Familial Face: On Priyanka Gandhi Becoming Party Secretary
Priyanka Gandhi can be a star campaigner, but the Congress still needs to flesh out its vision
In appointing his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as a general secretary of the party, Congress president Rahul Gandhi probably calculated that the benefits outweighed the risks. While the BJP lost no time in decrying the move as another instance of dynastic politics, the high-stakes manoeuvre could lift the profile of the Congress as a serious contender in the general election. In Uttar Pradesh, where it has been left high and dry in the seat-sharing deal between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, it sorely needs a dramatic turnaround in political fortunes. While her formal induction into politics may have been prompted by a number of factors, including the ill-health of her mother, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh was surely meant as a signal to the SP and the BSP. Although her only previous formal role in politics was as the party’s campaign manager in Amethi and Rae Bareli, constituencies of her brother and mother, Ms. Vadra is high on charisma quotient, that intangible but nonetheless real quality that saw crowds gather in the party’s pocket boroughs. The Nehru-Gandhi lineage aside, Ms. Vadra commands a stage presence, helped no doubt by a resemblance to her grandmother Indira Gandhi. Whether she will take her mother’s place in Rae Bareli is not clear as yet, but this is a suggestion that there could be a long-term role.
In many ways, the nomination is an admission of the party’s over-reliance on the family, but to the credit of Mr. Gandhi, he has been engaging in wider consultations within the party on important decisions. The Congress is still a centralised party, and Mr. Gandhi is routinely authorised to take the final call on all matters big and small; but, equally, he has also shown the ability to step back in a spirit of accommodation in dealings with allied parties. That he did not declare himself as a prime ministerial candidate of the Opposition was born of tactical necessity; even so, he has shown a fair amount of maturity in dealing with a wide array of allies. During the Manmohan Singh years, the Congress was able to counter, to an extent at least, the perception that it revolved around the dynasty. And the BJP may not find much political purchase in linking Ms. Vadra’s appointment to dynastic politics; there will be no surprise, however, if it starts harping on her husband’s allegedly murky land dealings, which had cropped up during the 2014 election campaign. What should engage the Congress is not what the BJP may say about Ms. Vadra, but what she can say and do for it. The party needs much more than a star campaigner; it needs leaders that can revitalise the organisation by presenting it as an alternative to the BJP. For that, it will have to come up with a truly inclusive, egalitarian vision that privileges all-round development above all else.