nehru, Indira Gandhi or even Rajiv Gandhi? In a way, this would be seen as striking out on their own without any baggage, and it is not a pretty baggage. Nehruvian socialism is obsolete; Indira Gandhi’s tenure had some horrifying episodes; Rajiv Gandhi’s major claim to fame was as reluctant politician. His attempts at ‘modernisation’ were primarily cosmetic, and much credit (and discredit) goes to some high profile people he imported from overseas. Although Sanjay Gandhi was known as the guy with the goons, Rajiv did have his own little group that did the dirty work.
Rahul has to both live up to a name and also stay away from the smears on it. So, what does he do? India is not Amethi, and poverty is not about a farmer’s widow. Do we need to know his agenda on every issue? This is the pressure that only he faces, for it is like being taken off the cradle and asked to complete a marathon. It is not possible. Therefore, the relay race comes in handy. Sonia Gandhi passes the baton to Manmohan Singh who passes it to Rahul who passes it back to our PM and then it goes back to Ms. Gandhi, which is how the chain is sustained. (For more, my piece Dr. Do Little: Rahul Gandhi As Placebo)
Where does Priyanka figure in this? Whether it is her choice or it has been decided at the family dinner it is difficult to say, but she will be a moral support, a benign figure. Unlike many commentators, I do not see the elections in Uttar Pradesh as a test case. In fact, it will confirm that dynasty dynamics have changed and any kind can work for a ‘mai-baap’-oriented junta. The Gandhi family can only claim it as a memory for now. Using Priyanka is just adding gilt to an empty golden throne.
Is she inconsequential? Unlike her grandmother who was dubbed “goongi gudiya" (dumb doll) when she was merely her father’s daughter, and then we saw how her 'talk' turned into a nasty rebuttal, Priyanka is lucid. Her cheerleader act is not of a mute bystander, but a vocal one. She smiles, she shakes hands, she empathises. People feel happy, the locals who gather to watch such shows. She is a bit of Mother India – a complete woman, with husband, children, tending to her home and taking an ostensibly independent stand, even if that means it is not to be a part of politics.
She can at best be seen as the Sonia Gandhi of politics at a later stage.
- - -
Other election titbits.
In Kanpur, it is not clothes and food that are offered as bait. It is bar girls:
Some election candidates here have found a novel way to entice voters. They are organizing sleaze shows where Mumbai bar girls dance to Bollywood tunes in skimpy outfits. Candidates book us for dance shows to lure voters and keep the morale of party workers high, said Chandni (name changed), a bar dancer from Mumbai, who was part of one such show organized by candidate of a political party in Kalyanpur area of the city.
A bit ironical, for a few days ago the Election Commission decided that it would send an all-women team of general observers to Goa. The reason?
EC officials said that in the past, there were complaints against male officers sent on election duty to Goa, these included drinking during office hours and partying in clubs while supposedly being on duty. There were also allegations that in some cases, candidates were bearing the cost of entertainment of officials. In a few cases, the allegations were made by poll candidates.
EC sources also said that officers had been given so much work that they would not be left with much leisure time. Moreover, women officers are more conscientious, an EC official said. This is the first time that EC is sending an all-women team as observers to any state. However, the poll body has retained male officers in the list of expenditure observers.
Candidates use women; the EC uses women. While the motives of the former are obvious, the EC is putting pressure on these women observers. This is a pre-emptive strategy, it has admitted. Instead of making women into incorruptible devis, it would have been better if the EC sent a mix bag of observers and took action against those who go against rules. This zenana vigilantism only reveals that enjoyment is a male prerogative and women are to be saints.