Priyanka Chaturvedi: The unabashedly ambitious foot soldier Congress lost last week

Leaving the hand
Leaving the hand
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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Days after quitting the Indian National Congress (INC) party on April 19, Priyanka Chaturvedi had showed no signs of a letup.

The former All India Congress Committee (AICC) spokesperson was quick to call out media reports labeling her “inconsequential” and “opportunist,” in the wake of her exit nearly a decade after joining the Congress.

The tweet sums up her USP, feistiness, that made Chaturvedi a household name among India’s political television viewers and social media users. From her political opponents and media bouncers to uncouth social media trolls, there is nothing that can cow her down.

Yet, here she is, making a dramatic transition, from a national party, which supposedly espouses secular and liberal values, to the Shiv Sena, a son-of-the-soil outfit that places the native Maharashtrian above everyone else.

The irony is not lost since Sena’s ire for the most part of the past few decades has visibly been directed at the “north Indian,” a euphemism for natives of mostly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The party sees them as usurpers of local jobs and opportunities in Maharashtra, particularly Mumbai. And Chaturvedi, though born and raised in Mumbai, traces her family’s root to Uttar Pradesh.

Yet, she has her reasons, too.

While Chaturvedi says that, being a Mumbai native, she identifies with Shiv Sena’s passion for the city, there are obviously other factors at play.

On April 19, she tweeted: “In the last few weeks, certain things have convinced me that my services are not valued in the organization and that I have reached the end of the road.”

Chaturvedi was miffed with the Congress’s decision to take back party workers earlier sacked for allegedly manhandling her in September 2018 during a press conference in Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura. These workers were reinstated in the party in April this year with a rider with a warning. A day before tendering her resignation to Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi, a visibly angry Chaturvedi said in a tweet that “lumpen goons” were getting preference in the party over those who had “given their sweat and blood.

Reports also said that Chaturvedi was looking for a party ticket to contest the parliamentary polls from the Mumbai Northwest constituency, which was denied to her.

From nobody to everywhere

Born in 1979, Chaturvedi completed her schooling from St Joseph’s High School in Mumbai’s Juhu locality, in 1995. She went on to pursue a commerce degree from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics, Vile Parle.

One of five siblings, she was soon appointed a director with MPower Consultants, a media and public relations firm in the city.

Chaturvedi kickstarted her political career by joining the Congress in 2010, leveraging her strong communication skills and unflappable persona. Since then, her graph has only moved upwards. She became the general secretary of the Indian Youth Congress from North-West Mumbai in 2012. Soon, she was named spokesperson of the AICC.

Within no time, she became one of the most recognisable faces on Indian television.

As early as 2013, Chaturvedi highlighted fissures within the then opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over proposing Narendra Modi for the post of prime minister in 2013. She tweeted: “LOL!! #BJPKiPareshani Modi ya Advani!! The circus has begun!” and “#BJPkipareshani Division Document (or) Vision document.”

Further calling out the disastrous demonetisation exercise of 2016, in a column published in The Times of India newspaper, Chaturvedi, wrote:

In 14th century India, there was a ruler by the name of Muhammed Bin Tughlaq who had tried an experiment with token currency and had failed spectacularly, it is no coincidence that in 21st century India the comparison is being made to the current decision of demonetisation by the PM of India.

From time-to-time, she took on trolls, too. In 2018, she was quick to file a police complaint against one Hindu right-wing backer who threatened to rape her teenage daughter.

Besides politics

Even in the early days of her career, Chaturvedi kept a book-review blog.

Today, married to marketing professional Vickram Chaturvedi, she likes travelling and reading when politics is not on her mind. Over the years, she has lent her name to many social causes. She is also a co-founder at Prayas Charitable Trust which educates underprivileged kids.

Her detractors, though, point out that her charm is only restricted to fiery debates on TV and war-of-words on Twitter. She lacks mass following, they say, which is imperative for a political future. Her critics would do better than to underestimate her.

As a rank outsider in a field dominated by dynasties, Chaturvedi has made it so far, beating all the odds—besides juggling her career as a media consultant-recruiter, raising two kids, blogging, travelling, and hoarding sarees. Mass politics could just be her next stop.

Quartz’s queries to Chaturvedi and the Congress remained unanswered at the time of filing of the story.

Read Quartz’s coverage of the 2019 Indian general election here.