It is a strange world where the man who causes a turnaround in Priyanka Gandhi’s political fortunes is the guy who appears to despise her.
Priyanka has much to thank Yogi Adityanath for. The UP Chief Minister has managed what legions of Congress cronies could not: he has given Priyanka’s image a huge boost and helped turn her into a liberal heroine.
Consider the background. Priyanka joined politics (at least in terms of accepting a party position) two years ago and was given charge of UP. The general election result that followed was a disaster for the Congress but people were willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. But even after that election was over, the Congress did not seem to be making any kind of electoral comeback in UP. Most commentators reckoned that it would do badly in the forthcoming assembly election as well.
Meanwhile, Priyanka busied herself with managing Navjot Singh Sidhu’s dissidence campaign in Punjab and in destabilizing one of the Congress’s few Chief Ministers. When the party got rid of Captain Amarinder Singh, there were those who said that Sidhu’s victory was also Priyanka’s victory: she may not have been able to defeat the BJP, but she had, at least, defeated someone – a Congress Chief Minister she was opposed to.
That view went out of the window when a sulking Sidhu suddenly resigned as Congress party chief in Punjab and had to be persuaded to withdraw his resignation by being offered face-savers.
Suddenly, it began to look as if Priyanka’s political instincts were all wrong and that her interference in Congress matters was doing the party more harm than good.
That was how things stood when Priyanka set off for Lakhimpur Kheri. Had she reached there, she would certainly have made common cause with the farmers and expressed her outrage over the deaths that occurred when a car belonging to a BJP union minister mowed down farmers. Other Opposition leaders were also due to visit (including Akhilesh Yadav) and so there would have been a 24-hour media storm over Opposition protests till the news cycle moved on.
Enter Yogi Adityanath.
Rather than take a long-term view, the UP Chief Minister panicked. He asked the police to detain Priyanka in the dead of night to prevent her from visiting the site of the agitation. There were all kinds of legal issues with this arrest: can the police arrest a woman after sundown? Can an arrest be made without any warrant? Was it an arrest, as Priyanka claimed, or a detention? And certainly, the police had no business manhandling her. When the video of the arrest went viral along with Priyanka’s angry response, it began to seem as though the UP government was frightened of Priyanka. It was one courageous woman versus the might of Yogi’s powerful state administration.
Then, the mistakes piled up. Priyanka was detained in a guest house but allowed access to her phone. She used it to give interviews to TV channels, to shoot videos and even to address Congress workers who had assembled to hear her speak.
Akhilesh Yadav was detained in Lucknow. Bhupesh Baghel staged a dharna at Lucknow airport when he was refused entry into the state. The Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab was also stopped from going to the site.
But the image that caught the public imagination was none of these. It was the one of the arrest and the subsequent detention of Priyanka. For all his big talk and his armed battalions, Yogi Adityanath came across as a little man frightened of a single, brave woman. At a stroke, Yogi had transformed Priyanka’s image from inept backroom schemer to the heir of Indira Gandhi, standing up to those in power on behalf of the helpless.
Eventually, somebody more grown up than Yogi in Delhi gave Adityanath a talking-to and he agreed, in his own fumbling way, to let Rahul Gandhi and others visit Priyanka, and then, the site of the deaths. But by then, the damage was done. Yogi Adityanath had done what election strategist Prashant Kishore aka “PK” had not managed to do: he refurbished Priyanka Gandhi’s image.
Though the younger Gandhis often act as though they do not understand this, the reason they find it hard to win public acceptance (let alone win elections) is because they are seen as entitled children of a once royal family who demand power as their birthright. For them to erase that image, they need to be seen to suffer, to fight it out, to not be frightened of any danger to their person, and to bravely challenge authority. Thanks to Yogi Adityanath, Priyanka was able to do all that in the space of a few hours.
Will this make a huge difference to the Congress’s prospects in UP? Probably not. The situation is developing and a lot could still happen. Priyanka herself could eventually return to Delhi and return to backroom manouvering and the nourishment of more dissidents. But as of now, it is hard to deny that she has finally emerged as a credible political leader in her own right.
And, of all people, it was Yogi Adityanath who made that possible!
(Vir Sanghvi is a journalist and TV anchor.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.