We are all familiar with the evocative maxim: ‘the personal is political’. A feminist rallying cry, the truism gained currency during the late 1960s and 70s. Its exact origins though have often been in dispute. But regardless of the varying connotations, it’s simultaneously ludicrous and apt to ascribe its inherent complexities to the verbal skirmishes between the two Gandhi cousins — Priyanka and Varun — now playing out 24/7 on television channels.
In stark terms, the statements and the repartees only underline our continued national obsession with the Gandhi family. The puerile nature of the forced discussions revealing the Congress’s lack of intent or ability to deal with the complexities of the 2014 general elections. The Gandhi family remains the sole repository of their hopes and perhaps their failures as well.
On the flip side, we are not the only nation to be obsessed with its first family. The British are equally — if not more — preoccupied with their royal family. Recall the asinine media coverage of the birth of William and Kate’s son. Contextualised within the larger dynasty-obsessed narratives, the latest media spotlight on at first a light banter — and now an ‘ideological’ row between the Gandhis — may be construed as part of the customary political tradition. Nonetheless, the sheer banality of this unfolding discussion can’t be ignored.
The timing is important. India is in the midst of one of its most significant general elections — one that could shift the template of its political as well as economic future. Yet the media is perfectly at ease devoting large chunks of space and time to inconsequential squabbles between the two Gandhis.
What is the issue in this debate? Priyanka says Varun, a BJP candidate from Sultanpur, has gone ‘astray’ and ‘should be shown the right path’, to which Varun retorts that he has never transgressed the ‘Lakshman Rekha’. Priyanka further says she would never have forgiven her own child had he trod that path. The face-off played in full media glare is ‘not personal but ideological’, she says. Rather than dismiss the trite comments, media across the spectrum, report it — word by word — and then further magnify its significance through commentaries. Speculations are also swirling about Priyanka wanting to contest against Narendra Modi in Varanasi — even as her brother and the party rule against it. Such conjectures setting off some more speculation about the inner dynamics of the family and the Congress party.
The Congress is in an unenviable plight. Out in the cold in this heated election season, the party has nothing substantive to offer its electorate. Its reputation is in shreds. Rahul Gandhi who leads the charge has utterly failed to put any shine on his party. Yet the Congress continues to wobble on the dynasty crutch: seemingly unaware that the crutch itself is hobbled, Rahul proving to be a less than able leader both inside and outside Parliament.
The rest of the Congress leadership has been relegated to the background in the ongoing electoral discourse. The spotlight — whenever it shines on ‘others’ in the party — like with the recent Sanjaya Baru book episode — shows up its weaknesses rather than its strengths. Even as it looks like the Congress is going to hit an all-time numerical low, the party remains under the shadow of the dynasty which has itself lost its shine. And rather than discuss substantive issues, the media fans the flames of this endless fascination with the family.