Priyanka’s Debut Raises Hopes for Women in Politics

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Congress general secretary and in charge for East UP, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s maiden roadshow in Lucknow proved to be a mega event. — IANS

There is a Herculean task ahead for Priyanka as she is to face the popularity of SP-BSP alliance leaders in the state and to challenge the incumbent chief minister.

Nisar Siddiqui | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI — Congress general secretary and in charge for East UP, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s maiden roadshow in Lucknow proved to be a mega event. More than a lakh Congress workers took part in the event to welcome Priyanka. Slogans like “Dehen karo makkaron ki Lanka, behen Priyanka behen Priyanka (Burn the Lanka of hypocrites, sister Priyanka)” were being announced incessantly. However, the highlight of the event was a group of young girls who accompanied Priyanka wearing Priyanka T-shirts and drove bikes, scooties and cycles.

Participation of young girls in Priyanka rally has given new hope that women are now searching for a new role model in Hindi heartland. Currently, only Mayawati enjoys a towering leader status in the cow-belt. But her personality and her way of politics don’t make her a role model for women. Priyanka may fill that vacuum.

Participation of young girls in Priyanka rally has given new hope that women are now searching for a new role model in Hindi heartland.

In order to make Priyanka more acceptable to women, Congress has formed a Priyanka Sena of women. The outfit will not only work among during the 2019 polls, it will also run many women empowering programmes.

Question of women participation in politics

In a patriarchal society like India, women issues are rarely raised from political platforms. When it comes to politics, society and employment, women only get lip service from political leadership. In the entire tenure of current Modi government, the issue of women reservation has not been raised even once. Besides Parliament and assemblies, issues of women remain confined to university seminars, research papers and intellectual debates. But despite all these odds, there are a number of women politicians who made a mark of their own like Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Sushma Swaraj, Mamata Banerjee, Najma Heptullah etc. In 2019 polls, Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj will not take part in active politics because of their health. Hence, there will be a void of women leadership in Hindi heartland.

Golden chance for Priyanka

In UP, Priyanka Gandhi has got the golden chance of her career to establish herself as a politician of substance. This is because she is pitted against many stalwart opponents. In Varanasi, she will have to subdue the influence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gorakhpur is the hometown of UP CM Yogi Adityanath. In Chandauli, there are Home Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP state president Mahendra Nath Pandey. Railway Minister Manoj Sinha is in Gazipur. In Mirzapur, there is Union minister Anupriya Patel. Allahabad is a citadel of UP deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya.

Priyanka Sena people demonstrating their faith to Congress and its young leader Priyanka Gandhi during the rally.

In addition, Priyanka will have to face the popularity of SP-BSP alliance leaders. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav is likely to contest from Azamgarh. BSP supremo Mayawati is expected to contest from Ambedkar Nagar or Lalganj. It means there is a Herculean task ahead for Priyanka. If she can make Congress sail through this galaxy of stalwarts and the party is able to win even 10 seats, it will instal Priyanka as a powerful UP politician.

Arithmetic for Congress in Poorvanchal

There are overall 42 seats in Poorvanchal (East UP) where Priyanka is supposed to shepherd Congress. Her challenge is to repeat Congress performance of 2009 when the party had won 22 seats in the state. In Poorvanchal alone, besides Rae Bareli and Amethi, Gandhi family pocket boroughs, Congress was victorious in Bahraich, Domariyaganj, Kushinagar, Maharajganj, Sultanpur, Pratapgarh, Akbarpur, Faizabad, Shrawasti and Gaunda. Total, the party had bagged 12 seats in the region.

In 2014, the party remained limited to only two seats — Rae Bareli and Amethi. It stood second on 6 seats. These seats were Saharanpur, Kanpur, Kushinagar, Ghaziabad, Lucknow and Barabanki. Congress bigwigs like Raj Babbar, Shri Prakash Jaiswal and P.L. Punia were among the losers. Congress was third leading party on 4 seats like Khiri, Pratapgarh and Mirzapur. According to Congress sources, these are the seats that have been given priority for Priyanka’s campaign. “She will have to win them for Congress. There is already a solid Congress votes on these seats as compared to other seats in the state,” said a Congress source.

Challenges and hopes for women

Commenting on Priyanka Gandhi’s foray into UP politics, Prof Firdous Azmat Siddiqui of Jamia Millia Islamia says that Hindi heartland politics is basically masculine and presents a lot of challenges for female politicians. “In states like UP, men frown upon women occupying high political positions. Therefore, women find it hard to stay in politics for long. But, for Priyanka there is a big positive attached to her politics. Her politics is aggressive which suits perfectly well among men-oriented political setting.

Congress workers showing solidarity to Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi during rally attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Siddiqui says that in politics, masculinity works and Priyanka has that quality like her grandmother Indira Gandhi.

On Priyanka’s comparison with Mayawati, Siddiqui says that both leaders come from entirely different background and thus they can’t be compared. “Mayawati is a crass grassroots politician and depends on caste equation and social engineering to peddle her politics. Priyanka is focussing on ideological and secular politics. Congress has faced political drought in UP since 1987. Priyanka will have to end this drought,” said Siddiqui.

Nagma Sharif, a former president of Aligarh Muslim University Student Union (Women), sees Priyanka’s political baptisation as a bright sign for positive change in Indian politics.

“In India, only men have been dominating politics since the very start. Though our country has also produced strong leaders like Indira Gandhi, women representation remain dismally low. But now, the scenario seems changing and even families are supporting women to enter politics. It’s a new breeze,” said Sharif.

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