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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Partymen feel Priyanka has a magic wand. sadly, it doesn't work when the chips are down

Every election (and increasingly in between), Congress workers work themselves into a frenzy asking for greater participation by Priyanka Gandhi in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. That apart, on half a dozen online fan clubs devoted to her, admirers write in with heartfelt pleas set to variations of “it is the need of the hour and only you can do it”. While there is no denying Priyanka’s charisma and her people skills, it is equally true that her presence does not translate into votes. In UP’s elections this year the party was handed a stunning defeat in the family strongholds of Rae Bareli and Amethi where it netted only two of the 10 seats. This, after an intensive 17-day campaign where even her children made a brief appearance.

Her brother has failed more spectacularly. In Bihar, his campaign ended with the party losing five of the 9 seats it had won in 2005. In UP, his extensive criss- crossing of the state, egged on by theatrics such as tearing up an opposition party’s election manifesto, helped the party crawl up to 28, an addition of six to its previous tally. Yet, Congress netas fell over themselves to take blame for the defeat.

In all fairness though, Rahul’s failure seems bigger only because his stage is larger. Priyanka has confined herself to what the media refers to as the family boroughs. She has also stayed away from commenting on contentious issues behind a non-committal 'I will do as I am told' facade. UP’s newly anointed Congress chief Nirmal Khattri takes the familiar party stand when he says that it is not just the party but the people of the country who look up to the Nehru-Gandhi family but it is for the head of the family to decide when a member should be initiated in politics. He is however quick to admit that there are other issues that the party needs to address more urgently.

“Somewhere our contact with people is broken. We need to be with them on the ground, fighting for their causes. The morale of the rank and file needs to be built,” says Khattri. Annu Tandon, the party’s MP from Unnao believes that it is too early to pronounce Rahul a failure. “He has not been given a chance to participate in governance. When will be a good time for that is not for anyone else to decide. If we look at the Congress performance like a half-filled glass, then the filled part is Rahulji, the empty part is the party.”

She rubbishes comparisons between the siblings. “Priyanka too has not been given the chance to prove herself in governance. Comparisons are thus irrelevant.” Such logic however does not drive the action of Congressmen who during UP’s Vidhan Sabha elections went into overdrive about the ‘leadership potential’ they had spotted in Priyanka’s two children even as their amused mother told the media that she had just brought her city-bred children to “see” rural life.

Even otherwise Congressmen have displayed remarkable lack of judgement when it comes to The Family. Remember Salman Khurshid wishing that Rahul would shed his ‘cameo’ role and provide ideological direction to the party. But Khurshid, who proved himself the party’s biggest liability in the UP polls, only voiced what many in the party feel. One Congressman says, “You cannot parachute into the state and expect spectacular results. He is more missing, than in action”.

But to assume that Priyanka is more suited to a lead role is putting hope over experience. Rahul is burdened by destiny to prop the Congress. He gives the appearance of being a sincere but unwilling politician somewhat out of touch with ground realities. To hope that his sister would do better on the field is mere speculation.

Unfortunately, speculation is politics' favourite pastime.

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