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Charisma, Connect and a Calculated Risk: Can Priyanka Gandhi Change the Fortunes of the Cong?

Though the optics of the Ganga Yatra and her striking resemblance to her grandmother may work for Priyanka, it’s no secret that that she faces a bumpy ride ahead.

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18_pallavighosh

Updated:March 24, 2019, 6:44 PM IST
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Charisma, Connect and a Calculated Risk: Can Priyanka Gandhi Change the Fortunes of the Cong?
Congress General Secretary UP-East Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is greeted by her supporters as she arrives at Assi Ghat, in Varanasi, Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (PTI Photo)
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In a candid admission to students of Allahabad University, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said her brother Rahul Gandhi got all the treats from her ‘dadi’ (grandmother) but once he went away to boarding, she was the sole recipient of the bounty.

As a politician, many would say Priyanka has had to wait her time. Despite growing clamour for her to enter politics, she took the step only after Rahul was made party president and ensured a long-awaited victory in the state polls. Some close to her said she chose her time to enter politics but almost all agree this could have been earlier.

Chasing Priyanka can be tough as she doesn’t stick to the schedule. Getting down suddenly and stopping the car when she spots people along the road, ticking off the SPG when they stop her — unlike Rahul, it’s clear that Priyanka is most comfortable when she is with the crowd. In fact, at some places, she adjusts party workers into her car, bringing an instant smile on their faces.

For instance, after she performed a puja, she saw me on another boat and asked me to come closer so that I could get a better picture. She, of course, refuses to speak separately. Love and comfort for the camera is Priyanka’s style and perhaps this is what comes closest to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s art of communication. The reason she chose the Ganga Yatra is because in UP especially and among Hindus, the Ganga holds a special place. This apart, Priyanka wrote to say the Ganga symbolises unity, which the BJP does not. For her first political campaign in this part of eastern UP, Priyanka made a conscious effort to choose areas that are the stronghold of the BJP.

She clearly made good use of her resemblance to grandmother Indira Gandhi, as did her party — like when she went to Anand Bhawan and put up pictures ahead of the Prayagraj leg of her tour. She wears saris that belong to her grandmother, quipping that since Indira Gandhi was short, she has to stitch together two of her saris for use. And like Indira, Priyanka projects herself as a tough nut to crack.

In fact, Priyanka used this during impromptu meetings as well as interactions with the media where she insisted that she was not scared of investigations. The Congress leader is of the opinion that no matter what, one needs to have a smile on their face and it is this belief she wants to be identified with.

At one point, the SPG advised her to cut short a visit at the Chunar hillfort as it was getting late and dark. But Priyanka refused to do so, aware that people were waiting for her. Jumping into a steam boat, she raced to the last spot of the day for her final rally. She would begin her day by visiting the most sacred temple of the area. When asked if she prayed for her brother, Priyanka said: “One should keep religion separate from politics.” As Priyanka visited temples, she made sure all rituals were followed and the ‘dupatta’ draped on her was left on till she was out of public view.

Though the optics may work for Priyanka, it’s no secret that that she faces a bumpy ride ahead. It’s a challenge to ensure cadre is enthused and victory may not be an easy one. This is why she tried to make use of all strategies to keep the momentum going — for instance, Savitri Bai Phule, a Dalit leader and entrant from BJP, was by Priyanka’s side in areas where there were many Dalit voters.

Priyanka met people living on the shores belonging to the minority and backward communities. Many were made to sit with her on the boat but there was always a special place for women — at every spot she made sure they were on her boat.

This is Priyanka’s first campaign in UP after being made general secretary. She is expected to go to Ayodhya and Rae Bareilly. She has a connect and a charisma that could have been used earlier but in the absence of a strong organisation, even those may not always work.

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