If Congress uses Priyanka Gandhi as Brahmastra, will Narendra Modi unleash Brahmadanda to neutralise it?

Srinivasa Prasad
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is likely to address a press conference at around 7 pm in Lucknow on Thursday.

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi is being described as a Brahmastra that the party is firing at Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Priyanka hasn't objected to this metaphor. Nor has Congress denied it's using her as Lord Brahma's missile. This silence is astonishing for two reasons.

One is that Brahmastra is labelled in Hindu epics as a "weapon of last resort". It was used in mythological wars only when all other 'astras' to defeat the enemy were either exhausted or considered duds. The tacit admission by Congress that Priyanka is its Brahmastra can only mean that its war against Modi and his BJP has taken a hopeless turn. It also means that the R-missiles Congress has used €" Rahul and Rafale €" have utterly failed, and BJP can only be vanquished by the invincible B-missile.

That brings us to the second reason why the whole thing is so baffling. Is Brahmastra really invincible? Hindu mythology, which says it's invincible, also says it isn't €" at least not always. Epics that talk of the B-missile also mention other B-series weapons. Brahmastra isn't just one thing. It has different versions like, for instance, the BrahMos missile, whose name comes from the first letters of India's Brahmaputra and Russia's Moskva rivers and which the two countries have jointly developed.

Brahmastra vs Brahmadanda

Brahmadanda was another version of Brahmastra. In his celestial wisdom, Lord Brahma found it necessary to create Brahmadanda as an antidote for his own Brahmastra. It's a good thing that he did it. When sage Vishvamitra fired Brahmastra against Maharishi Vasishta, it was swallowed by the latter's Brahmadanda. Lord Hanuman too survived Brahmastra when Indrajit dispatched it in his direction.

Those who call Priyanka a Brahmastra have only read one half of Hindu mythology. The other half leaves open the question of Modi using a Brahmadanda to neutralise it. But even if Priyanka isn't as unbeatable as Modi-baiters are making her out to be, the danger of her deployment to Modi in eastern Uttar Pradesh and, by corollary, in the rest of India can't be shrugged off altogether.

That's not because she has a proven track record of attracting voters like a magnet draws iron filings. It's only because she is a new weapon that Congress would be firing, and any good fighter would be wary of untested weaponry. Despite some lost battles in recent state Assembly elections, BJP can depend upon Modi to be a good fighter who would refuse to underestimate Priyanka.

Wishful thinking

But overestimating Priyanka would be just as harebrained as underestimating her is foolhardy. The ecstatic song-and-dance in Congress and sections of media which are in love with the dynasty are based on unproven theories and hypotheses of the wishful-thinking kind. One is that she will cut into BJP's upper caste votes. She might, and that could harm BJP.

But Priyanka might also end up dividing the anti-Modi vote in Uttar Pradesh in a way that could help BJP. If the chances of such an eventuality force SP and BSP in UP to come to some kind of an understanding with Congress, the party may benefit from it, and that's what Modi would be wary of.

The common refrain among those celebrating Priyanka's appointment is that she will jazz up the party's dishevelled machinery. That could happen in a state where Congress has hit an abysmal depth. The party can only come up because it isn't possible to go any further down. But enthusing cadres isn't exactly the same thing as enthusing voters.

All that we know of Priyanka so far is that she is equipped with a natural skill to charm listeners. I could see it as early as 1999 in Bellary (now called Ballari) where Sonia was contesting against BJP's Sushma Swaraj. Congress supporters and some dynasty-loving senior journalists from Delhi transported themselves to cloud nine just by watching her walk "gracefully" behind her mother.

It was evident even then that she connected with voters better than her mother. When Sonia spoke, she seemed as if she was reading the shopping list at the grocer's, but the daughter no doubt held the attention of listeners.  There were, of course, comments about Priyanka's face being a Xerox copy of Indira Gandhi's and about the way she tilted her chin "just like" her grandmother. Similarities extend to hair and nose, and even to the way she joins her palms in a namaste like Indira. We are also told that she has the same glow in her face that Indira apparently had, though many of us missed it. And we are informed that Priyanka has even kept some of her grandmother's saris.

Memories of 'Classic Coke'

In sum, the biggest quality of Priyanka that the family's crawling and cringing admirers are trumpeting about €" though she herself keeps a dignified silence €" is that she is a duplicate of Indira Gandhi.

That's what makes the launch of an Indira-lookalike in the political market look suspiciously like a corporate stratagem to rebrand old brands. For instance, when its old product was untenable, Coca Cola rebranded it as New Coke and, when that didn't work, the original was brought back as Coke Classic.

The Priyanka-Indira comparisons are, however, grossly unfair to her. Priyanka is Priyanka and not the clone of somebody else even it's her grandmother. To be fair, her entry into politics is also not a sudden event. She has been around, dabbling in politics. If Rahul Gandhi is to be believed, she delayed her formal entry into politics only because of her growing children. The real reason for this delay may never be authentically known.

Priyanka's political debut isn't sudden, but her appointment as a general secretary is. That's what raises questions about the intentions behind it.

And that also raises another question of shame €" an affront to healthy democracy. Whether India will be Congress-mukt or not, Congress may never be dynasty-mukt.

Author tweets @sprasadindia

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