Two important images stand out from Priyanka Gandhi’s protest over the Hathras gang-rape and murder case. As the Congress did ‘Halla Bol’ and was determined to go to Hathras led by the Gandhis, Priyanka Gandhi stood out for two acts. And both have to do with messaging from the brutal death of the victim.
One was Priyanka Gandhi suddenly getting out of her car and walking up to the driver’s seat and taking the wheel. The second was the fierce defence of her party workers who were being jostled by police on the DND, in the process being pushed around herself.
So what’s the messaging on this and what has this got to do with the Hathras rape? The rape tells the story of the vulnerability of a woman, especially if she belongs to a backward caste or is a Dalit. While rape cannot and should not be bound by only caste, religion or region, the harsh reality in many parts of India, especially in states like UP, is that if you are a woman and if you are a Dalit you are doubly vulnerable. You may be used as a tool to settle scores and justice may often be denied. All this when we talk about women empowerment. The Hathras campaign is as much about justice for a rape victim and her family as it is for the power of a woman.
In this sense, the images of Priyanka Gandhi behind the wheel and also saving a worker from a police lathi can be seen as this fight for woman empowerment in a state where a woman is considered best sitting at home.
More importantly, it’s a message in what could turn up to a big battle for the next assembly elections. With the SP and BSP almost invisible in the Hathras protests, the battle could be just between the Congress and the BJP. And it could be Yogi Adityanath versus Priyanka Gandhi. A man versus a woman.
While there is no decision yet on whether Priyanka Gandhi will be the CM face, the Congress feels a woman card could work in the state. The party feels the card of constant comparisons to Indira Gandhi and projecting Priyanka as a fierce woman ready to take on male domination could work.
The Yogi factor and the Ram Mandir are two very potent forces for the BJP in the state, combined with the Modi charisma. But a woman challenging a man is another powerful narrative that can come in handy. Priyanka Gandhi’s no-nonsense, no-frills look, dressed simply in Indian clothes while in UP, are a part of this makeover and imaging. And for the workers, the Didi factor seems to be working. If Mayawati’s ‘Dalit ki beti’ and strict image worked, Priyanka Didi is best to take on the man. And each time a Priyanka Gandhi at the wheel or with a lathi sets out to take on women empowerment issues, it’s a political message. And these images add to the C-factor.