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Priyanka's entry to Congress shows party not embarrassed of being dynastic, reaffirms value of Gandhi brand

Author: Sandip Ghose
Publication: Firstpost.com
Date: January 23, 2019
URL:      https://www.firstpost.com/politics/priyankas-induction-to-congress-shows-party-not-embarrassed-of-being-dynastic-reaffirms-value-of-gandhi-brand-5948571.html/amp?__twitter_impression=true

Marketing mavens can learn from the Gandhi family a trick or two about the power of branding and timing. It's not known whose brainwave was it to make the minor change in the spelling of Feroze Jehangir Gandhy to Feroze Gandhi dropping the Jehangir in the middle somewhere along the way. But, it is one decision that will yield them dividends through generations.

Therefore, it is no surprise that Indira jettisoned her maiden surname, while Priyanka wore it with pride occasionally tagging it with her husband's name as conveniently as her brother puts on and takes off his janeu (sacred thread).

Before feminists jump on me with charges of patriarchy, let me rush to clarify that my remark is purely from a marketing standpoint. Few Indian families understood this well. The Tagores did (thus, you have Sharmila Tagore retaining her surname). But, the Gandis have taken it to another level altogether.

Dynasty apologists compare the Gandhis with the Kennedys in the United States of America. But, we know there is a world of difference between them. First, the Kennedys were several brothers. They did not try to promote succession. Their spouses did not try to step into the shoes of their husbands or in-laws. Above all, they did not control the party, let alone treat it as a private corporation.

The timing is significant. Unlike Rajiv or Sonia who had to step in after a family tragedy — in the case of Rahul and Priyanka it was a time of their own or the family's choice. Rahul made several false starts. But, his elevation to party president was well choreographed and carefully synchronised with the Gujarat Assembly election.

Priyanka's formal entry is more interesting. That she was involved in the family affairs was a given. More recently, her role in decision making and strategy became much more apparent. So, the question of "will she or won't she" (join politics) turned to "when will she"? But, like Priyanka Chopra's marriage, she kept everyone guessing.

So, the new question is — why now? There can be several hypotheses built around it.

This is, without doubt, a very high stake election for the Gandhis as another setback would put the dynasty into serious risk. A washout in their erstwhile bastion of Uttar Pradesh would only compound the damage.

One would recall, Prashant Kishor had recommended her induction during the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election. But, the family turned down the idea. One reason for that could have been, had she joined then it would have put a serious question mark on Rahul's leadership capability. Considering the demoralised state of the party at that time, leaders and workers might have gravitated en-masse towards Priyanka dumping Rahul.

In hindsight that was probably a good decision as it is doubtful if even Priyanka could have made a positive difference to the Congress' numbers in that election.

That again takes us back to the same poser — the timing of the decision.

Like in the past, Uttar Pradesh will be the make or break state in this Lok Sabha election as well. The rebuff from Mayawati has been a harsh blow to the Congress. Being leaderless in Uttar Pradesh, it is in a tight spot.

Raj Babbar is no star. Salman Khurshid is too sophisticated for a dirty war that is surely in store. The Congress also does not have a dependable "UP expert" to play the role that Gehlot and Nath played in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, respectively.

Rahul will be busy campaigning around the country. Uttar Pradesh is too crucial to be left on auto-pilot, so he needs help in Uttar Pradesh.

But, Uttar Pradesh presents both a challenge and opportunity for Priyanka. If Congress' tally goes up significantly (anything over two seats would be an improvement) party courtesans will, of course, hail her. But, if she fares poorly, she will try to take a share of credit from Mayawati and Akhilesh.

Such an outcome will be a soft launching of Priyanka without stealing the thunder from Rahul.

However, there are a few larger implications of Priyanka coming out of the wings in just over thirteen months after Rahul's anointment as Congress President. To do so, on the face of BJP's "anti-dynasty" campaign and Modi's "naamdar versus kamdar" pitch — shows the family has decided to shed all inhibitions about Congress being regarded as a "family run" enterprise.

This is also a positive reaffirmation of sorts. The traction Congress has gained after Rahul getting on the driver's seat has demonstrated that the "Gandhi" name still sells. Not only voters but all other stakeholders — be it Opposition allies, big business, foreign powers and NRIs — will invest in Congress only for the "Gandhi" brand name.

It is, therefore, a classic marketing situation when the sub-brand becomes more valuable than the mother brand. The Gandhis always knew it. They are now only reclaiming their equity sensing an uptick in the market.

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