Op-Ed: Will Congress’ Priyanka Gamble Pay off?

Bhubaneswar: The formal induction of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the sister of AICC president, Rahul Gandhi, into the Congress with the responsibility of the crucial eastern UP belt being placed on her shoulders, has caused ripples across the political spectrum. Though her entry was expected with the party desperately looking for someone with a Midas touch to revive its sinking fortunes in the country’s most populous state with 80 Lok Sabha seats, her appointment as Congress general secretary in-charge of eastern UP has galvanized party cadres like never before.

She is already being compared with her grandmother, former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi and the success of her recent road-show in Lucknow is being cited as an example of her popularity. The slogan reverberating through Uttar Pradesh is “ Priyanka nahin ye aandhi hai, doosri Indira Gandhi hai” ( this not Priyanka but a storm, a second Indira Gandhi). She is the latest sensation in the Congress.

No one, however, seems to be asking the million dollar question—is Priyanka well equipped to carry the responsibility thrust upon her by the party? She is no stranger to UP politics but her role in the heartland state has so far been limited to taking care of the family boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli. She is familiar with that landscape and knows most of the Congress workers in the twin constituencies personally.

But eastern UP is a vast swathe of land comprising almost 19 districts and accounts for 26 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state. With Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Gorakhpur, the erstwhile Lok Sabha seat of chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, falling in this region, political stakes here have risen even further. Add to this the complicated caste matrix of the belt and the task of Priyanka seems to be getting that much more difficult.

The freshly minted Congress general secretary has taken up the challenge at a time when old enemies Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, the two major players in UP’s politics, have decided to bury the hatchet in a bid to trump the BJP which had won a record 71 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014. However, much to the chagrin of Congress the new allies have kept the Grand Old party out of their scheme of things. Adding insult to the injury, they have left Congress just two seats—Amethi and Rae Bareli, the old family fiefs.

More than the imperative of fighting the Narendra Modi-led BJP, it was this affront that spurred the Congress into action in Uttar Pradesh, the state which used to be the party’s stronghold till the 80s. Priyanka’s appointment was announced promptly and the party also made it clear that it would contest in all the 80 seats in the state where it had come up with one of its worst performances in 2014 managing to win just two seats–Rae Bareli and Amethi.

The message that the Congress leadership is trying to give out is that it is at no one’s mercy in UP where it will make a comeback on its own. By giving Priyanka the charge of eastern UP it has taken a big gamble, perhaps one of its biggest in the last few decades. She is the “brahmastra” (ultimate weapon) that the party had only been talking about so far, in the process creating an aura of mystique around her, but never used.

But now that weapon has been exposed and expectations within the party are rising high. If the Brahmastra fails it would almost sound the death knell for the Congress not just in UP but in the country as a whole. But if Priyanka delivers, Congress will be back with a bang and with a new leader who may become the subject of same kind of hero worship as Indira Gandhi in her heyday.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)