BJP sharpens attacks on Congress' Priyanka

Mrs Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at a Congress meeting in New Delhi on Thursday. Social media trolls and leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have dismissed her as "bipolar" as well as "chocolatey".
Mrs Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at a Congress meeting in New Delhi on Thursday. Social media trolls and leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have dismissed her as "bipolar" as well as "chocolatey".PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Opposition party officials file police reports over offensive, sexist remarks on social media

It did not take the critics long to target Mrs Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who entered the political fray recently as general secretary of Congress, India's oldest party, in the key state of Uttar Pradesh.

Social media trolls and leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have dismissed her as "bipolar" as well as "chocolatey" and said she was tainted by her husband, who was questioned this week about a London property deal by the Enforcement Directorate of the Finance Ministry.

The social media attacks have led Congress officials to file police reports around the country against particularly offensive and sexist comments.

The women's wings of the Congress have filed a complaint in Delhi and in other states against "unknown persons" for "spreading distasteful and offensive tweets/pictures" of Mrs Vadra, 47.

One man, who was identified as Yogi Surajnath, was arrested in the northern state of Bihar for posting an obscene tweet. He described himself as a supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but local media quoted local BJP leaders as saying the man had no links to the party.

"Initially, it started off with a BJP person saying she was good-looking but I chose to ignore it. But then they (social media trolls) started talking about body parts. That is a different malicious campaign. You need thick skin to be in politics. But this is not fair. This is what makes politics an unsafe place for women," said All India Mahila (Women's) Congress president Sushmita Dev.

Mrs Vadra belongs to the illustrious Nehru-Gandhi clan, which has given India three prime ministers, including its first one after independence, Jawaharlal Nehru.

His daughter, Ms Indira Gandhi, also became India's first woman prime minister, and her eldest son, Rajiv, took over as the country's youngest prime minister, at age 40, after his mother was assassinated.

Mrs Vadra and her brother, Rahul, the current Congress president who entered politics in 2004, are Rajiv's children. Their mother, Sonia, took charge of the party after Rajiv was assassinated.

Often described as a spitting image of her grandmother, Mrs Vadra has, over the years, said she wanted to concentrate on her family, raise her two children and stay away from active politics.

She had surfaced during election time previously only to campaign in the family's constituencies in Uttar Pradesh.

On Jan 23, Congress announced her appointment as the general secretary in charge of east Uttar Pradesh, a key part of the politically important state that includes Prime Minister Modi's constituency, Varanasi.

Congress president Rahul, according to reports, said in a meeting that he did not expect miracles from Mrs Vadra in two months. He and his sister will hold a roadshow in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, on Monday and hold meetings with local Congress leaders. This will be her first visit to Uttar Pradesh since taking over as general secretary.

 
 
 

She remains untested politically, but the BJP apparently is taking no chances. Her official entry into the fray has made her the target of BJP campaigns, even though its leaders publicly maintain that it would have little impact on the party's electoral fortunes.

BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, in a dismissive tone, charged that the Congress lacked leaders and so had to bring in "chocolatey faces" to fight in the forthcoming election.

Senior BJP MP Subramanian Swamy said Mrs Vadra suffered from a bipolar disorder, while Bihar minister Vinod Narayan Jha called her "very beautiful" and then added that "votes cannot be won on the basis of beautiful faces".

Bihar's deputy chief minister Sushil Modi criticised the Congress for recruiting a "woman with a tainted life partner".

Mr Vadra's real-estate dealings had hit the spotlight earlier but he was never charged of any crime.

This week, he was questioned in a money-laundering case.

The BJP campaign has mainly centred on accusing the Congress of propagating dynastic politics.

"The family is now compelled to drag other members of the (Nehru-Gandhi) family into their political party. She was always important in that party because it's a family enterprise," said BJP spokesman G. V. L. Narasimha Rao.

The Congress, in turn, has said the BJP is scared by the entry of Mrs Vadra, who can appeal to a cross-section of voters.

Analysts said that the main opposition party would have factored in the attacks on her as well as the questions surrounding her husband's real-estate dealings.

"There is no shadow of a doubt that once she took a prominent role, the spotlight would be on the husband. She would have anticipated it and the family would have anticipated," said Dr Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and pro-vice-chancellor of Jain University.

But he said the intensely personal attacks, often seen in politics, could also backfire.

"These comments (against Mrs Vadra) may be music to BJP supporters... but not to people who are fence-sitters. I don't think you will bring people to your side by making acerbic comments," said Dr Shastri.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 09, 2019, with the headline 'BJP sharpens attacks on Congress' Priyanka'. Print Edition | Subscribe