Priyanka Gandhi on Friday chose to counter BJP’s Smriti Irani’s taunt that she won’t campaign in the Gandhi pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli by being with brother Rahul Gandhi during his tour of the constituencies. Irani had earlier initiated a juvenile squabble, insinuating that Priyanka won’t campaign here as she had no answers for those who would ask her questions regarding a slew of Congress’ “unfulfilled promises”.
While Priyanka has allowed her mother and brother to steer the helm of their political empire, she has mostly steered clear of actively participating in politics. During the elections, however, Priyanka has always emerged from the sidelines into the spotlight, campaigning fiercely, rallying support for the party.
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Unlike the election campaigns in the past, Priyanka’s presence in 2017 has been relatively subtle. Instead, she has been micro-managing the Congress’ campaign in Uttar Pradesh, working tactfully behind-the-scenes by designing the party’s campaign strategy. When the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance was established, the credit had been attributed to her. She has managed to impress party members as well, leading the former Minister of Health and Family Welfare and UP state party in-charge, Ghulam Nabi Azad to acknowledge Priyanka’s resourcefulness. “Priyanka is playing an important role and she knows about all constituencies in the state. Something which even I don’t know”.
To many, Irani’s attack on Priyanka might appear inconsequential, a desperate attempt by Irani perhaps to steer public attention her way. Behind the incessant jibes and rants, however, there is a discernible pattern that suggests a strategy, even though it might be a weak one. It is to dismantle the Congress’ plan of attack – to jostle Priyanka off her focus of being the campaign architect and prod her to retaliate. The intent, one could argue, is to diffuse Priyanka’s – the charismatic and arguably intellectually superior among the Gandhian siblings – attention by dragging her into the idiosyncratic, muddied verbal duels parties are known to orchestrate particularly during the elections.
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Gandhi has been targeted in the past by BJP as well – invariably amplifying the party’s view of her as a considerable threat. In January 2017, when Congress announced that Priyanka Gandhi would be campaigning for the UP elections, BJP leader Vinay Katiyar passed a misogynist remark, who, while commenting on her physical appearance, wanted it known that Gandhi’s popularity was limited to her good looks. It was an attempt to publicly underestimate her aptitude as a campaigner (http://bit.ly/2ldFOLg).
Irani’s snide take on the Gandhi scion is a tradition of sorts, one that has been honoured by Priyanka in return. They’ve traded vitriolic verbal exchanges that reek in condescension and condemnation. In 2015, in response to an underhanded comment hurled at Priyanka by Irani, the Congress responded with a terse allegation that Irani, then the Union Human Resource Minister, had been unsuccessful at setting up an off-site campus of the Indian Institute of Technology in Amethi. “Why is Smirti Irani not addressing the issues of youth in Amethi, which comes under her department?” Priyanka had shot back then. “She should also tell us why she is not looking into the matter of the IIT.”
That day itself, Irani was ready with a response in Midnapore, mocking Priyanka for not being aware of the facts. “Mrs. Vadra has not done her homework. There is an off campus of IIT Allahabad in Amethi. What is astounding is that while the Gandhi family has ruled the bastion for 60 years, they have done absolutely nothing.” Irani, known for her combative nature, took the opportunity to throw in another jab that challenged Rahul Gandhi’s ability to fight his own battles. Irani had pointed out, “Mr. Gandhi is not capable enough to defend his own turf that he needs additional ammunition”.
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Back in 2014, Priyanka Gandhi had refused to acknowledge Irani when she was asked about the BJP member. When a reporter asked Priyanka her views regarding Irani, Priyanka scoffed, “Who?” and broke into laughter. In return, Irani used the murky controversies surrounding Priyanka’s husband, Robert Vadra to hurl a snappish retort, “I am not surprised. If u forget scams done by a family member why wud u remember my name:) (sic)”. There was another verbal battle between the two during the 2012 Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly elections.
Politics is a tough place, where maneuvering across its tumultuous terrain for a woman can be challenging. But for someone whose entire life has been subject to public scrutiny and the been at the receiving end of the occasional public lampooning, Priyanka Gandhi comes across as a woman who is grounded, armored with a thick skin and equipped to combat anyone. But while Smriti Irani’s effort to drag Priyanka into a petty political battle may be deemed as petulant behavior and exhibits her poor political skills, all eyes are currently on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra right now who is campaigning in Rae Bareli.
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