Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary of Uttar Pradesh (East), may be putting in all efforts to revive the party in the politically crucial state but has to cross several hurdles before she achieves her goal.
Priyanka has set a difficult goal of positioning the Congress as the only alternative to the ruling BJP ahead of the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. To begin with, she has revamped the state unit, brought in new faces and pruned the number of leaders on the various party panels.
Although Priyanka, aided by her social media team, has been quick in responding to any important development in the state, the real challenge for her will be to fight it out on the streets against the BJP and the strong regional players – the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Putting strong leaders in place
In a leadership reshuffle last month, Priyanka, appointed two-term Tamkuhi Raj MLA Ajay Kumar ‘Lallu’ as the new president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the party.
“A fighter has been given the charge of the state,” senior Congress leader Pramod Tiwari commented on Lallu’s appointment.
Tiwari’s daughter Aradhana Misra ‘Mona’ was appointed the new Congress Legislative Party leader. Both Lallu and Mona stood by Priyanka when she recently took to the streets to take on the BJP government.
The Congress in Uttar Pradesh is keen to send out a message among the voters that the party with just seven lawmakers in the 403 member Assembly is still around and should be given a chance over the regional strong players like the SP and BSP. To achieve that, Priyanka has set clear-cut goals for the state leaders, asking them to launch agitations over various public issues – ranging from the plight of farmers, joblessness to law and order situation, in the coming weeks and months.
“As part of the Congress’ 10-day nationwide protests against the economic slowdown in the country starting November 5, the Uttar Pradesh Congress will launch agitations against the state government across the state,” said Lallu.
Tapping into caste equations, burning issues
Protests apart, the Congress in the long term has to prioritise on getting the caste equations in the state right, say senior party leaders. “We have to identify and project leaders from key communities like upper castes, minorities, OBCs and dalits to enable the voter to connect with us,” said a senior Congress leader, adding the people had seen the rule of the SP, the BSP and the BJP and to switch back to the grand old party.
But the numbers are stacked against the Congress, especially after the dismal performance of the party in the May 2019 Lok Sabha polls where it could improve its Lok Sabha tally from 44 in 2014 to just 52. Since then, Priyanka has been on damage-control mode, launching a series of attacks against the Yogi Adityanath government – from the land rights of dalits in Sonbhadra, the alleged harassment of a law student by BJP leader Chinmayanand in Shahjahanpur, the Unnao rape case to the case of children dying due to malnutrition, law and order situation in the state and farmers’ suicides.
“Priyankaji has kept the pressure on the ruling party… she has been raising people’s issues and reaching out to them. Though the organisation had been neglected over the past 25 years, I am hopeful about the future,” said senior Congress leader and former Varanasi MP Rajesh Mishra.
The shocker for the Congress came in the form the 2019 Lok Sabha poll results where the Congress could win just one seat, Rae Bareli, represented by her mother Sonia Gandhi. Former party chief Rahul Gandhi lost his Amethi parliamentary seat to Union minister Smriti Irani. In 2014 national polls, Sonia and Rahul were the only Congress representatives from the state in the Lok Sabha. Priyanka had been managing the two VIP seats.
Hiccups on her way
Congress insiders said a big challenge before Priyanka is to overcome the age-old problem of organisational weakness. For this, she has asked local leaders to set up and activate party panels down to the booth-level to expand the party’s footprints in the state that have receded over the years.
Many Congress leaders feel a better strategy is to go solo. “We launched our solo campaign in the state ahead of the 2017 assembly polls but suddenly changed and joined hands with the SP. That blunder cost the party dear,” said a senior AICC functionary. “The challenge now is to take up people’s issues and bring them to their logical conclusion and not leave the fight midway. We also need to ramp up protests from block to district headquarter levels,” he said.
Priyanka, who is known for her close resemblance to her grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi, is considered to be a better communicator than her brother and former party chief Rahul Gandhi, but faces pressure to perform as many in the party see her as a beacon of hope. Party veterans say the reason for such expectations is because she is more accessible to party workers, personally monitors party programmes and reviews performance of the various state teams in the state.
“Priyankaji is our trump card,” says Pramod Tiwari.
“She is an able leader. We hope to do well under her charge,” senior state leader Rashid Alvi said, adding that she is a better listener.
Personal charm apart, Priyanka would also have to convince the voters that she means business as the Gandhi surname may not generate the same sentiments among the new generation as it did with the old Congress loyalists. Also, dealing with the BJP’s “nationalism” agenda would test the leader’s political mind in the days to come.
“Merely saying the BJP fears Priyanka Gandhi is not enough. A solid plan of action must be rolled out and sustained. There is hope but we need to do a lot of hard work before the 2022 battle,” added a Congress insider.