Timing of Priyanka Gandhi's arrival in politics shows Congress sees this as best chance to attack BJP, Modi
Unlike her brother who has failed to enthuse voters and is a subject of mirth and ridicule among a section of voters, Priyanka starts with a clean slate
Two simultaneous political events since December have created the conditions for Priyanka's arrival
First, the BJP's aura of invincibility has faded because of electoral setbacks in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh
Second, in the North East, the BJP is in trouble because of the controversial citizenship bill that has led to a furore in Assam
The 12th Century bard Chand Bardai is credited for an immortal line in his epic poem on the life of Prithviraj Chauhan: Tau par sultan hai, mat chuke Chauhan. (the sultan — Mohammad Ghauri — is within striking distance, don't miss the opportunity, Chauhan).
These lines can be rephrased to explain the timing of Priyanka Gandhi's entry into active politics — a decision announced by the Congress on Wednesday. For the Congress, this is the best time in five years to attack Narendra Modi; it simply cannot afford to miss the opportunity. So, it has unleashed what party workers and leaders call its Brahmastra — a weapon that never misses the target.
Two simultaneous political events since December have created the conditions for Priyanka's arrival. For starters, the BJP's aura of invincibility has faded because of electoral setbacks in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. In the North East, the BJP is in trouble because of the controversial citizenship bill that has led to a furore in Assam. As a result, two of the BJP's potential bastions — the Hindi heartland and the North East — are under siege.
Meanwhile, the Opposition has got its act together. In Uttar Pradesh, the BSP-Samajwadi Party-RLD combine is threatening to not just defeat but trounce the BJP. A recent poll by India Today predicts that the BJP will win just 15 seats in the state that contributed 73 MPs to its tally in the previous election. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has stopped the BJP's juggernaut and dampened the saffron spirit by aggressively projecting herself as the face of the Opposition, a ploy that will help her gain electorally.
With the BJP under attack in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and the North East, the Congress realised it needed to strike hard in the Hindi heartland to trap the BJP in the Opposition chakravyuha. But, the party also knew that attacking the BJP with Rahul Gandhi as its leader was fraught with risks. The problem with the Congress president is well known: In a head-to-head contest with Modi, he is a lightweight who could have been easily knocked out.
Even in states where the Congress won the recent Assembly polls, the chatter on the ground suggested voters just don’t buy the idea of Rahul as prime minister even if the Congress is acceptable to them. He is considered an inferior brand compared to Modi and, thus, someone whom voters don't want to be seen endorsing. The Congress needed a choice, its cadres needed new josh and its potential voters needed a viable political option. Since nobody can stop an idea whose time has come, enter Priyanka Gandhi.
The BJP should be wary of Priyanka and the impact she can have on the 2019 elections. Over the next three months, she will attract huge crowds as a star campaigner. Those who have seen and heard Priyanka in Amethi and Raebareli guarantee that she will match Modi word for word, gesture for gesture, sob for sob, and slogan for slogan. The media will give her enormous weightage and footage. She will be both seen and heard, giving the Congress a lot of visibility and bringing it on par with the BJP in the battle of optics, theatrics and TRPs. For a party low on poll funds, she is a godsend.
Unlike her brother who has failed to enthuse voters and is a subject of mirth and ridicule among a section of voters, Priyanka starts with a clean slate. The BJP will attack her as another 'naamdar' who has entered the fray. But other than that, it has nothing to say about her. The ploy of targeting her husband and his business deals is unlikely to work because people will question the BJP's inability to act against him in spite of having governments in Rajasthan, Haryana and at the Centre since 2013.
You will see a lot of Robert Vadra jokes in the next three months, but they will add levity only to the lives of hardcore BJP voters.
Attacking a woman has its own risks. With men, politicians often get away with frivolous remarks, below-the-belt jibes, crass jokes and even nasty innuendo. But a "50 crore ki girlfriend" or a "widow devoured all the funds" assault can lead to a severe backlash that can change the poll narrative. The BJP's guarded response to Priyanka's entry shows that the party will have to be careful in dealing with her. It's a signal to its lunatic fringe to not violate the Lakshman Rekha they sometimes cross while dealing with her brother.
The Congress is gung-ho also because of her potential to sway Brahmins and youths across north India. These two segments of voters are Modi's core supporters. But, rising unemployment, the impact of demonetisation and GST on the economy are making them rethink their loyalty to the BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, where Yogi Adityanath has been criticised for practicing 'Thakurwaad', the Congress senses anger among Brahmins who can be tapped by highlighting Priyanka's Brahmin lineage.
In 2014, the BJP had swept polls in states where it was in direct fight with the Congress, winning 100 out of 106 seats. With Rahul as the only alternative, Modi was the clear frontrunner in the Congress versus BJP narrative. By firing its Brahmastra at the right time, the Congress has made the battle tough for the BJP. You can already hear its supporters chant: Tau pe hai Modi, chuke na Priyanka.
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