Home Editor's picks A Pulitzer Prize winning report on Priyanka Gandhi’s aeroplane trip by Mausambi Singh

A Pulitzer Prize winning report on Priyanka Gandhi’s aeroplane trip by Mausambi Singh

What might look like just another air travel between two Indian cities turned out to be a fierce political statement by Priyanka Gandhi. This trip could prove to be a gamechanger for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

It was just another day for me in the office of Headlines India when I was researching for an article on India’s foreign policy by looking at Priyanka Gandhi’s photographs juxtaposed with those of Indira Gandhi. My phone rang before I could finish my first mug of coffee. It was a call from Priyanka Gandhi’s office. They asked me if I could join Priyanka for her flight from Delhi to Lucknow.

I couldn’t believe my ears. This was the biggest scoop of the election season and I was handpicked for it! Ghosh!

I immediately said yes and asked for flight details so that I can book my tickets. Priyanka’s office informed me that I shouldn’t bother as they will send the tickets. I was almost in tears. No one cares for us like they do. In the last five years, journalists were routinely forced to buy tickets even though chartered planes of ministers and big leaders went vacant.

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Soon the ticket arrived in my inbox and there was another pleasant surprise. It was not a chartered plane but a common commercial airliner. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was taking an IndiGo flight. She will be walking and talking among the aam aadmi. I felt a lump in my throat.

Well, the IndiGo flight may not have a business class, but Priyanka Gandhi had already sent a message that she had class and she meant business. How could someone not miss this symbolism? Surely not an independent journalist like me.

I immediately proceeded to complete web check-in and booked myself a middle seat at 7B. I’m not only independent, I’m neutral, so I always book middle seats, neither window nor aisle, neither left nor right. I wish the biased journalists at Republic TV who question an independent leader like Mani Shankar Aiyar could understand these nuances. But when you are busy shouting, how will you get time to think and reflect?

At airport, I was among the first one to reach the boarding gates. I hoped to catch Priyanka chatting with common people there while waiting to board the flight, but she was not there. Maybe due to security reasons. But I could sense her presence. I could see that people were smiling at each other. Last time I had seen such scenes in Delhi was in 2015 when Arvind Kejriwal had swept the assembly elections. I asked a few people to smile more for my video report.

After everyone was settled in, Priyanka walked into the plane in the end. She clearly made sure that common men didn’t face any problems due to her boarding. She walked tall with her handbag that she kept in overhead cabin by herself, despite having four assistants and two bodyguards. The simplicity floored everyone.

Once she put her bag and smiled at the cabin, her assistant told her something pointing towards me. She smiled again, this time at me. I felt goosebumps. And I’m sure everyone felt the same. I remember the lady on the aisle seat in my row had immediately asked the air hostess for a blanket.

Boarding was completed. Priyanka was sitting alone in an emergency row with window seat 13F. She confidently acknowledged having understood the emergency directions given by the air hostess. It was another symbolism that can’t be missed. She was ready to take the risk alone and help common man in case evacuation is needed.

Once the flight was in air and seat-belt sign was switched off, I went to have a quick interview with Priyanka. She was still having her seat-belt on. Yet another powerful symbolism, this time laden with political message to Narendra Modi over Pulwama and Pakistan – that Priyanka doesn’t lower her guards just because everyone else thinks safety measures are no longer needed. Our borders with Pakistan will be more secure – the message was loud and clear.

I asked her some tough questions if she had pre-booked her in-flight meals and if there were some offline YouTube videos in her mobile that she could watch while in air. She calmly answered all the questions. A real leader is one who is not afraid of tough questions.

It was not a normal flight. I could see that passengers were going to the toilet more frequently than often. Perhaps it was just an excuse to catch a glimpse of Priyanka Gandhi, whose presence assured them that things were under control.

Whenever the captain ended any announcement with Jai Hind, Priyanka would smile. Just what we need today, a benign assuring display of patriotism, not an ugly vande mataram shouting jingoism.

The captain also announced that they feared some turbulence. The plane crew and air hostesses immediately skittered away, guys near the toilet ran back to their seats without peeing, but Priyanka sat there in her seat, composed, reassuringly.

I can’t forget those scary 19 seconds when the turbulence did take place. There were strange jerks. It felt as if the plane was being hit by gau-rakshaks. A 3-year-old boy was crying loudly out of fear, an old Muslim lady had started reading duas. I was scared too. The worst thoughts were coming to my mind e.g. will I die without getting this article on Priyanka Gandhi published?

However, even in such trying times, Priyanka was not screaming or looking for any divine help. She was sitting calm and composed. She didn’t even ask her bodyguards or assistants – who were sitting in the front and back rows on 12 A/B/C and 14 A/B/C respectively – to help her. Everyone was amazed. Perhaps those 19 seconds were a divine signal by the god, showing us who stands out from the rest in 2019.

Last night when Priyanka tweeted revealing how her grandmother Indira Gandhi would recount to her stories of Joan of Arc, asking her to be fearless, I could connect the dots. Who I saw in those 19 seconds was an Indian Joan of Arc – fearless and ready to lead us for bigger battles.

It is amazing how much we owe to this family. Jawaharlal Nehru gave us scientific temper, due to which we fly in aeroplanes today, Rajiv Gandhi brought computers allowing us to web check-in from home, while Indira Gandhi asked us to be fearless like Joan of Arc so that turbulences don’t bother us.

Priyanka Gandhi in an Indigo flight symbolized the best of the three generations. It is now up to us to choose the best.

~ written Mausambi Singh, Deputy Editor, Headlines India.

(the article is a work of satire inspired from a real news report below)

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