Priyanka Gandhi’s formal induction into the Congress may not yield immediate political results, but she is in for long haul in politics, says political analyst Zoya Hasan.
She has her own charisma, but still can’t match Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the hustings due to superior BJP organisational strength, backed by RSS, money and media power, according to Hasan, professor emerita at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
But her presence will definitely boost the morale of the Congress workers and could lay out a pitch for the party’s revival in a crucial state like Uttar Pradesh under an aggressive leadership of Rahul Gandhi, says Hasan, who has closely watched Indian politics and penned several books and articles covering various aspects of it.
She spoke to
CNBC-TV18.com’s Ajay Vaishav in a telephonic interview on Priyanka Gandhi’s formal entry into the Congress and its multiple implications. Edited excerpts: Q: What do you think has triggered Priyanka Gandhi’s induction in active politics and what is its significance?
A: The formal induction of Priyanka Gandhi is certainly a significant decision. While there are many reasons behind this decision, the immediate trigger is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-Samajwadi Party (SP) alliance in Uttar Pradesh, which excluded the Congress from the seat sharing deal despite the party winning three assembly elections recently. But Priyanka Gandhi’s formal entry into politics has been long in the making, she has been unofficially involved in the Congress politics and decision-making and strategy making particularly in Uttar Pradesh for a long time. So, this is not entirely surprising. But yes, the timing is certainly significant and right on.
A: My own sense is that this is not going to produce immediate political results. Even though Priyanka Gandhi is charismatic, popular, enjoys a connect with the party workers and cadres and probably with segments of voters as well, yet, it is hard to imagine that in two months she is going to produce some magical results, when the Congress is down to two seats in Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Q: What will be its political impact, especially with the general elections approaching? It is hard to believe that the Congress due to her charisma quotient and campaign is going to dramatically climb Uttar Pradesh to some 30-35 seats.
At this moment, it seems highly unlikely. But what is likely is a change in political narrative wherein the BJP cannot single-handedly set the political agenda, the Congress will now occupy some media attention and it will occupy mind space. It will no longer be a two-way contest between the BJP and the BSP-SP alliance regardless of the outcome of this election.
Q: Do you think Priyanka Gandhi is in politics for long haul?
A: I think she is in for long haul and liked her brother. Obviously, she has age on her side. She is setting her sights on the 2024 elections rather than just the 2019 elections.
Q: The Congress has long been a spent force in Uttar Pradesh. Can Priyanka’s entry be a game changer for the party in the state?
A: I don’t think it can produce results in the short run, because no matter how charismatic and how popular Priyanka Gandhi might be, it cannot be a substitute for a political vision and organisation on the ground and the Congress sorely lacks organisation in Uttar Pradesh. The party has just not focused on building the organisation for the past almost 30 years, when it has been out of power.
Q: What are the chances of Congress nominating Priyanka Gandhi against PM Modi in Benaras or any other constituency? It would be imprudent to put her in Banaras against Narendra Modi.
This will not work and I hope Rahul Gandhi has the political judgement not to do that, which is not to say that she shouldn’t contest elections at all. Let us not forget BJP is a formidable force in Uttar Pradesh and North India largely because it has what no other political party has, media and money on its side, and of course Modi, the relentless election campaigner. It would be difficult for Priyanka Gandhi to take on such a powerful combination and that too in so short a time.
A: It demonstrates boldness, a new kind of aggression that Congress has not demonstrated under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, which was much more cautious and guarded. Rahul Gandhi is not hesitating to take on Modi directly. Look at the way he has taken on Modi on Rafael jet fighter deal and on several other issues, notably agrarian distress, and employment and lack of job creation by this government. It also indicates that he is willing to take risks because appointing his sister as general secretary is a high risk decision. Also, it gives the BJP an opportunity to mount an all out attack on dynastic politics. But Rahul Gandhi has probably calculated that the risks outweigh the benefits. Her induction confirms the dynastic charge and party’s over-reliance on the Nehru-Gandhi family. At the same time, the BJP’s charge on over-reliance by Congress on Gandhi dynasty may have lost its political purchase, especially as Rahul Gandhi is reluctant to declare himself as a prime ministerial candidate.
Q: Bringing Priyanka Gandhi formally into the Congress leadership... what does it tell us about Rahul Gandhi’s style of leadership? Besides, Congress comeback in the country hinges on its revival in Uttar Pradesh, where it needs a dramatic turnaround in its political fortunes.
Even if it cannot regain its erstwhile dominance, it cannot afford to remain out of Uttar Pradesh, which is the most critical state in the Indian union. It has to have a political presence in this pivotal state.
Q: What kind of politics will she pursue?
A: We don’t know very much about Priyanka Gandhi’s politics. We know something about Rahul Gandhi’s politics now. What we do know is that she’s a good communicator, has a strong connect with workers, and is high on charisma helped greatly by her stunning resemblance to her grandmother Indira Gandhi. I presume she will focus on the same issues that Rahul Gandhi and the Congress will be focusing on, but nonetheless we need to know more about her position on major issues that dominate politics and policy today. Priyanks Gandhi cannot be a substitute for what the party really needs, which is to revitalise the organisation by presenting itself as a clear alternative to the right-wing BJP.
Q: Can Priyanka Gandhi’s charisma match or take on PM Modi’s?
A: We don’t know as Priyanka Gandhi is untested beyond the two constituencies of Rae Bareli and Amethi. Modi’s Uttar Pradesh is backed by the RSS, which is a political machine dedicated to winning elections. It is also backed by huge money power and media support. Now, does Priyanka Gandhi have any of this? No. So, these are very interesting issues and I have a feeling that people are jumping to conclusions.
A: It does put them in a tight spot. They categorically excluded the Congress and now the Congress has come back with this dramatic decision, which has disrupted their game plan. It places them in a tight spot for two reasons. One, Rahul Gandhi’s response to the alliance has been polite and accommodating. He has repeatedly said, I have great respect for Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav and that he is willing to work with them now or later. Rahul Gandhi said we all are in it for the same goal, which is to defeat the BJP. There is a chance that there may be some kind of tacit understanding between BSP-SP and the Congress. It is too early to say which way the Priyanka Gandhi effect will work, whether it will hurt this alliance or the BJP. I believe it will hurt the BJP more than it will hurt this gathbandhan as she is likely to cut into the non-Jatav, Dalit votes, which will now look Congress as a serious contender in the Uttar Pradesh general elections.
Q: What does this mean for BSP and SP alliance? What could be its impact on BJP?