There’s a separate fanbase in this country, among a select commentariat, for Gandhis doing things. They appear to draw succour from the vagaries of life by seeing a wistful future where a Gandhi will lead them to the promised land.
With Rahul Gandhi AWOL and hell-bent on resigning after a dismal performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the believers have seen the light in Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Why the faithful believe Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is Indira is slightly hard to fathom, and she has shown no similarity to her grandmother other than a passing resemblance, but then so does Jairam Ramesh (as comedian Varun Grover hilariously pointed out).
Still, there was a huge sigh of relief from the fans of the 'Gandhis Doing Something' camp as Priyanka Gandhi Vadra jumped headfirst into the Sonbhadra protest even as the state’s BSP and SP leadership appeared to be in a self-induced coma.
Of course, from an ROI perspective, visiting victims is a far more politically astute move than her brother tweeting inane stuff on International Yoga Day, but it might be preposterously premature to call it her Belchi moment as Digvijaya Singh and Shoba Oza did.
For the uninitiated - particularly those born on the wrong side of the 90s - Belchi is a nondescript village roughly 60 km from Patna.
In 1977, after a grievous caste murder of Harijans by Kurmis, Indira Gandhi went to Belchi and was greeted with chants of ‘adhi roti khainge, Indira ko bulainge' and 'Indira tere abhao men Harijan mare jate hain’.
Gandhi’s trip to Belchi began as a grand gesture, covering part of the journey on an elephant, and the evocative imagery would become part of comeback journey after the chastening loss in 1977 in the first election after the Emergency.
Many commentators from that era pin that moment as what helped Indira Gandhi recapture the public imagination, which would see her win 353 seats in the 1980 Lok Sabha Election.
Now, 42 years later, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has dug in her heels after a heinous crime in Sonbhadra in Uttar Pradesh where a village headman’s henchmen shot 10 people in cold blood over a land dispute. She has been giving quotable quotes, wondering if it was Nehru’s government or Yogi’s which was in-charge.
The UP government for reasons best known to them, decided to help her become a martyr by detaining her and trying to prevent her from meeting the victims, which the victims finally did after a long trudge to Mirzapur where Gandhi had been holed up.
They kept her in a guest house overnight where the lights reportedly went out, allowing Congress and other Opposition leaders to call it an ‘illegal arrest’.
Now in case we forgot, this is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s second coming. The first, launched with much fanfare with even a group of men calling themselves Priyanka Sena,sunk without a trace.
The sartorially ambitious Priyanka Sena
It was the Hindenburg of political debuts - with even talks of her contesting from Varanasi in a galactico contest against PM Modi – but ended up in whimper. Congress ended with a near duck in Uttar Pradesh with only Sonia Gandhi retaining her family bastion of Rae Bareli and even Rahul Gandhi losing to Smriti Irani, the same lady whom Priyanka Gandhi had mocked by asking ‘Who is that?’.
Now, it’s silly in politics to rule anyone out, particularly a party like the Congress, but Priyanka’s Sonbhadra incursion will only work if there’s continued follow-up with a fight for justice for the victims. For that she has to look no further than Mamata Banerjee, who showed that agitational politics can pay political dividends, but it’s a long game.
But at this moment in time to draw an analogy between 1977 and 2019 is preposterous.
Even in 1977, despite losing Indira Gandhi’s INC(I) managed 153 seats. To put that in context, the Congress currently has 52 seats, and even in UPA I, the party only managed 145 despite being part of the ruling coalition.
By 1980, it would go back to 353. Despite the excesses of the Emergency, Indira Gandhi remained a supremely popular leader and Congress was a very potent force in Uttar Pradesh.
More importantly, Indira Gandhi wasn’t up against a behemoth like the current BJP, a well-oiled juggernaut which has raised electoral victories to an artform and doesn’t understand the meaning of losing under Modi-Shah.
The truth is that all history is not just written by the victors, it’s written post-hoc with a comfortable narrative. They are written in retrospect.
So, if Congress wins down the line, this will be Priyanka’s Belchi. If it doesn't, it'll be a meaningless footnote. The analysis is easy when you’ve the answer.