The new year began with a bang for a number of reasons, not least the announcement of the alliance between the SP and the BSP, for the forthcoming general elections. The news channels are all agog with the Bua-bathija pact which, everyone agrees, will have a decisive impact on the results in UP. The meeting of the opposition leaders in Kolkata, hosted by Mamata Banerjee, also set poll analysts buzzing, with another star in the making, Tejaswi Yadav, also catching the eye. And the latest in the league is the news of Priyanka Gandhi entering mainstream politics.

Key Takeaways:

  • There is a slow and steady shift in the demographics of leadership of politics at a national level.
  • Young charismatic, with impeccable credentials and history, Priyanka’s addition to the leadership in the Congress ranks will surely have a salutary effect.
  • Indira Gandhi’s name, her legacy has left a mark, and the very natural connect that Priyanka shows among the common people will bring back “Indiramma’s memory” in the aged voter.
  • Political parties have to take note of the new assertions of women and youth, and use this opportunity to induct fresh energy and talent into their ranks.

For the first time ever, the decisive roles in politics in India, at the national level, is being played not by 80-year old patriarchs but by a younger cohort of men, and established women political leaders in their own right, namely Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee, and these two are also strong contenders for the post of the Prime Minister of India.

For the first time ever, the decisive roles in politics in India, at the national level, is being played not by 80-year old patriarchs but by a younger cohort of men, and established women political leaders in their own right.

A similar generational shift was seen in the GOP, the Indian National Congress, which saw Rahul taking over as the President, and his team, the younger lot of political leaders such as Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot playing very major roles in the Hindi heartland states which contributed to decisive victories in MP and Rajasthan, leading to their being frontrunners for the post of CM in these states as well.

So there is a slow and steady shift in the demographics of leadership of politics at a national level. Other young leaders from the ground, though not into direct politics yet, are Kanhaiya Kumar, supported by the left, Jignesh Mevani, who won in Gujarat with support from the Congress and a still-dark horse, Chandrashekhar Azad, leader of the Bhim Army, from Western UP, who has declared his support to the SP-BSP combine.

And now the news which has been long anticipated, despite strenuous denials from both the individual and the party – the accession to a leadership role in UP, of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, 47, and younger sister of Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Known to have been active in giving organisational and campaign support to her mother and brother in their electoral campaigns, and also in successfully reaching out to the SP on a previous occasion, she may now also contest the seat vacated by her mother, Sonia – Rae Bareli.

The BJP has said that her accession is a sign that “Rahul has failed”, hence they have unleashed their “Brahmastra” – mythically, the last and most powerful weapon in a warrior’s armoury.

Young charismatic, with impeccable credentials and history, Priyanka’s addition to the leadership in the Congress ranks will surely have a salutary effect. Known for her connect with the people, her simple but charismatic speaking style and her resemblance which will doubtless enthuse the numerous fans of Indira Gandhi who still abound despite over thirty years having passed since she passed away.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Priyanka’s entry will be a huge positive.

Indira Gandhi’s name, her legacy of pro-poor and pro-environment policymaking has left a mark, and the very natural connect that Priyanka shows among the common people will bring back “Indiramma’s memory” in the aged voter. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Priyanka’s entry will be a huge positive.

But what will also happen is that in the ranks of the Congress’s leadership and decision-making there will be a younger, connected, and effective woman. Sonia Gandhi, Italian by birth, is to this day judged an “outsider” for this, despite her sincere efforts to “Indianise” herself after she was thrust into the public space with the election of her husband Rajiv as the PM of India.

This societal bias, also termed by scholars as “Brahminical patriarchy” – where gender, religion and caste-class origin has a major role – is one of the main reasons for the absence of women in public life, in leadership and decision-making structures all across South Asia, something that is recognised at a global level.

This societal bias, where gender, religion and caste-class origin has a major role – is one of the main reasons for the absence of women in public life, in leadership and decision-making structures all across South Asia.

For instance, despite India being considered a global leader in certain areas, the condition of women in India is far below that of even smaller neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. India ranks 108 out of 144 countries in Global Gender equality, losing 21 places between 2016 and 2017. The gender gap is the difference between women and men in social, political, cultural and economic attainments. However, it is ranked in the top 20 globally for political empowerment, mainly because of the 50% reservation for women in the election to grassroots local bodies. However, this falls to an abysmal 8%  in state assemblies and parliament, where real decision-making occurs. We need more women in these institutions of democratic governance.

Shakti, a group of non-partisan women, has started a national campaign to get more women into these bodies. The Women’s reservation bill, giving one-third of the seats in assemblies and parliament has been pending passage for over 10 years, having lapsed in 2008 after having been passed in the Rajya Sabha during the UPA’s term.

The Women’s reservation bill, giving one-third of the seats in assemblies and parliament has been pending passage for over 10 years, having lapsed in 2008 after having been passed in the Rajya Sabha during the UPA’s term.

The writing is on the wall. Political parties have to take note of the new assertions of women and youth, and use this opportunity to induct fresh energy and talent into their ranks. We need more women in Parliament. Priyanka’s introduction to politics should impel leaders of political parties to promote many more women into the political mainstream.

Cynthia Stephen is an activist working in the area of Education policy, Dalit studies and affirmative action. She is an independent writer and a political analyst. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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