There are certain things that happen in political parties, usually about their top leaders, that no one really has any explanation for because no one other than the top person(s) are privy to such high-level decision making. And so, like all good mysteries, they are only explained by informed guesses and speculation. That’s true of several stories that emerge from the BJP about the top two, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who don’t include too many people in their decision making; that’s now also true of the sibling leadership in the Congress, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi.
And so no one in the Congress is quite sure what to make of Priyanka Gandhi’s silence during her much-hyped launch in Uttar Pradesh politics. Just like her Twitter account which stayed tweet-less although verified right from the start and gaining 116,000 followers in its first 24 hours, Ms Vadra wasn’t heard at all through the UP roadshow on Monday. On Monday morning, Lalbagh Church was the designated area where all reporters were told to be ready for a joint address. A senior leader from UP told NDTV the same at the start of the day, and so the media sat waiting, the party workers were waiting – but only Rahul Gandhi spoke. Some local leaders thought that opportunity might come when she inaugurated the media room at the Lucknow Congress office, but when the roadshow ended there, it was again a Rahul address; no words from the new General Secretary.
Of course, politicians are very adept at denying things and so by evening, when there were two Rahul Gandhi speeches and none from PGV, Congress members brushed it off as “Really, was she supposed to speak?” But insiders, NDTV spoke to, say that Ms Gandhi Vadra really wants to be sure about her message at her maiden public meeting. It’s strange to think that she’d be uncertain about her messaging or speech when she’s been campaign manager for her mother’s election since Bellary nearly 30 years ago and then as the main in-charge for Amethi and Raebareli for years. But there’s a difference between being Rahul or Sonia’s representative and speaking her own mind.
The other factor behind the radio silence at yesterday’s five-hour roadshow could be the delicate balance that the media managers of the Congress party are attempting. They do want all the noise and attention that Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics brings them, but they don’t want it to undermine their boss, Rahul Gandhi. Remember, the BJP’s pitched the entire episode as the party accepting Rahul’s limitations. So since the party president was in Uttar Pradesh just for a day, it’s his voice that the party, including Priyanka, reportedly wanted to amplify. His voice, his message, his favourite line- “Chowkidaar chor hai”. You couldn’t help but notice the fact that party supporters begging for PGV’s entry for the last two decades were staying away from “Priyanka Zindabad” slogans. It was all about Rafale including cut-outs of the plane.
The advantage of highlighting issues instead of personality may be a clever one for the Congress. As one BJP strategist told me, when you make it a presidential fight between two personalities, Modi stands to win. He spins it as an outsider versus entitled dynasts and gets popular support. Not just that, dialing down the hype also helps Priyanka ease the huge pressure riding on her shoulders. There’s just weeks to go before voting in UP and expecting her to deliver seats for the Congress party is pure day-dreaming. So as the wise strategist Prashant Kishor said, the Priyanka impact will be a long term-one for the Congress and she has no ‘magic wand’ that can deliver immediate returns. What she does have is a natural flair for pleasing people that politicians crave – that innate sense of saying things which capture public imagination. So when will the Congress party start exploiting that to the hilt?
(Sunetra Choudhury is Political Editor, NDTV.)
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