“The Congress Party’s newest campaigner may not actually contest elections, but she will likely narrow a funding gap in a country where winning votes costs serious money,” Milan Vaishnav from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote in his latest article for the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi last month made his sister party’s general secretary in-charge of crucial eastern Uttar Pradesh having 40 seats in the Lok Sabha. She made her maiden road show Monday in Lucknow along with her brother.
Her formal entry into politics, Vaishnav said, has imparted the much-needed enthusiasm to the party, which lost power in 2014 amid a historic victory of the BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Headed into the 2019 general election, the Congress starts from a position of weakness, he said, adding “reports suggest that Congress state units have been starved of funds from the party high command due to the fiscal crunch.”
“Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into active politics comes at a time when the Congress needs all the help it can get. The party has seen few victories since a disastrous 2014 general election performance, and Gandhi provides a much needed morale boost to the Congress rank-and-file,” wrote Vaishnav, co-author of a recent book “Costs of Democracy: Political Finance in India”.
“Just last month, the Congress was unceremoniously excluded from a pivotal opposition alliance in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most electorally consequential state. With Priyanka Gandhi heading the Congress party’s campaign in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the party may gain new leverage with fellow opposition forces,” he said in his write-up.
“But the Priyanka Gandhi play is not only about winning allies and lifting spirits; it’s also about cash. The party is short of it, and Gandhi substitutes for the political finance that the Congress desperately needs,” he said.
Stating that “Vadra, unlike Modi, is just a campaigner; there is no indication that she will contest elections herself”, he said, “In 2014, the Congress faced three insurmountable deficits – of leadership, ideology, and resources.”
“There is no short-term fix for the first two, but the third problem just got a little easier,” he said, arguing that she would help her party meet the resource crunch and would “partially offset her party’s lackluster coffers.”
“Lacking a sizable advertising budget, the Congress can ensure wall-to-wall television coverage of any event in which Gandhi even remotely figures… in a country where dynastic politicians are often revered as deities,” said Viashnav.
Vaishnav notes that the “Priyanka Gandhi buzz will also challenge the BJP’s dominance on social media.” In less than 24 hours after joining Twitter, she had more than 13,000 followers.
Elaborating upon the role of social media in modern electoral arena, he said Modi had already mastered the social media game, using Twitter and Facebook to circumvent traditional media gatekeepers and communicate directly with his online followers even before 2014.
“Five years ago, Rahul Gandhi did not even have a Twitter account to his name,” he said.
“While the Congress has invested heavily in upping its social media presence, it still lags far behind. (Modi currently has 45.4 million Twitter followers to Rahul Gandhi’s 8.45 million.) But the same fascination with Gandhi that will suck in traditional media outlets is also likely to catch eyeballs online,” Vaishnav said.
“Will the Priyanka-Gandhi-as-political-finance strategy tip the scales? The arrival of a new Gandhi family member on the political scene will not fix the organisational infirmities that ail the party overnight. But those things that money (or, in this case, Gandhi) can buy have never guaranteed victory: They earn you a seat at the table,” concluded the Foreign Policy columnist.