Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s entry into active politics is anything but unprecedented. Every Indian knew that sooner or later she would take the plunge, not just because she would regularly campaign in her mother and brother’s constituencies i.e. Raebareli and Amethi respectively, but also because even without holding any official position, she was a part of most key decision making including the selection of Chief Minister for recently concluded Vidhan Sabha elections at Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
However, she has never been dragged into matters concerning her husband or asked questions related to the abysmal performance of the Congress party. She was spared from the wrath of political competition because she was not an ‘active’ politician or an office bearer of the Congress Party. She was not held accountable for the dismal performance of her party or repeated charges of nepotism primarily because ‘technically’ she was not a beneficiary of the political outfit.
On January 23 2019, after the Congress Party announced her as the Congress General Secretary for Uttar Pradesh (East), things changed. She is no more just the sister of Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi or daughter of Former Prime Minister, Late Shri Rajiv Gandhi. She is now an official representative of the grand old party. I assumed she is now obliged to be answerable and accountable to the electorate. Since the Indian Constitution gives me the right to freedom of expression and the democratic values of this land allow me to question the status quo, I just did that. I merely exercised this right when I asked the freshly appointed office bearer, five innocuous questions in a short video.
— Right Narrative (@right_narrative) January 23, 2019
My questions contoured largely alleged corruption charges on her husband, charges of nepotism and the kind of changes an electorate can expect with her advent into the party. Little did I know that courtiers of the para-dropped politician would get unsettled by my curiosity? I was asked by certain cadre members and functionaries to ‘watch my words’ as no one is allowed to question the ‘family’. Certain sections of the media called my questions bad in taste because the person in question was ‘Priyanka Gandhi’, who exudes the charisma and dynamism of Indira Gandhi.
But does that make Priyanka Gandhi Vadra beyond rectitude? Moreover, if there are efforts to curb someone like me who has zero political influence, imagine the extent of duress on those voices that have the potential to change opinions by virtue of their words.
Freedom of Expression is not for all
I have questioned leaders across the political spectrum on a myriad of issues, through my opinion pieces in print media, social media, and on national television and I say this with complete responsibility that I have never been warned of the impending consequences. It is possible that I was, as I mentioned earlier, a speck in the larger scheme of things to be noticed. It is also possible that those, whom I questioned, believed that I had the right to question them.
Sadly, the same doesn’t seem to be true when it comes to the first family in the Congress party.
It is outright comical that a party that struts around as the self-proclaimed custodian of freedom of expression has little appreciation for the concept, leave alone practising it. Implicit immunization of the first family from accountability reeks of deep-seated feudalism that has plagued the grand old party for over a century. It wouldn’t be incorrect to assume that I wouldn’t have come under the radar had I questioned the Party and not a family member.
Does anyone remember the deluge of awards that made their way back on account of the ‘growing intolerance’ under the elected government of the day, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi? The brigade is obviously oblivious to the simmering intolerance in the Opposition. Their urge to preserve tolerance as a virtue is aroused only when it suits them because I do not see them returning any awards to express anguish against the growing political intolerance in West Bengal or even Madhya Pradesh.
How is it okay for students in JNU to raise potentially inflammatory slogans and not safe for me to ask questions to a politician? Since when did it become unsafe to raise questions to the Congress Party?
How is it responsible politics when an elected representative and President of the Principal opposition party Shri Rahul Gandhi to make declarative statements like ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ and alleges the Prime Minister with unsubstantiated charges but uncomfortable when a private tax-paying citizen merely questions a politician?
I have asked very basic questions and I am sure I will receive answers in due course of time. I wish her great luck and success in her new innings. Meanwhile, I leave a question for all readers: How can Priyanka Gandhi Vadra be touted as Indira 2.0 and yet expected to be treated with kid gloves. Both cannot exist together.
Gunja Kapoor is a policy analyst based in New Delhi. She tweets at @gunjakapoor