If politics is largely about optics, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra just scored a big hit in that department. On a day when she formally entered politics and took over as Congress’s general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka managed to finesse her image, so she comes across not just as the comely daughter of the Nehru-Gandhi line, but also as a dutiful wife who knows how to stand by her man.
Political Message Behind Priyanka Dropping Husband Off to ED Office
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra achieved this by the simple — and highly visible — strategy of dropping off her businessman husband Robert Vadra at the office of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), where he was to be questioned for alleged money laundering in connection with several properties he allegedly owns in London.
Priyanka told the media when she came to the AICC headquarters afterwards:
"I stand by my husband... I support my husband, I support my family." - Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to media
It was, of course, a political message — one that signified that Priyanka and the Congress brass were backing Vadra to the hilt, no matter how hard the authorities came after the Gandhi family damaad in this election season.
But it shaded in another, more powerfully political, narrative. Priyanka’s declaration of support for her husband is an irresistible sentiment in a country as traditional and patriarchal as India.
People in the countryside may or may not be seduced by her dynastic cred, they may or may not be attracted to her sunny smile, but a woman who fights for her husband’s honour is bound to endear herself to male and female voters alike.
Priyanka Gandhi’s ‘Victim Card’ Might Do The Trick
Indeed, if the ED arrests Robert Vadra (and irrespective of whether or not he is truly tainted), Priyanka could well derive significant political mileage from it. “Look at me”, she might say, “they are victimising my family because I want to serve you and give you a better life”.
It could translate into a double bonanza for the Congress: the party not only gets a charismatic leader, but a charismatic leader who can play the victim card. And we know the victim card works. It has certainly worked well for the BJP’s chief vote-getter.
The BJP has greeted Priyanka’s entry into politics with the usual panoply of insults and slighting epithets. Apart from sneering at her lack of experience, BJP leaders have variously described her as “bipolar”, “bachchi” “homely” and “chocolatey”.
There’s no doubt that in the run-up to the polls, the ruling party will go all out to portray Priyanka as just another “pretty face”, an inconsequential airhead, who has been summoned into the field by her brother, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, in a desperate attempt to revive the party’s fortunes in Uttar Pradesh. Congress currently holds only two parliamentary seats in UP —the Gandhi family buroughs of Amethi and Raebareli.
Can’t Dismiss Priyanka Gandhi as a ‘Goongi Gudiya’
In addition, the BJP may choose to attack Priyanka on account of her husband's alleged misdeeds. At a time when Rahul Gandhi tirelessly claims that astronomical corruption took place in securing the Rafale deal, the BJP might choose to make Vadra the centrepiece of its own narrative against a “corrupt” Congress-led UPA. With the 2G and Commonwealth Games ‘scams’ having all but faded from public memory, Vadra could be the focal point of the BJP’s ‘stop-the-corrupt-Congress’ campaign in the upcoming general elections.
But with Priyanka in the fray, the strategy could become complicated for the BJP. First, the party would be foolish to dismiss her as a ‘goongi gudiya’ redux (Priyanka’s grandmother Indira was famously described as one before she executed a ‘surgical strike’ on all those who challenged her).
Even while she was in the margins of politics, Priyanka revealed herself to be quick of wit and sharp of repartee. Moreover, she has reportedly been in on Congress’s political confabulations for some years now. She could well show considerable political acumen now that she has thrown her hat into the ring.
Watch Out Modi Ji! Priyanka Could Steal Your Airtime
Second, if the BJP tries to make political capital out of Robert Vadra’s alleged financial wrongdoing, it would at once have to deal with Priyanka’s adarsh bharatiya naari image of a wife who stands firmly by her embattled husband. She has made that clear already. In the West, the ‘stand-by-your-man’ narrative has been tinged with scorn. Hillary Clinton never quite lived down her support of Bill Clinton in the face of his multiple sexual peccadilloes.
But in India, the “ideal” wife who supports her husband through thick and thin, the woman who valiantly tries to shield her family from harm, is an object of admiration and reverence.
And you can be sure that Priyanka will play to that sentiment when she goes to woo the voters in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Add to that, the gazillions of media attention and airtime that Priyanka will command — she could give the Prime Minister a run for his money here — and you get the feeling that the Gandhi daughter has it in her to be a thorn in BJP’s side.
Indians like to enter into familial relationships with their female politicians. A Didi, a Behen, an Amma — they are sisters or mothers to them. Priyanka is clearly following in that tradition. The coming weeks will show if she becomes the beti whom people adore for being the ideal wife.
(Shuma Raha is a journalist and author based in Delhi. She tweets at @ShumaRaha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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