The formation of the SP and BSP alliance, the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ rally in West Bengal and the announcement of Shiv Sena to contest 2019 General assembly elections alone, appears to have jolted the Indian National Congress from its political stupor. In what seems to be a calculated decision to counter the emergence of Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress have decided to come up with a strong name to help retake UP again: yet another Gandhi.
Filling Up the Ranks
In the most recent event on 23rd January 2019, the grand old party of India, the Indian National Congress (INC) in their Press Release appointed Smt Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as AICC General Secretary for Uttar Pradesh East. The press release further stated the appointment of Shri K C Venugopal as AICC General Secretary and Shri Jyotiraditya Scindia as AICC General Secretary for Uttar Pradesh West. This Press Release came as a shock to several political parties who majorly welcomed the official entry of Smt Priyanka Gandhi Vadra into the active politics after two decades. The ruling party BJP attacked the Congress and termed the entry of Priyanka Gandhi into the active politics as an admission by the Congress that its President Rahul Gandhi has ‘failed’ in providing leadership and he has opted for family ‘crutches’ after facing the rejection from other opposition parties.
Who is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra?
Born on 12 January 1972, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is the daughter of Congress Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the sister of Congress President Rahul Gandhi. She did her schooling from Modern School and the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Delhi and later pursued a graduate degree in Psychology from Jesus and Mary College. She has done her Masters in Buddhist studies. Priyanka Gandhi married Robert Vadra, a businessman from Delhi, on 18 February 1997. She has become the 11th Member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to join the politics. This is the first time Priyanka Gandhi has taken a formal post in the Congress party. Earlier, she was marginally involved in politics while taking part in rallies with Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
A New Hope for Congress in UP
With the fall of Congress in UP in the last three decades, UP witnessed the emergence of regional parties like SP and BSP. With the Hindutva agenda, BJP also rose to power in the 2014 General elections as well as the 2017 UP assembly elections. Whereas in the 2014 General Elections, BJP out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP won 71 seats, in the 2017 assembly elections, it won 325 seats out of 403 seats despite SP and INC alliance. With the poor performance of Congress and SP alliance in 2017 assembly elections, SP decided to form the pre-poll alliance with BSP just before the 2019 elections which pushed the Congress on the fringes in UP. But the official appointment of Priyanka Gandhi as a General Secretary of Eastern UP has acted as a “jeevanbooti” for the Congress Workers and leaders not only in UP but across the country. Priyanka will take charge next month. Before that, she is likely to hold a meeting with party leaders from UP in Delhi to assess the political situation on the ground after the SP and BSP came together to take on the BJP. Priyanka has been a star campaigner for the Congress in her mother’s and brother’s constituencies.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, like her surname suggests will always be a Gandhi before a Vadra and that will be the biggest challenge she might have to face: the pressure that comes with her name. That is one thing that the opposition parties will try to bring up again and again. The issue of her husband, Robert Vadra, who is being accused of land scams can be brought up again as welll. Along with this Priyanka Gandhi will also face the questions on Vadra’s Business. Also, with Priyanka Gandhi joining as general secretary of Eastern UP, Congress will now have two centers of power. This can create a rift in the party and can cause harm to the party. So, handling this situation will not only decide the future of Priyanka but it will also reflect her tactical and leadership qualities to work together with her brother in order to attain great results. Lastly, the success or failure of Priyanka Gandhi will depend upon the denting of the upper caste votes of the BJP who don’t see Congress as a good alternative. With the announcement of 10% Reservation for the upper caste, BJP in a way has strengthened its upper caste votes. So, it will be a herculean task for Priyanka to gain back the trust of upper caste population.
What Lies Ahead
According to sources, Priyanka had an important role in the making of the SP-Congress alliance and in the seat-sharing arrangement between the parties for the 2017 elections. She will travel across the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the region which also include the bastion of Modi and CM Yogi Adityanath. The Congress feels that Priyanka will be able to capitalize on the latent goodwill that the Nehru-Gandhi family continues to retain in many parts of UP. She is widely seen as a natural campaigner and crowd-puller who connects easily with large sections of voters. Her physical resemblance with her grandmother Indira Gandhi has been pointed out repeatedly, and the Congress will be hoping for a rekindling of the party’s old emotional appeal. For Priyanka, this is a crucial and challenging assignment. If she is able to deliver, new opportunities can open up for both her and her party in UP and across India. While her entry into the main fray is a great way to energize the Congress leaders and workers but whether or not that energy leads to any substantial political gain is yet to be seen. With no strong base in UP, Priyanka and Jyotiraditya have to find a way to strengthen the Congress Organization if they hope to repeat the 21 seat victory of the 2009 General Elections.
Sources: The Indian Express, The Hindu, NDTV, India Today, The Economic Times, Financial Express, Wikipedia