Chocolatey to Bipolar: How Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics has unleashed BJP’s misogyny

The BJP is so busy calling Priyanka Gandhi sexist names that it has missed her political strengths.

 |  7-minute read |   03-02-2019
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Calling a woman mentally ill when one is challenged by her confidence must be the oldest rule in the book of patriarchy.

Subramanian Swamy was true to form in that respect when he called Priyanka Gandhi “bipolar” with “a violent character” and capable of “assaulting people around her”. The comical image that comes to mind of a smiling Priyanka suddenly losing her cool mid-speech and leaping down from the dias to belabour the audience with a stick would be funny, if not for the desperation for publicity that prompts such absurd comments from an apparently 79-year-old man with impressive credentials who should know better.

swamy-690_013119052816.jpgSubramanian Swamy has called Priyanka Gandhi 'bipolar'. Surely he should know better? (Source: Reuters)

But Swamy’s ravings are just part of a barrage of filth pouring out of the Sangh pipelines after the Congress took everyone by surprise recently with the announcement that Priyanka Gandhi would be party general secretary and take charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Considering that an articulate, front-foot playing Rahul Gandhi in his 2.0 redux was tooling along admirably, with three re-captured states and a growing popularity steadily creeping up to rival Narendra Modi’s, what was the reason for the Congress to plonk a huge boulder, as it were, on the political fabric and throw everyone’s knickers in a twist?

Congress leaders say Priyanka Gandhi's entry into active party politics will motivate the rank and file to take on the redoubtable dual challenge posed by the BJP and the SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh. Priyanka is expected be an influencer in eastern Uttar Pradesh and make a difference to the Congress’s fortunes. Both PM Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath have won elections from this part of the state. It is a tough role for her and all eyes will be focused on her. Failure can cause a huge loss of face after such anticipation is drummed up.

yogi-690_013119053158.jpg'0 + 0 = 0' is how Yogi Adityanath summed up Priyanka Gandhi's entry into politics. (Source: India Today)

While Adityanath’s defensive reaction has been to say that ‘zero plus zero is still zero’, Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, departing from her ostensible brief of neutrality, has gone on record reportedly to say that the Congress pulling Priyanka out and sending her into the ring meant that Rahul Gandhi was not confident of himself.

Later, Amit Shah, addressing a 'Ganatrantra Bachao Yatra' at Contai in East Midnapore district, said, “Rahul baba (Gandhi) comes here often. There was 2G in the 10-year-long government of Sonia ji and Manmohan ji. There was Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi which means two Gs. There was corruption and scams worth Rs 12 lakh crore when it was two Gs. Now, Priyanka Gandhi has come. Now if there are three Gs, then what will be the revised worth of all corruption and scams? The Congress has come up with a yojana to indulge in more scams by going from two Gs to three Gs.”

Saroj Pandey, a senior BJP leader in charge of Maharashtra and a Rajya Sabha MP, mocked Rahul Gandhi by asking whether he was a ‘joker’ if his sister Priyanka Gandhi was the Opposition party's ‘trump card’. She claimed she was referring to the statement of senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad who had described Priyanka Gandhi’s appointment as a “trump card” move.

Colourful rhetoric, play on words sans substance, innuendo dismissive of Priyanka for being attractive and not having political ‘experience’, not to mention the usual accusation of dynasty rule, have been buzzing around the media, indicating that the Congress has stirred a hornet’s nest in alarmed BJP circles. The fact that seems to have escaped most people going hysterical with anxiety is that Priyanka Gandhi’s appointment as Congress general secretary is an internal matter of the party.

She is not an election contestant yet.

What is, however, distasteful is the trademark misogyny of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-BJP that has been on glorious display since the announcement was made.

Taking a swipe at the Congress for not being able to find any other woman worker, Saroj Pandey reportedly said, "What they found is a homely woman from the Gandhi family."

priyanka-690_013119053257.jpg'Homely'. 'Chocolatey'. 'Just pretty'. Clearly, Priyanka Gandhi's entry into politics has left the BJP searching for words. (Source: Reuters)

She is probably unaware that ‘homely’ is a euphemism for ‘unattractive women’  and probably then, the exact opposite of what Kailash Vijayvargiya meant when he apparently described Priyanka as “chocolaty”.

After the outrage from the Congress camp over the remark, Vijayvargiya said his comment was directed towards Bollywood actors, and not against any political leader.

"I would like to tell my friends in media that if there is such a statement, then they should cross-check it. I used the term chocolaty face for Bollywood actors. I did not use it for any political leader".

One can hazard a calculated gamble and opine that he was not referring to Smriti Irani, whose only claim to fame is, after all, a stellar role in a popular and regressive  Hindi serial about mothers and daughters-in-law, and who was airdropped directly into the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Vinod Narayan Jha, another BJP leader, had earlier said that Priyanka was just a pretty face with no political achievement.

It is not even that BJP apparently does not have "pretty faces" to counter the "chocolaty" face of Priyanka Gandhi.

The problem is that when they communicate, we can see the essence of their patriarchal ‘unchocolaty’ handlers through the masks of their pretty faces.

When a Shaina NC takes a jibe at Mayawati, as she did when she said that she was confused whether the latter was a “she or a he”, we see a Mohan Bhagwat speaking through her.

When chocolaty Bollywood stars cosy up and take selfies with Modi, we see an overall endorsement of Shambu Lal Regar, who slaughtered and burnt a Muslim labourer in that forest.

When an avowed fangirl like Madhu Poornima Kishwar tweets that Rahul Gandhi will promise free sex to the country  thus assuming that women do not possess agency of their own and are easily swayed we see pettiness and viciousness personified that comes from the same patriarchal space.

Class, grace and dignity can never be cloned if you have an unpleasant mindset.

If one must speculate about why Priyanka was inducted into active politics, then one might consider the soft power she brings into contemporary Indian politics, rife with aggression and acrimonious conflict.

'Soft power' is the ability to influence other actors through persuasion to produce the desired behaviour, as opposed to ‘hard’ power which relies on threats, intimidation and gaslighting.

A video clip of Priyanka Gandhi giving a small speech in Tiloi, Amethi, in 2012, has been doing the rounds lately. The clip shows her urging the people to support the Congress. She said that the state of Uttar Pradesh was destroyed by the non-Congress parties which ruled it.

After her intervention, Congress bagged Tiloi with 61,247 votes with a 33.1 per cent vote share.

If one sees the clip, one observes her style of oratory is very different from the hyperbole and fiery bombast that passes for 'strong leadership' we have become used to.

It is conversational, persuasive, sometimes chiding, laced with humour  and establishes an instant connect with the audience. She invites participation and interaction from the crowd and they do not disappoint. For all her resemblance to Indira Gandhi that is feeding the optics in media today, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is not a 2.0 redux of her grandmother. She has developed a voice very much her own.

Also read: A blockbuster brews: Did Priyanka Gandhi join politics after Amitabh Bachchan’s blessings?

Writer

Gautam Benegal Gautam Benegal @gautambenegal

Award winning animation filmmaker, artist, author, and social commentator.

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