• September 30, 2020 12:54 am

Reporting From Delhi

Reincarnation of the ‘Iron Lady’?

ByMihir Srivastava

Jul 22, 2020

Priyanka Gandhi is trying to portray herself as the true successor of the ‘Iron Lady’ of India — Indira Gandhi. Is it enough to harp about the past to secure a better future for the Congress party?

India’s grand old party is in trouble. The debacle in the general elections, followed by the loss of state government in Madhya Pradesh can be seen as nails in the coffin. Young blood is in a defiant mood—Jyotiraditya Scindia opted out and now Sachin Pilot has been shown his place, while the old guard is not ready to ease its grip on the party. The Gandhi family is not able to provide the leadership that the party desperately needs in this testing time to keep the flock together.

Rahul Gandhi quit as the Congress chief after the defeat in the general elections last year. The responsibility went back to Sonia Gandhi, while a full-time replacement is yet to be found. No one in the party is willing to stick their neck out to say that Congress needs a leadership outside the Gandhi family.

While Rahul seems to have given up, Priyanka has come to the political forefront, with the necessary encouragement by her husband Robert Vadra. Instead of taking a plunge into the national politics, and cause embarrassment to her brother Rahul—who’s facing an existential crisis in his political career having lost the family stronghold, Amethi constituency to Smriti Irani – Priyanka has confined her politics to reclaim the most populous state of India, Uttar Pradesh (UP).

She is using social media to communicate regularly to attack policies and actions of the Yogi Adityanath government in UP. The use of social media as a political tool is an art that she has to learn from her prime political adversary—Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

And to make these video pronouncements, to talk directly to the voters, both Priyanka and Rahul have undergone a discernible makeover. Rahul — clean-shaven, donning a shirt instead of white kurta, looks his age in recent videos where he eloquently talks about the idea of India, and how the BJP is destroying it. But he is more emotive than political, rhetorical rather than critical.

One the other hand, Priyanka concentrates on issues of the farmer, labour, employment and wages, Dalit oppression, and such issues which have direct voteback ramifications, in her two-minute video talk. More like issuing a statement, in classical Hindi, not so much colloquial, with an officious tone, reminiscent of her grandmother Indira Gandhi.

In her latest avatar, Priyanka Gandhi sports a pair of broad-rimmed reading glasses and a developing white streak of hair

To raise these micro issues on social media, she too has undergone a makeover. She has put to good use her resemblance with Indira Gandhi. It seems part of a larger political strategy that she should impersonate her grandmother while she makes political pronouncements. In her latest avatar, she sports a pair of broad-rimmed reading glasses and a developing white streak of hair. The tone in which she speaks is unmistakeably that of Indira Gandhi. 

This resemblance is not purely for genetic reasons, but, as a senior leader who was actively trying to rope in estranged Sachin Pilot back in the party folds, puts it, “To tell demoralised party cadres across the country that she, like her grandmother, will resurrect the party, bring it back to power, and rescue the annihilation of values by the incumbents that are enshrined in the Constitution.”

There’s no denying the fact that despite being out of power for six years, the Nehru-Gandhis remain the first political family of India and Priyanka is the last hope if the Gandhis are to retain political clout. Even leaders within the party object to Rahul and Priyanka harping about their legacy. “People want to know what you have to offer apart from the criticism of Modi and the BJP,” says a former minister in UPA who’s also a leading lawyer.

But reliving the past has become almost habitual for the Gandhi scion. Perhaps, they think harping the name of their distinguished ancestors might herald them back to power.

Like a few months ago, Priyanka was sent notices by the BJP government in UP over her comments after seven girls were found pregnant in a shelter home in the state. 

She famously retorted, “They can take whatever action they want. I will keep putting forth the truth. I’m Indira Gandhi’s granddaughter, not an undeclared BJP spokesperson like some of the opposition leaders.” In simpler words, asserting her lineage, and painting the whole opposition in one colour, of course, barring the Congress party, seems to be the only viable strategy left.

Soon she was given a reality check when she was served an eviction notice from  her 2,765 sq m bungalow at 35, Lodhi estate. All three members of the first family — mother Sonia, brother Rahul and herself — were allotted separate bungalows in Lutyens’ Delhi. Her mother and brother are senior parliamentarians, many-time MPs. She’s not.  

Allotment of a bungalow to her was justified because she was, along with her mother and brother, under SPG (Special Protection Group) protection since 1991. It was withdrawn in November last year and they were, instead, given Z plus security cover. The Congress party had opposed the move and called it a political vendetta.

The Directorate of Estates stated in its notice, “Consequent upon withdrawal of SPG protection and grant of Z+ security cover by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which does not have provision for allotment/retention of government accommodation on security grounds to you (Gandhi), the allotment of Type 6B House No. 35, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi is hereby cancelled w.e.f 01/07/2020.” Further, “One month concessional period on the same rent up to August 1 is allowed as per rules,” and as per the records she owes the exchequer “accumulated Rs 3,46,677 dues as on June 30, 2020.”  She has also been issued notice to clear her dues.

The political wheeler-dealers of the Congress party swung into action so that Priyanka can retain the bungalow. Urban Development Minister, who’s in charge of the estate department, tweeted, “A powerful Congress leader with much clout in the Party called me on 4 July 2020 at 12:05 pm to request that 35, Lodhi Estate be allotted to another INC MP so that Priyanka Vadra can stay on.” Something that Priyanka has refuted it by saying, “This is FAKE NEWS. I have not made any such request to the government. As per the eviction letter handed to me on the 1st of July, I will be vacating the government accommodation at 35 Lodhi Estate by the 1st of August.”

But PM Modi, who has been subjected to vicious political attacks from the Gandhis, in what is claimed as “an act of generosity” has allowed “Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to retain the 35, Lodhi Estate Bungalow for some time,” states IANS Special release. “PM’s move once again validated his large heartedness… Sources close to developments revealed that when the matter was brought to Modi’s notice, he said that her request most certainly be accepted.”  

The grand old party of India needs a new vision for the future. Gandhis should know this: the past is not the key to the future if Congress is to revive its political capital. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.