With Priyanka Gandhi's Entry, Family Welfare Model Returns

Sonia Gandhi as Godmother, guide and philosopher, Rahul Gandhi as party president and Priyanka Gandhi as party general secretary. Can Robert Vadra be far behind? The family welfare model is now in place. With this fantastic model of aggrandizement of family ambition, the Congress will fight the 2019 general election to save democracy from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has no family to save.

Is it that I am getting the idea of democracy wrong or the Congress party's definition of democracy is different from what is generally understood? The Congress's desperation is not difficult to fathom. Ever since Narendra Modi, with zero political pedigree, transformed and democratized polity in a big way,the family business model has been in huge trouble. Till 2014 it used to be said that the Indian politics is all about the aggregate of two dozen feudal family peccadilloes. Modi changed that. Now all families are gathering steam in the engine of the "mahagathbandhan" (Grand Alliance) to save family fiefdoms, with the slogan "anybody but Modi". Will the country take them seriously? So far it has not. That is why the last weapon in their armory is out and in active politics.

Family retainers and the power corridor-frequenting commentators always thought that only Priyanka can save the family. Because they thought she has what her grandmother had - looks, appeal and the killer instinct. In fact, she was always in politics; only that the family's acolytes were not satisfied with her limited in-house role. They wanted her in full command, out in the open. This section will be delighted. The sartorial splendor will add the extra ounce of glamour to the dull family melodrama so far inefficiently played by the crown prince.

What is the political significance of this final entry after a long, two-decade wait? Will it roll back the march of Indian democracy? Will it send tremors in the NDA camp? Or will it upset Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati, who are just short of thundering from the rooftops that Rahul Gandhi is not their choice and they will dominate the opposition top slot?

Priyanka Gandhi's entry makes no significant difference to the NDA's strategy. Rather, it reinforces Narendra Modi's accusation that the opposition is all about perpetuating the family's loot of the nation. Priyanka was desisting so far the temptation of openly entering politics because of the long shadow of Robert Vadra's business deals. Even when Rahul repeatedly failed to click, Priyanka was asked to stay back by Congress strategists because of the fear of the Vadra taint that was expected to come up for scrutiny.

By promoting Priyanka, the Congress has exposed two things. One, that it no more considers corruption and dynastic politics as issues that matter to voters. Two, it is an admission that Rahul Gandhi has not impressed the opposition ranks enough to fall under the Congress umbrella for a "mahagathbandhan" or grand coalition.

Priyanka's debut will certainly unsettle the opposition frontline. It will also raise questions about Rahul Gandhi's leadership abilities. There will be suggestions that the sister lead the Congress campaign against the NDA in the national polls. Will she be projected as the Congress prime ministerial candidate?


Priyanka as general secretary will limit the scope for other general secretaries and legitimize the interventions of Robert Vadra in party affairs. Now the party can openly defend Vadra's corporate interests and share the stink of his controversial dealings. This shows the Congress has lost the battle of ideas to the BJP. The Modi phenomenon is about development, national equity and aspiration. The Congress is offering nothing better than family and more family. It is not what young India is looking for.

Priyanka Gandhi is not fresh politics. Her political worth might be untested but she has campaigned often in Uttar Pradesh. She has not actually set the Yamuna on fire. It might help the Congress bargain better with the Samajwadi Party and the BSP in UP. Rahul Gandhi is no crowd puller. The Congress might calculate that Priyanka will help the party attract a respectable crowd in rallies. Now the Congress has three power centres, all in the family. At best, Priyanka will reassure Congress supporters and strengthen the family's hold on the party. When Rahul Gandhi announced the entry of his sister into active politics certifying her as "competent", everybody took it in their stride. This was not any ground-breaking declaration.

For Priyanka, it is a long, hard road ahead.

(Dr R. Balashankar is Member, BJP Central Committee on Training, and Committee on Publications and former Convener BJP National Intellectual Cell and former Editor Organiser.)

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