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regular-article-logo Monday, 15 July 2024

Question: Will Priyanka Gandhi contest an election? Answer: Buffering

Is Priyanka going to fill in what Rahul eventually leaves blank? “Wait and watch,” was the innovative reply the question fetched from a top Congressman

Sankarshan Thakur Published 14.06.24, 05:38 AM
Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Sonia Gandhi at an election rally in Rae Bareli on May 17.

Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Sonia Gandhi at an election rally in Rae Bareli on May 17. Reuters picture.

BIG QUESTION: Priyanka Gandhi, general secretary of the AICC, remains the only one in the family treeline spreading down from Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru to have entered politics but never to have contested an election.

Will she or won’t she? Priyanka must by now be used to moving about with those questions embossed on her shadow. There might actually be a third one lurking there: but why wouldn’t she?

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The odds on Priyanka, at 52 the younger of the two offspring of the late Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, contesting elections have been on the market since well before she formally entered politics as party general secretary in charge of eastern UP in February 2019.

Those odds — battered by Priyanka’s cold indifference to the question — have been tickled to life as probably never before by brother Rahul, MP-elect from Wayanad and Rae Bareli. Both electorates, he has promised, will be happy when he decides on forsaking one of them.

Is Priyanka going to fill in what Rahul eventually leaves blank? “Wait and watch,” was the innovative reply the question fetched from a top Congressman.

This is not the first time speculation has swirled around Priyanka wading into the battlefield for herself. And this certainly isn’t going to be the last we hear of it.

Frankly, nobody knows beyond the dinky charmed circle of the Gandhis, never averse to employing enigma as make-up ingredient. What they choose not to put out to the public is usually left lying between smoke and mirrors of the family courthouse. We know nothing of what conversations took place in the Gandhi household, if any, on the night preceding the announcement of Rahul taking to the Rae Bareli contest.

But we hear lots about what we know little or nothing about. We hear, for instance, that the case for contesting one of the Gandhi pocket borough seats — Amethi or Rae Bareli — was being pushed hard with Priyanka: take your pick, and now that the Wayanad vote is done, Rahul will contest the other.

We hear, too, that Priyanka remained obdurate in her refusal. It is on the back of her unbroken steadfastness that Kishori Lal Sharma, veteran manager of the family’s political capital in Rae Bareli and eventually the slayer of Smriti Irani in Amethi, was called in.

We only know a couple of things for sure from the above. That Rahul did move to Rae Bareli. That Priyanka was not the Congress candidate from Amethi; Kishori Lal Sharma was. The rest, credible though it may sound, is no more than the conjuring of the smoke and mirrors house-style of the Gandhis. Most of it will never even be considered worth public comment, or even attention.

Rahul Gandhi has said Narendra Modi would have lost Varanasi this time if Priyanka had contested against him, another hint that his sister is in line. (The Prime Minister was aiming for a five-lakh-plus margin but won a little more than 1.5 lakh, his smallest lead in three Varanasi campaigns.) But around that hint, rings silence. Probably even expectation and apprehension, depending on where you stand.

Priyanka Gandhi has now established herself as front-rank campaigner of the Congress, second, if that, only to brother Rahul who has gradually upscaled and transformed his tenor of public engagement. Even so, many would argue that Priyanka is better at establishing connect and is a natural on the public stage.

So there is that question that looms larger than will she or won’t she: But why won’t she?

Once again, what mostly echoes back is speculation, often predictable speculation. That Priyanka is an ever-willing, over-enthused campaigner but won’t commit herself to the tasks of being an MP. That she’s unaccepting of a possible loss. That she believes she lacks the temperament for full-time public life, for politics beyond the campaign stage. That her family’s demands take up her attention, or even that husband Robert Vadra — his businesses and his outspoken ways — could become a daily liability on her campaign tableau. We do not know, perhaps we never will.

But there must be a reason — or must have been — for Priyanka Gandhi never to have contested an election. Some even argue, with little to show for it, that all three — mother, son and daughter — being in Parliament concurrently would become a baton in the hands of the ruling benches to beat them with. But whenever have the Gandhis been shy of a fight?

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