Political Times

Congress plays Priyanka gambit to revive UP fortress

Congress party launching the latest member of its dynastic clan- Priyanka Gandhi into politics has stunned friends and foes alike. BJP has dismissed it as a perpetuation of dynastic politics though inwardly chary of Priyanka’s entry and its repercussions in national politics, especially Uttar Pradesh where the saffron party has held sway for now.

Priyanka despite a star campaigner has been hesitant to take the plunge into politics. Despite her personal reservations, Congress party workers saw in her a compelling shadow of the towering Indira Gandhi. Priyanka has been acting as adviser to her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi on an array of political and economic issues. She is also believed to have played a signal role in handpicking chief ministers for Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh after Congress tasted resounding wins at the recent assembly elections.

Priyanka has been anointed as the party’s general secretary for eastern Uttar Pradesh, a sensitive zone for Congress. Political pundits have started calling it baptism by fire for the lady who is expected to take charge of the assignment in the first week of February after returning from US. Priyanka’s role hasn’t been defined yet. It’s not clear either which seat she would contest- Rae Bareli or Sultanpur. But her initiation into formal politics is contrived and driven by winnability concerns. During its peak, Congress grabbed 80 Lok Sabha seats but the party lost its ground in the aftermath of Mandir-Mandal politics in the 90s with its latest tally at 2014 elections trickling to two seats in the Hindi heartland state. In the UP assembly too, Congress party’s presence has diminished to just seven seats. Strategically with Priyanka at the helm in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Congress would be keen to regain its old battleground.

The strengthening of Congress in UP connotes a three-c0rnered contest involving the ruling BJP, a rejuvenated Opposition in the shape of SP-BSP alliance and the Congress. A triangular competition augurs well for the BJP as it will split votes in at least eight Parliamentary constituencies. The Congress, however, has other plans- to cobble up a grand alliance with local heavyweights, BSP and SP. On Wednesday, after the Congress announcement about Priyanka Gandhi’s new role, her brother, party president Rahul Gandhi made it clear that he would be willing to cooperate with Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati in the 2019 Lok Sabha campaign. “I respect Akhileshji and Mayawatiji and our ideology is the same,” said Rahul Gandhi. “Our fight is against the BJP and we are ready to cooperate with both the parties wherever we can. If we have to work together to defeat BJP, we will.”

Like the SP and BSP, Congress, too, is vying for Muslim votes in UP. Priyanka’s charisma could also exert traction from the upper caste Brahmin voters, throwing BJP’s caste calculations out of gear. Eastern UP happens to be the home turf of incumbent chief minister Yogi Adityanath and home to Prime Minister’s Lok Sabha constituency- Varanasi. Rahul’s organisational choice for his sibling is compelling- it would be interesting how Priyanka takes the challenge from the word go.

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