Can Priyanka match Modi’s oratory? Scales more evenly balanced (Column: Political Circus)

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Is Priyanka Vadra the brahmastra (the ultimate weapon) of Rahul Gandhi directed only at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or is one of the Congress president’s targets also the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) combine in Uttar Pradesh?

While the BJP is obviously the Congress’s main adversary, politics in India can rarely be depicted in black and white. There are shades of grey which blur the outlines of friends and foes.

There is little doubt that the Congress was miffed by the peremptory decision of the SP and the BSP to treat Uttar Pradesh as an exclusive bailiwick of their own by keeping out the Congress from their own state-level mini-gathbandhan by allotting the 134-year party only two seats out of 80 for the forthcoming general election.

The blow of the exclusion could have been softened by a few kind words, as the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav subsequently did by expressing his “respect” for Rahul Gandhi. But the BSP’s Mayawati was unduly harsh as she has been ever since she abruptly broke off the seat-sharing talks with the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Following the uncalled for snub in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress vowed to contest all the 80 seats in the state. Priyanka Vadra’s appointment as the party’s general secretary for eastern Uttar Pradesh (Jyotiraditya Scindia has been chosen for the western half) may well be related to the extra effort which the Congress will have to put in to make its presence felt in a state where it hasn’t fared well for a decade.

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It goes without saying that the SP-BSP combine will not be too pleased with a reinvigorated Congress taking the field because there is little doubt that the Congress cadres will be greatly enthused by the formal induction of a charismatic scion of the party’s first family for whom they have long been waiting.

Will this stirring at the ground level induce the SP-BSP combine to take a fresh look at its virtual hogging of the seats by taking 75 of them – SP 37, BSP 38, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) three and the Congress two?

At the moment, the SP, the BSP and the RLD expect that they have an unbreachable support base of backward castes, jatavs and jats.

Now, they will expect a revived Congress to wean away the upper castes from the BJP, thereby securing a foolproof winning caste arithmetic for the “secular” parties.

But it is also possible that a three-way division of votes between the SP-BSP-RLD, the Congress and the BJP will help the latter, especially if the Muslim votes are divided between the SP-BSP-RLD and the Congress.

In addition, Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that the Congress will not be playing on the back foot, which is already evident from the party’s decision to have no truck with the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, means that the claims about fielding one “secular” candidate against the BJP in each constituency will not come true in some states.

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As a result, the dampening effect on the talk of a national-level mahagathbandhan is easy to imagine.

Priyanka Vadra’s entry, therefore, can have an unsettling effect which may not always be beneficial for the Congress in the matter of winning friends and influencing people.

However, the political energy which she is likely to infuse into the Congress with her communication skills and a lively, empathetic interaction with the crowds can bolster her brother’s claims to be the Prime Minister.

Already, Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy has echoed DMK leader M.K. Stalin’s call for making Rahul Gandhi the “secular” combine’s prime ministerial face.

This turn of events will not please either the Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee – Kumaraswamy has said that he was misquoted about making her the PM – or the BSP’s Mayawati.

While these rumbles among the secularists will please the BJP, it will also have to take note of its ally, the Shiv Sena’s observation that Priyanka Vadra’s entry into big time politics is in keeping with the achhe din (good days) which have come for the Congress ever since it won the three assembly elections in north and central India.

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While one Shiv Sena spokesperson reiterated the commonly articulated resemblance between Indira Gandhi and her granddaughter, another noted the “rishta” (relationship) which the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has had with the people of India.

It is a stance which is diametrically opposite to the BJP’s constant criticism of the Congress dynastism and the supposed political and economic follies of Jawaharlal Nehru and his progenies.

Since the BJP is dependent on Narendra Modi’s oratorical skills, it cannot but be wary of Priyanka Vadra’s forays in this field since she may present a kind of challenge which the BJP hasn’t faced in the last four-and-a-half years.

The BJP will also carefully watch Priyanka Vadra’s capacity to attract crowds to see whether she matches Nehru’s and Indira Gandhi’s magnetism.

What the national opposition has lacked so far is a leader who can take on Modi on his own terms in the matter of eloquence and popular appeal since Rahul Gandhi, by his own admission, never quite measured up to these exacting demands. Now the scales are more evenly balanced.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

–IANS

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