What makes the Congress Party far from people

Drummers move down the street, their thuds echoing across the asphalt. Women in festive saris line the roadside, a toothless old man hobbles along the road, he waves the flag of the Congress party. So big is the crowd in the heat of Amethi that the white Toyota with the darkened windows and the sign "Party Car No 1" only rolls at walking pace.

Dozens of men run next to the car screaming, pushing and jostling to get as close as possible. Then the car stops, a tall woman in a blue sari gets out, narrow face, alert eyes, short wavy hair. Bodyguards with sunglasses shield her, she raises her hand and waves. "Long live Priyanka Gandhi," shouted the fans. Seconds later she dived back into the car, the convoy rolled on and people screamed as if they had just witnessed an apparition.

Will this woman scare the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Election campaign in India, mood like in the carnival. The Amethi district is the stronghold of the Gandhi clan. This dynasty has dominated the politics of the subcontinent since independence before being crushed by the newcomer Modi in 2014. Now the Congress Party wants to regain power. And for this she not only sends Rahul Gandhi into the race as a candidate for the post of prime minister. Sister Priyanka is also involved in the election campaign. This woman is far more charismatic than her brother, which is why she is considered the more dangerous opponent for the Hindu nationalists.

Modi's power will not waver until the Congress party gains new popularity and forges a broad alliance against the incumbent. In India they call the model: modes against all others. It is the only conceivable scenario that could ensure victory for his opponents. The Congress party does not necessarily have to become the strongest force for this, but it does have to do significantly better than in 2014.

There are no reliable forecasts

It starts on Thursday, until May 19th the Indians will elect a new parliament in several phases, which will then determine the prime minister. Every five years this is the greatest democratic show of strength that the world knows, 900 million people are entitled to vote, there are no reliable forecasts.

What is certain is that Modi will not have as easy a life as it did in 2014, when he inflicted the worst defeat in its history on the Congress Party and acquired the nimbus of an invincible. This reputation has worn off after five years, the prime minister made mistakes, failed to keep promises, and his party suffered losses in regional elections. And now Modi has to take on the charisma of a Priyanka Gandhi.

On the other hand: Modi is now doing what he does best: talking to the masses, like a few days ago in a field in Meerut, it was the start of his campaign tour. 151 appearances in 51 days, that's his plan. He tours all over the country by helicopter, morning, noon, evening, nothing but talking.

Modi mainly talks about: Modes. In 2014 he still acted as a tea seller, so he was able to spread the message that you can also make it from the bottom up in India. In 2019 he changed his label, now he calls himself "Chowkidar", which means "guardian". In Meerut, everyone can watch the premier live on television, they see Modi in a white kurta and brown jacket, he is less relaxed than usual, his voice sounds tense, sometimes even angry when he criticizes the opposition.

Modi speaks slowly and eloquently, skillfully pauses, makes powerful gestures. More often than usual he pats himself on the chest with his left hand, everyone should hear what he regards as his greatest accomplishments. He enumerates them one after the other, bank accounts for the poor, health insurance, farmer aid, home grants, toilets. "I did all of this," calls out Modi.

He divides the political field into two camps. On the one hand, Modi, who ensures that the new India that he proclaimed can flourish. On the other hand, there are those politicians who have no plan, have created nothing and are corrupt. Modi knows that he is still revered by many ordinary people as a man who - as far as we know - does not stuff himself into his own pocket without a greedy family behind it. He cultivates the image of the selfless prime minister. "I have nothing," he says. "You are my capital," he calls out. That works.

Modi probably chose the image of the guard because it fits into the charged times in which India and Pakistan most recently almost waged war against each other. After the Islamist terror in Kashmir, emotions went high. Modi tries to keep these feelings alive, he praises the Indian martyrs, by which he means the soldiers who died in Kashmir as a result of the terror in February. He proudly speaks of his retaliation, attacks doubters, claims they are conducting a competition for Pakistani friendship. Then he thunders: "Does our country need Indian heroes or Pakistani heroes?" This is how the prime minister refueled his appearances in the hope that this would secure him the votes for a second term in office.

And Priyanka Gandhi? What she has in common with Modi is that she is carried by charisma, just in a completely different way. Priyanka touches hearts, her followers say, she creates closeness to those who felt left behind, and she strikes a sensitive note in the process. Priyanka embodies more and more the contrast to the muscle man prime minister when she denounces the misery of the farmers and the unemployment. She tries to disenchant Modi, but doesn't sound malicious or defamatory in the process.

Wherever Priyanka goes, spotlights are on her, a life she has shied away from before. This is also due to the traumatic history of her family, she lost her father and grandmother in assassinations. Both were Indian prime ministers, the murders marked the family, the name Gandhi has been linked to a victim myth ever since. In the Congress Party, however, we also know that this myth contributes greatly to the reputation and admiration of the Gandhi.

One evening at the end of March, Priyanka Gandhi answered questions from journalists in the courtyard of a school. You want to know if she sees herself as a full-time politician? "Yes, of course," says Priyanka Gandhi, "that is obvious." It gives older voters a déjà vu experience; her face and her gestures remind many of the legendary grandmother, Indira Gandhi, the first woman to lead the subcontinent, but who also ruled for a time with emergency laws and was murdered by her bodyguards.

Young Indians have not experienced that, but Priyanka inspires them as well, as the encrusted Congress party has not seen for a long time. Only one weakness could affect her, she is married to the entrepreneur Robert Vadra, who is suspected of being involved in shady real estate deals. Modi has so far avoided openly attacking Priyanka Gandhi, but the good season could soon end as the Gandhi siblings show their will to power again.