Priyanka Gandhi goes on a long march to revive Congress in Uttar Pradesh
By Hardnews Bureau
After being appointed as the General Secretary in charge of Congress in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi, in the company of her brother and Congress President, Rahul, and deputy Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Jyotiraditya Scindia, would land at Lucknow’s Chaudhary Charan Singh airport to begin her arduous journey to not just revive the grand old party in a space of 45 days before the polling begins, but also to bring it to a point where it can challenge the formidable presence of BJP leaders like Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath and win some seats. At the face of it- it seems like an impossible task.
Eastern UP nestles constituencies like Benares- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s Gorakhpur, which have seen BJP, Samajvadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party engaged in a tight contest. Over the years, Congress finds itself being squeezed out of this race and it would take a monumental effort to get any vote.
What every one is asking in the teashops and street corners in the towns and cities of Uttar Pradesh is whether Priyanka can really make a difference in the fortunes of the party, which is riven by caste and religious issues. What compounds electoral complexity in a city like Gorakhpur, for instance, is the rampant criminality- largely patronized by politicians and powerful temple trusts. In other parts of Eastern UP, caste and aggressive Hinduttva reigns supreme. All these factors make it difficult for any normal candidate to win an election, till they are able to align money and muscle power- besides religion.
In the past few decades, Eastern UP, which had a strong presence of the left parties, had come under the sway of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) till Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept all the parties aside in the 2014 parliament and 2017 assembly elections.
The challenge for Priyanka is immense. She has to not just fight off the well-oiled machinery and BJP’s aggressive leaders, but also Akhilesh- Mayawati’s formidable electoral alliance, which is expected to win majority of the 80 parliamentary seats.
For long Congressmen have pined for Priyanka’s charismatic leadership and have been repeating ad nauseum to the Party top brass that she should lead the party in UP and elsewhere. Priyanka, they believe is a natural leader and had the spunk of her grandmother, late Indira Gandhi, and she could revive the fortunes of the Congress party. They recall with pride the manner in which she rubbished the election of a relative, Arun Nehru, who decided to contest against party candidate, Satish Sharma, with the backing of BJP ticket, from Rae Bareli. In one sharply worded speech she accused Nehru for betraying the family and asked the people to teach him a lesson. Nehru was seriously walloped in the polls.
Priyanka was ready to lead the party, but mother , Sonia, decided that the mantle should fall on her elder sibling- Rahul. Instead, Priyanka was asked to look after her family and nurse the two parliamentary constituencies of mother, Sonia, and brother, Rahul. Much of the credit for their wins has been going to her, but the decline of the party in other parts of the State has been worrying for many Congressmen. They saw Rahul as a misfit for politics: he is reclusive and antithetical to any politician allowing opposition parties to call him all kinds of names. The big loss of the Congress party in 2014 general elections saw BJP trolls target the Gandhi scion hurling choice epithets.
Much of these abuses were fed by Congressmen who were feeling left out by Rahul’s attempt to rejig the organization. Rahul, who was anointed as the Congress President more than a year ago, managed to win back the three states, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where the BJP was in power. This has improved Congress’s stock and raised Rahul’s profile.
Priyanka’s entry into politics is expected to cement this positive trend in favor of the Congress party, which is also a do-or-die battle for the Gandhi family, which is mired in all kinds of civil and criminal cases. Her husband, Robert Vadra, is being interrogated for money laundering. This puts enormous pressure on her to deliver the goods for the party.
If Congress were not looking good in the past few months, her handlers would not have pushed her in the hustle and bustle of politics. In 2016, Congress leadership had thought of making her lead the charge in UP assembly elections, but the government got a whiff of it. Two happenings prevented her entry: surgical strike against Pakistan and demonetization. Also. Rahul, sources claim, had questioned her entry by asking a pertinent question: if she had to be brought in then why was I wasting my time in re-building the Congress? It’s obvious that it is a confident and secure Rahul who is facilitating her entry in the party.
Can she make a difference? In 2014 parliament elections, she looked jaded and was criticized for talking mostly about her grandmother’s clothes that she was wearing and why people needed to vote for her for this reason. She has to rework her script if she wants to be the true inheritor of Indira Gandhi’s legacy. (ends)