Two Priyankas were vying for media eyeballs last week. Priyanka Chopra and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Mean tongues wagged, both were desperately trying to remain in the news. A picture of PC dangling a cigarette on the beach while her mother and husband were enjoying cigars took the internet by storm. And, a sun-baked PGV squatting on the highway was the defining image for the Gandhi daughter and Congress general secretary.
Priyanka Chopra was trolled after she was clicked smoking on a yacht in Mumbai. (Photo: Instagram/jonaasbrothers)
No doubt, each had a different target audience in mind. And, interestingly they were far away from the actual scene of action. It is unlikely that too many people, especially those not of Indian origin, in the Americas noticed Priyanka Chopra's birthday celebrations. Similarly, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's roadshow in Uttar Pradesh would have created greater stir on national television than on the outskirts of Mirzapur and Chunar.
However, that was probably also the desired objective.
If those were the similarities, the essential difference between the two was their respective career-points. Priyanka Chopra is a remarkable case study of a professional who continuously reinvents herself to stay ahead of the curve. In contrast, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is already on a relaunch mode after a somewhat faltering and lacklustre start.
Yet, the politician Priyanka captured the attention of her friends in the fourth-estate more than the actor Priyanka was able to excite her fan club in the tinsel town. Journalists who were still nursing the wounds of the Lok Sabha elections further compounded by the extended vacuum at the helm of the Congress suddenly found something to cheer their sagging spirit.
Some said that — when her brother was still sulking, Priyanka hit the ground running at Sonbhadra. They credited her agility in taking the Yogi Adityanath government by surprise and pipping Akhilesh and Maya to the post. The very discerning ones with an eye for detail noticed the Rudraksha Mala she was wearing and saw it as further evidence of her being the true inheritor of her grandmother — Indira Gandhi's lineage.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra with the victims of Sonbhadra killings. (Source: ANI)
Only a few asked why would the BJP give a walkover of sorts by stopping her on the way to Sonbhadra? Some were intrigued by the rather muted response of other political parties to the entire episode. But no one really commented on the lukewarm reactions of Congress stalwarts other than some close members of the family coterie. This is significant.
It is exactly two months since the Lok Sabha election results were declared. One would be surprised if any other national party in the world has remained leaderless for so long without even an 'interim arrangement' in place. Everyone understands that this cannot be good for the organisation. And it does not require a Sherlock Holmes or Byomkesh Bakshi to figure that something is seriously amiss. Everything points towards a massive power struggle inside the palace.
This writer is not given to indulging in speculation or relying on gossip. He can only try to read the tea leaves as a long-time lay observer of politics. What is clear thus far is Rahul Gandhi has steadfastly refused to reconsider his decision to step down. As per all indications neither the family nor its inner circle has succeeded in prevailing over him. Further, Rahul Gandhi has shown no inclination to prescribe a process for selection of a successor leaving it to a rather nebulous group to take a call. There is little clarity on the composition of such a council. Whether it comprises of party office bearers or includes confidantes of the family and other elders is anybody's guess.
There has been talk of an interim president as well as a group of working presidents. How much of it is kite-flying of the Khan Market consensus or trial balloons floated to test the mood by kingmakers and power brokers cannot be said with any degree of certainty. However, what seems clear is that there is a tussle on between various factions and axes.
Traditionally, the power blocs were considered to be the old and the new guard. But that needs redefinition in the current context. The present tension appears to be between those who have a popular base of their own and clout in the party versus those who draw their power primarily from the dynasty. In both camps, there are protagonists across age groups.
One can easily imagine, there is rivalry not only between the two camps but within the camps as well. So it is a multi-polar contest. To elaborate a little more, among those with a base there are veteran chief ministers like a Ashok Gehlot and Captain Amarinder Singh. But there are also young Turks like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot.
In the same way, within the palace there are the old Rajya Sabha stalwarts as well as the baba-logs and professional groupies recently inducted by Rahul and Priyanka in their secretariats.
For the family too it will not be easy to make their pick from any one section. Each comes with their own conditions and risk tags attached. Trying to put together potpourri of all will only create more contradictions and instability.
It won' be easy for the Gandhis to choose a party chief from outside the family. (Photo: Reuters)
The family itself could be divided on stepping aside even for a short interregnum. They too realise that neither Rahul nor Priyanka have the stature and maturity of a Sonia Gandhi, who could stay out of office but yet hold the power-strings. Stepping aside could well mean losing control over the party for good.
That may hold the clue for putting off the succession process. Earlier the family retainers may have been hoping against hope that Rahul will eventually get out of his blues and agree to take back the reins. But for now that seems to be a non-option. Therefore, propping up Priyanka could be one last ditch attempt to get a new lease of life for the dynasty and, in the process, get an extension of their own service tenure.
But going by the rather underwhelming ripples for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's latest outing it does not look like they have got the act of re-packaging her yet. To that extent, Priyanka Chopra's image managers are doing a better job.
Also read: Sonbhadra cemented Priyanka Gandhi as new Congress president. Now, Rahul can go on a world tour