In her first major public appearance since being given a higher profile role in the Congress, Priyanka Gandhi addressed a rally in Ahmedabad on Tuesday. Gandhi reiterated the message of amity in the face of hatred that Congress President Rahul Gandhi, her brother, has attempted to drive home as one of the major differences between their party and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
“Your vote is a weapon,” she said at the rally, which took place after the Congress Working Committee meeting in Ahmedabad. “But not a weapon meant to hurt anyone, not a weapon meant to cause anyone distress. It is a weapon to make you stronger.”
Priyanka Gandhi was announced as the Congress General Secretary in charge of Eastern Uttar Pradesh in January, after many years of speculation over whether the Nehru-Gandhi family scion would take a more prominent role in politics alongside her brother.
For years it was believed that the main reason Priyanka Gandhi had stayed out of politics was because of the shadow cast by her husband, businessman Robert Vadra, who has been named accused in a number of cases connected to his real-estate dealings. So the news of her plunge immediately made a splash, with TV channels and newspapers devoting a huge amount of space to the Gandhi family entrant, who many believe may be a more natural fit for politics than her brother, Rahul Gandhi.
A roadshow in Lucknow in February meant to launch her campaign in Uttar Pradesh got wall-to-wall coverage, even though Gandhi did not say a word. It had been suggested that she would speak in Lucknow on February 14, but the Pulwama attack that morning – in which 40 paramilitary jawans died in a suicide bombing – saw all plans cancelled.
Now, nearly a month later, Gandhi has made her first public address. In less than seven minutes, she went over the broad themes of the Congress’ campaign: Love over hate, don’t be misled by big promises, make your decisions carefully.
Vote a ‘weapon’
“To those who make big promises to you, ask them where are the two crore jobs that had been promised? Ask them where is the Rs 15 lakh that was supposed to turn up in your bank accounts? To those who promised safety for women, did they even check with the women in the past five years?” she said. “In the coming days and months, there will be many issues that are brought up. It is only if you have awareness, that the nation can be built. This is your responsibility. This is how you should show your patriotism.”
Though it was only a short speech, Priyanka Gandhi seemed reasonably proficient with public speaking, marking a contrast with her brother who took much longer to become comfortable addressing an audience in Hindi.
The real challenge, however, will be whether she is able to keep this up in the heat of what is certain to be a high-pitched campaign. Questions have already been raised about the Congress seeming to disappear from the political sphere over the last month following both the Pulwama attack and the subsequent air strike on Balakot.
In Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress has a personality who, at least for the moment, the news media does not seem to be able to get enough of, which is a major weapon to have in an election season. The question for the party is simply: Will it be able to put this advantage to good use?