Guest post by BOBBY KUNHU
At this important political juncture in Indian polity, anything that seems to give hope of seeing the last of the absurd and nightmarish theatre that has been happening in the name of governance for the last four odd years, would definitely be welcome to any rational person with elementary notions of value and justice – across ideological spectrum. This is the reason why I believe that Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics is well timed and strategic – ensuring that she is discussed in all possible terms across the board. Everyone who hates, loves or is even indifferent is in a tizzy at her entry – and till now Priyanka seems to be taking the publicity, including the hate publicity with grace and equanimity! This does not however mean or show how the polity is going to react to Priyanka’s entry into politics, because despite the timing, even many of the usual Modi fans in the media have announced the end of the Modi era, at least for the time being.
Now what Priyanka would bring on board for the Congress fortunes or how she would affect BJP’s voter base is not the point, but many of the reasons for the jubilation around Priyanka’s entry should worry any reasonable person, for they are problematic and prove that as long as Indian political discourse is dominated by savarnas from the left or the right is beyond redemption from hegemony. In classical Indian hagiographic style, the celebration dismisses the historical factors that led to the rise of Hindutva fascism in India and seems to be dangerously trying to reinvent those very factors moving the polity further to the right. At this moment, it would be pertinent and important to warn ourselves on the dangerous road that this is.
First of all, within the Congress and a cross section of Congress supporters there is the celebration of Priyanka’s entry as the return of Indira and expectations to perform, deliver and behave like Indira. It is embarrassing that a cross section, not just from the Congress is trying to sell this idea as revolutionary and a huge savarna literati is happily lapping it up (simply because she she looks like her grandmother!) and celebrating it – is casteist spiel at its best. Apart from belittling Priyanka and her individuality, a celebration in anticipation of a return to the Indira era is insulting to the memory of the victims of violence under her leadership during the emergency, the Punjab purges and so on. It sounds frightening to say the least that there is a section of Indian population that romanticizes a return to despotic tyranny. Imagine twenty years from now, the Modi bhakts celebrating a younger look alike of Modi entering politics as a return to the “glorious” era of Modi politics!
Then there are those who are celebrating Priyanka for having been born into the right class and brought up properly with proper educational qualifications unlike Modi. I am still reeling under the impact of this absurd comparison, especially coming on social media from people who claim to be politically aligned to the mainstream left. Shouldn’t it be a political qualification that a marginalized person can become the Prime Minister of India and isn’t that the lie that Modi has been peddling for years going on about his origins as a tea seller. There is this wholesale selling of Priyanka’s merit – overlooking the fact that she had a lateral entry into the position of power very much like her brother, mother and father – and has hardly done any grassroots work – propelled to power over many party workers who have slogged their way up the party hierarchy moving an inch at a time. Apart from her family, many media forums have focused on her practice of Vipassana and Buddhism as her primary qualification. In what I see as a humorous and caste apologetic opinion piece, Shekhar Gupta claims that Priyanka has more rootedness, focus and sense of destiny than Rahul and lauds Priyanka as having taken up the challenge of battling it out in a non safe zone which is also the stronghold of BJP bigwigs Modi and Yogi. Since savarnas are unwilling to own up to their privilege as caste, they prefer the sobriquet of dynasty – which is a denial of participation in the caste system.
Then there are a few friends who believe that the entry of Priyanka is a feminist twist in the tale. There can be no doubt that entry of more and more women, especially in powerful situations is welcome towards a gender just society, but to call Priyanka’s entry a feminist moment is a long stretch. First of all, the party has made it clear what Priyanka would be used for, experimentally mobilizing Eastern Uttar Pradesh back for the Congress – not as a pan-Indian strategist, where the party is unlikely to win any seats without regional alliances. So, even a single victory would be celebrated. She would of course be used as a star campaigner elsewhere, but not at all as a focal leader, but as add on. She will have to work within the misogyny that the Congress has been increasingly unleashing and I don’t think that Priyanka’s presence is going to make any difference to that discourse, whether in Sabarimala or in the Parliament. On the other hand, as Neerja Chaudhury speculates quite convincingly, Priyanka has always been behind the scenes in Congress decision making and that it basically shows Rahul’s political coming of age and it is his decision to propel Priyanka onto the visible political stage. The basis of her argument is that Congress has been doing well in the past few elections and Priyanka will be an add on to Rahul. This doesn’t sound feminist to me at all.
It is still unclear how Priyanka’s entry into politics will translate into votes, but it is happening at a time when the Modi juggernaut seems to be coming to an end, particularly in UP. The India Today Karvy Insights Mood of the Nation polls predicts only 18 seats for the BJP in a three cornered fight and 5 in a one to one fight, while the Congress will get only 4 if it goes alone. The other states that Priyanka can make a difference for Congress are probably Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand – in upsetting the already low benchmark that the NDA is fighting for. But how much and how effectively needs to be seen.
At the end of the day, from whichever vantage one wants to see Priyanka’s entry into politics, it is important not to romanticize it and give it a reading that would recreate conditions for the fostering of right wing Hindutva politics. It is important to critique the Congress and get them to know that despite the possibility of the popular sentiment being with them, they are being scrutinized and their bigotry cannot pass muster as well!