Opinion | Project Priyanka is Indira Congress redux

Opinion | Project Priyanka is Indira Congress redux

Priyanka Gandhi’s recent trip to Eastern UP reveals she wants to revive Indira’s pan-community support base. (PTI & DH Archive)

Priyanka Gandhi has completed her first visit to the constituencies of Eastern UP. On this visit, she travelled from Prayagraj to Varanasi, crossing through Vindhyachal and Mirzapur. She travelled by boat on the Ganga, used a taxi, and undertook padayatras to hold road shows. She interacted with villagers, the poor, peasants and members of artisan communities such as weavers. She visited various temples related to the Hindu faith, visited the dargah of a Sufi saint and also met Jain saints on the way. She celebrated Holi with her followers and supporters in Varanasi.

One of the important trends which political analyst observe is her effort to interact with those who are on the margins and located in the interiors. Through her travel by boat, she tried to interact with the people who live in villages located along the Ganga basin far from main roads and highways. Communities like Nishads, Mallahs, Kewats, Hindu and Muslim weavers were the target of her interactions.

An interesting thing one can easily observe in this visit is that she targeted women for her interaction. Her effort to make a dent among women voters is quite clear. She selected Hindu temples and deities who are linked with women and attract a large gathering of women devotees who participate in rituals, festivals and celebrations linked to the deity.

She visited the Shitala Mata temple in Varanasi, which attracts a large gathering of women for worship, and the Vindhyachal temple, which is also the site of a female deity, although worshipped by people of various sections and communities. She invited 10 girls of the Allahabad Agricultural Institute – now called SHUATS – on her boat for an interaction. All these political symbolic acts of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra point to her priority of making an impression among the women of the region.

Big Boat

So, a reading of the political craft of Priyanka Gandhi, going by her first visit to Eastern UP, suggests that she wants to employ a mixed method of people polarization. On the one hand she wants to make a space for herself in the Hindu popular psyche, while on the other hand, she wants to target the communities, who are on the margins of the ongoing mode of development, for mobilization.

Various artisan communities, which are categorized as Scheduled Castes (SC), Most Backward Castes (MBC) and Other Backward Castes (OBC), are the focus of recent state-led development initiatives. Nishads, who are boatmen and also fishermen, are suffering due to the construction of various bridges, modern transportation and modern waterways. They have also lost their traditional community rights to undertake sand mining along the river belt. Similarly, the carpet industry in this region is in decline and weavers involved in it have lost their livelihood.

Banarasi sarees, a small scale industry which was the livelihood for thousands of weavers, is also facing a tough time due to competition from machine-printed sarees. Priyanka also raised the voice of people employed as ad hoc school teachers, peons, shiksha mitras (para-teachers) among others, who are subaltern, but constitute a good vote bank.

Photo: Twitter/INCUttarPradesh
(Photo: Twitter/INCUttarPradesh)

Reviving Indira’s Congress

One villager with whom Priyanka Gandhi interacted said, “Indira jaisi lagat rahi” (She looks like Indira). Priyanka, in her style and functioning reminds many middle-aged people, who have seen Indira Gandhi, of the former PM.

In Indira’s style, Priyanka is also visiting temples, trying to make inroads among rural women and also raising the issues of the poor. In the letter, which she wrote to the people of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, before beginning of her visit, she said: “I will...come to you through the Ganga.” So, she used the symbol of the Ganga for forging a relationship with the people who are emotionally and religiously-linked with the river. The Hindu masses, the poor and women were once the central core of Indira Gandhi’s following.

She also tried to use the symbol of the Ganga for forging a relationship with the minority community by invoking Ganga-Yamuni tehjib. Muslims were also a Congress base for long time. Priyanka also seems eager to retrieve and revive that base. She is using soft Hindutva, but with a focus on the culture of synthesis (Ganga-Yamuni tehjib) which is a strength of the Indian tradition.

Like Indira, she also adopts an aggressive posture while replying to her opponents. One lady of the Nishad caste expressed her feeling while interacting with Priyanka with the words, “Woh garibi ka sukha-dukh samajhati hai” (She is able to understand difficulties of the poor). Priyanka Gandhi has raised the hopes of the marginalised, the poor and women in big way on her first visit to Eastern UP. But will this influence convert into votes? It will only happen when Congress workers work hard to link these people to the booth on the days of voting.

(Badri Narayan is a social scientist at the GB Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad. Views are personal)