By Antony T D'Souza
(This is an open column for our regular contributors and new writers. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the author, and not necessarily endorsed by daijiworld. Readers are welcome to air their opinions through comments or in form of articles)
Dec 29: Narendra Modi versus Priyanka Gandhi - Whom will you choose? Indeed a good question, is it not? Elections are fast approaching. Nowadays it seems somewhere these two names are being heard. After spending some time, I prepared this article, placing it on the objective side.
Of late, Modi’s high altitude and jet-paced charisma seem to have been dramatically grounded by a novice, Arvind Kejriwalled AAP. Further, should Congress decide to field her in the next Lok Sabha elections, Priyanka may be able to stop AAP and Modi, a job Rahul could not accomplish. Whether Priyanka can be regarded as charismatic, whether she has mass appeal or can she be compared to Indira Gandhi - these questions will be answered if Priyanka decides to contest to put an end to all hypotheses about her.
Congress is trying hard to use the Gandhi dynasty to counter Modi'sand AAP’s charisma by renaming the Food Bill after Indira Gandhi. What made Indira Gandhi famous was she looked like someone who stood away from the syndicate, she stood for 'garibi hatao' (eliminate poverty). How far can Priyanka go with ‘garibi hatao’ slogan is a novice question. Congress could be in testing waters with the whole Priyanka Gandhi issue. They might compel her to take a plunge to save themselves from the recent assembly election debacles where Rahul Gandhi’s charisma failed miserably.
Everyone has been trying to invent news by portraying Priyanka Gandhi as the Congress trump card, although Priyanka Gandhi herself is aware that she is not the answer to Congress' current problems. Priyanka entering the fray at this point as a 'Saviour' might create huge problems leading to confusion in the minds of the people. However, should Congress decide to do it, now is the right time to use her against Modi's aggressive campaign style. Dynasty needs charisma in perpetuity to survive. Then there are other factors – will Sonia Gandhi contest these elections from Raebareilly? If she does not, who does, Rahul or Priyanka? Will one of the Gandhis opt for a southern destination? Priyanka is surely devoting much more time to a comeback after she faced a total rout of her party, zero seats in Raebareilly and two in Amethi in the 2012 UP Assembly elections.
Aam Aadmi Party’s spectacular run in Delhi has come as an interjection to the political discourse focused on Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. ArvindKejriwal will have to walk the talk. Wisdom says he will, or at least try, to bring change as the broom that swept away the Congress and halted BJP’s march to the podium can also sweep his party away from public consciousness. While the Congress had seen the 4-0 washout coming, it is the BJP that has to be on the watch as the Narendra Modi Express speeds its way towards Delhi. Kejriwal's promise of clean politics has thrown up new paradigms that no political party, not the least the BJP, can afford to ignore. The AAP story has amply exhibited the saleability of new ideas and the willingness of the people to buy it at face value. The time is ripe for change and the public is willing to experiment. AAP picked up the wave early – Jan Lokpal movement – and has been riding on it ever since. While Modi’s promise of replicating the Gujarat model of development elsewhere in the country has brought him close to the crown in Delhi, he would have to now start talking about the aspirations of the country as a whole and his ideas to achieve them. Priyanka must stop songs of Rahul Gandhi as a ‘giver’ “We gave you food security, we gave you right to education, we gave you right to ...”, the gratuitous approach won’t work anymore. Previously Rahul had a real chance to plunge into politics but he opted to learn and study the voters with his ‘youth’ ideology while Arvind proved that much of research with the Indian voters was not required but a proven slogan like Jan Lopkpal one worked.
Priyanka Gandhi has time and again asserted that she has no inclinations towards joining active politics. But that has not stopped her growing popularity among the people and she has turned out to be a crowd puller during the party's previous election campaigns. At the moment for the voters from an individual point of view, the first front seems to be Modi, second front Arvind, and the third front, Congress, which has not yet declared Rahul but seems to be opting for Priyanka as an third front. All these years, a popular slogan in Amethi in every election has been “Amethi ka danka, bitiya Priyanka (Amethi’s pride is its daughter Priyanka). But she had let it pass smilingly. When she had said, “I have said it a thousand times that I am not interested in joining politics” in 1999, people — both Congress men and opposition leaders, and even the media — had smiled indulgently. Priyanka Gandhi cannot defy tradition. In a changed and highly-surcharged scenario, her “interest” will not matter. Not anymore. The Congress will need her in the forefront more than ever before.
Priyanka was considered a good organiser and a level-headed leader of men, besides being a formidable strategist. She is believed to be her mother’s political advisor. She had once told BBC during a campaign: “Politics is not a strong pull, the people are. And I can do things for them without being in politics.” But in 2012, the Congress won only one assembly seat in the area despite Priyanka’s target of 10 out of 10, and her days as an apolitical leader came to an end. Now in 2014, even as the Congress pins hopes on her, the rivals are busy chalking out their strategies to corner the Congress in its favourite ground. And Priyanka, naturally, is at crossroads.
Already, the BJP is trying hard to hit her, with such slogans like “Her charisma is fading. It will not work against Narendra Modi”. The BJP is parading one more name — cousin Varun Gandhi, son of Rajiv’s younger brother Sanjay. He may contest from Sultanpur where his father started his political career in the 1970s.The BJP’s strategy is clear: The battle against the Congress first family in the 2014 general elections will be fought on their home turf. And with all eyes on UP, it will be nastier and bloodier this time. Meanwhile, Priyanka has completed restructuring of the party in Rae Bareli and begun building the Amethi unit. And, in the process, she has managed to change the party to some extent. “Leaders are not being thrust from the top anymore,” said a party worker. So, every effort will be made to scare her away demonstrating in a unique way, members of the Bharatiya Janata Party Mahila Morcha sold onions at a stall named after Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi in Govind Nagar on Friday. The onions in the stall were sold after being weighed on a machine used to measure gold.
