Having stolen a march over political rivals in Uttar Pradesh with her combative stance on the killing of farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will, on Sunday, launch her party’s campaign from Varanasi for the state’s Assembly polls due early next year.
Priyanka, who will lead the Congress’ campaign in UP where her party has been out of power for three decades, is set to address a massive Kisan Nyay Rally at Jagatpur Inter College Ground in Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the political nerve centre of eastern Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress had earlier pegged the event as a “pratigya” (pledge) rally where Priyanka was set to announce her party’s key poll promises for Uttar Pradesh. After discussions with senior colleagues from the state in the wake of the mowing down of farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri by the cavalcade of Ashish Mishra, son of Union minister Ajay Mishra, Priyanka has now decided to dedicate the rally to farmers.
Congress sources said that while Priyanka is expected to reiterate her demand for quick prosecution of the BJP leaders allegedly involved in the October 3 “Lakhimpur massacre” and the ouster of Ajay Mishra from the Union Cabinet, she will also announce her party’s “saat pratigya” (seven pledges) to the people of UP, should they bring the Congress back to power in the state.
Over the past year, Priyanka and Congress members appointed to various UP poll-related committees of the party have been holding regular discussions on an action plan for reviving the near defunct Grand Old Party in the state ahead of the 2022 Assembly elections.
The “saat pratigya” blueprint has been finalised based on “extensive discussions” held by the party’s UP poll manifesto panel, headed by former Union minister Salman Khurshid.
The manifesto committee, also comprising PL Punia, Aradhana Mishra, Supriya Shrinate, Vivek Bansal, and Amitabh Dubey, had been touring the state for the past several months and conducting discussion sessions with locals to identify key poll promises that the Congress must make in its manifesto.
The exercise, supervised by Priyanka, also factored in inputs received from the party’s outreach committee headed by senior Congress leader Pramod Tiwari, civil society groups and local community leaders.
UP Congress chief Ajay Kumar ‘Lallu’, who has been monitoring preparations for the Kisan Nyay Rally, told The Federal that while Priyanka will highlight the “BJP’s brutalities on farmers”, she will also unveil her party’s agenda for alleviating problems being faced by the peasantry (repeal of three controversial central farm laws, farm loan waiver, et al), unemployed youth, women and homemakers (homemakers’ pension like the one announced by the Congress during the Assam and Kerala polls this year and measures for safety of women), as well as Dalit and backward caste communities.
Priyanka is also expected to flag-off a 12,000 kilometre “pratigya yatra” during which Congress leaders will travel across UP to highlight the “failures of the BJP’s Yogi Adityanath-led government” and communicate the party’s poll promises to the masses, the UP Congress chief said.
Kumar added that the rally in Varanasi will be the first of Priyanka’s several such public meetings that are being planned across the state over the next few months, leading up to the final leg of the campaign ahead of the elections due in February-March 2022.
“We expect some 2 lakh people to turn up for the rally from all over UP but since this is being held in Varanasi, our focus would be on Purvanchal (districts from eastern UP)… there is massive mobilisation from Jaunpur, Mirzapur, Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Sonbhadra, Kushinagar, Allahabad, Bhadohi and other parts of Purvanchal,” he explained.
Congress sources said that over the next couple of months, similar rallies are being planned in major cities of western and central UP and the state’s Bundelkhand region.
“Our senior leaders are chalking out the strategy for more such rallies. The idea is to cover as much ground as possible before the actual campaign period starts with the announcement of the poll schedule by the Election Commission. The ‘pratigya yatra’ will travel through 250-300 of the state’s 403 constituencies. Different committees and leaders have been assigned different responsibilities and they regularly brief Priyanka, Lallu, Salman Khurshid, Rajesh Tiwari (Congress secretary in-charge of UP and adviser to the party’s senior observer for the state, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel) and others about the progress,” a party leader from the state told The Federal.
With just half a dozen MLAs and a lone MP (interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi) in the state, the Congress knows that the task before Priyanka to revive her party in UP is an onerous one. As such, what Congress workers, poll observers and the people of UP may also be looking forward to at her rally is an indication of something more drastic than the obvious.
A Congress functionary involved with the party’s campaign told The Federal that besides having steadily lost its committed votebank of 30 years ago to outfits like the SP, BSP and the BJP, one of the party’s biggest political drawbacks, due to years of staying on the fringe, is the lack of a credible face to take on Adityanath. And here lies the catch that many party veterans are looking eagerly to unravel.
“Priyanka is leading the campaign but none of us, including those who are working closely with her on the UP revival plan, know whether she also plans to contest the polls. There was a lot of excitement among our workers and even common people during the Lok Sabha polls when it was rumoured that she might contest against Modi from Varanasi. People knew she would not win but everyone was talking about how it may actually help the party on other seats. But then she did not contest and the BJP went to town claiming she was scared of losing. We lost all our momentum. Now, everyone is hoping she will contest the Assembly polls to show her commitment to UP, but we don’t know if she will. If she announces in Varanasi tomorrow that she will fight the elections, we will have four months to build on that and we will have a strong face… let us see what happens,” this leader said.
After spending nearly three years, since she took over as the Congress general secretary in-charge of UP, making staccato appearances in the state, Priyanka is finally showing signs of sustained commitment towards her job. Congress sources say her recent political outing to Lakhimpur Kheri, which saw her being placed under detention for nearly three days by the UP Police, has galvanised the fledgling party cadre and she realises the importance of keeping up this tempo.
However, Congress insiders are also wary that a resurgent Congress that fails to actually convert the mass mobilisation into electoral wins could end up helping the BJP.
“Priyanka has decided to not have an alliance with the SP or any other outfit in these elections. We are going solo and this has its own challenges. The leadership is aware that we may end up splitting the Opposition votes and inadvertently helping the BJP retain power. At the moment, many believe the only credible alternative to dislodge Adityanath is the expected alliance between the SP, Jayant Chaudhary’s RLD and some smaller caste-based parties. Mayawati’s BSP is out of the picture and it is unlikely that she will hold on to her committed 18-19 per cent votebank this time round,” says a Congress leader part of Priyanka’s team of strategists.
The leader explains further: “The challenge for us is to identify areas where we may have a better chance of defeating the BJP than the candidates put up by the SP or RLD… since the BSP is losing ground, we can focus on Dalits and also the Brahmins because this is a community that had been divided between the BSP and the BJP, and is currently upset with both. If we are able to consolidate the Dalit and Brahmin vote while also regaining the trust of the Muslims, then we may see a surge in our tally without helping the BJP. Besides caste considerations, we are also looking at amorphous blocs of voters – the migrants, unemployed youth, women, etc.”