The demand for Priyanka is not just sycophancy but also the real politics as she could be a strong match to the BJP prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Unlike Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka comes across as very tough and no nonsense persona – similar to that of Modi. She could give competition to Modi, who has an instant connect with women and the youngsters. She is a mix of Sonia’s compromise style and Rajiv Gandhi’s no-nonsense style. Unlike Rahul, she is a good communicator and media savvy, much like Modi. However, her husband Robert Vadra’s controversy could cast a shadow on her prospects. Sources have said that the Congress is watching Modi and his impact closely and if his magic doesn’t wane, the party may be forced to unleash the Priyanka charisma.Congress looks for a savior in Priyanka, who has also asked local leaders to give input and recommend changes to fortify the party bases in the region. Based upon these inputs, a “development report” will be prepared. The leader has set a three-month deadline for the task, and is holding weekly public meetings in Delhi with party leaders from the constituency, to assess progress.
The Gandhi charisma notwithstanding, it won’t be easy for Priyanka in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state (population 200 million) and politically most crucial. The state sends 80 members of Parliament (the highest of all Indian states) to the 552-member Lok Sabha. Besides, an increasingly corruption-fatigued and vigilant Indian electorate – which doesn’t think twice before joining ranks with anti-corruption crusaders like Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev– is demanding good governance. It doesn’t care if that governance is by a Gandhi scion or a nondescript politician. “The days of political entitlement are over,” says the voters perception “Whether you’re a Gandhi or a Gupta, you have to be accountable to the people and be efficient in your work. People will not vote for you otherwise. Will the move help resuscitate the party? The jury is still out on this one. Congress members concede that the lady possesses the star quality of her late grandmother and erstwhile prime minister Indira Gandhi and may just be able to tip the scales in her party’s favor. She is the true inheritor of her grandmother’s and her father Rajiv Gandhi’s legacy.
Even her critics concede that Priyanka will make for a formidable opponent. “She has an amazing organizational prowess, is pragmatic and has a commonsensical approach to things. The Congress could certainly do with those attributes at the moment. The Grand Old Party is facing the worst crisis in its 135-year-old history. The erosion of people’s trust in the Congress-led UPA government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a major cause for worry. The economic crisis, numerous scandals, open corruptions and the ensuing food inflation have broken the back of the common man, ironically the Congress’ largest vote bank. In fact, growth in gross domestic product plunging to a nine-year low of about 4-5% from 9% is a direct outcome of the meltdown of political credibility.
At a public meeting during the March assembly elections in UP, Priyanka told the teeming crowds who had assembled to hear her speak that the erstwhile ruling Bahujan Samaj Party helmed by Mayawati“betrayed you in the name of caste and religion. Where is the development here?” And the crowd roared back: “Aapaao, kaamkaro (You get elected and work here)!” The ball is now in Priyanka’s court.
To accept Modi as my PM:
- Should Modi be proven guilty in the court of law, he should tender a sincere and unconditional apology to Muslims for the post-Godhra riots.
- Modi should spell out a precise vision for India’s future - economic, political and social.
- He should be publically acceptable to at least 10 non-BJP parties that formed the NDA coalition.
- He should demonstrate his ability to build consensus - both within and outside his part.
- He should quit as Chief Minister of Gujarat after 4 to 5 months and travel across India, connecting with people.
- He should develop a better understanding of geopolitics and international relations than he has demonstrated so far.
- Modi must distance himself from the opportunist leaders like Dr Subramanian Swamy who can harm the party rather than proving to be ‘an advantage ’. His recent outburst in Mangalore against Rahul Gandhi calling him ‘buddhu’ and a 'drug addict' may not go well within the party. These kinds of uncalled for talks can cause harm with straightforward voters.
- He should make every Indian citizen specially the minority more comfortable in the interest of India as a secular country. He should stop thinking that votes from the majority are alone sufficient to win the elections and for rest of them (minority) ‘I care a damn’. At the end of the end, he would be ruling India and not the majority alone.
- He givs a positive sign too, praising Rahul for Congress party.
- Should he become flexible, it's a Yes to me. If not, my vote is for NOTA (none of the above).
To accept Priyanka as my PM:
- She should be successful in at least one public role that demonstrates her ability to govern, which she seems to be lacking to the core.
- Priyanka should end her splendid isolation and interact more openly and more often with the public.
- She should build and share a concrete vision for India.
- Her stand on key economic issues is made clearer.
- She should demonstrate leadership skills within her party without gluing to her mother and party.
- She projects Rahul Gandhi as the future prime minister and projects herself as his support .
- Priyanka should tie up with Left and Right or other parties…must stay away from RJD whose leader recently was sentenced in the fodder scam.
- She should portray herself as an independent leader coming out from the mask of grandmother, mother or brother’s shadow. Priyanka can join hands with now quite popular Anna Hazare who is riding high after the passing of the historic Lokpal Bill in the Lok Sabha.
- Should she deliver appropriately, it's a Yes to me; or else my vote is for NOTA (none of the above).