Free Press Journal

Priyanka Gandhi: Trump card or damp squib?


ORGANISATIONALLY, the party in UP has long been in a shambles. It is banking on Priyanka’s charisma and is additionally hoping to ride on Akhilesh’s shoulders. But it is in a blind alley and could well fall on its face in seeking to run.

With Priyanka Gandhi jumping into the Uttar Pradesh assembly poll fray as a ‘star campaigner’, the Congress party has thrown its final dice in the electoral battle in the country’s most populous state. Whether this would prove its trump card or it would show up as a damp squib like the entry of her brother Rahul a few years ago remains in the realm of speculation.

Congressmen are hoping that the success of this gamble could open the door for revival of the grand old party across the country at least to a limited degree but its ignominious failure could relegate it to near oblivion with little chance of revival in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

In what seems an orchestrated campaign to boost her, Priyanka is being credited with having saved the Congress alliance with the Akhilesh Yadav-run Samajwadi Party from the brink. How much of that is true and how much is it fictional is uncertain but she is being projected as the one who resurrected the tottering alliance through clever strategising.

That the Congress is playing second fiddle to the Samajwadis means that at best it can aspire to a subordinate status as a coalition partner of SP. But there is no doubt that an impressive showing could raise Priyanka’s stock with the people.

Organisationally, the party in UP has long been in a shambles. It is banking on Priyanka’s charisma and is additionally hoping to ride on Akhilesh’s shoulders. But it is in a blind alley and could well fall on its face in seeking to run.

How far Akhilesh would be willing to go in the new partnership is also dependent on the fact that he, who, of late, is nurturing national ambitions could look upon Rahul Gandhi as a threat to his power ambitions at the Centre.

Having inherited some Machiavellian traits from his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh has kept a trump up his sleeve. He has announced candidates for assembly seats in the two Gandhi family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli.

The cold reality is that the Congress was virtually mauled in the 2012 polls that brought the SP to power. The SP won 224 seats with 29 per cent vote share to the Congress’s 28 with a vote share of 12 per cent. Rae Bareli and Amethi Lok Sabha constituencies have five assembly segments each. The Samajwadi Party had won seven of these 10 seats and the Congress just two, Jagdishpur and Tiloi. During the talks leading to the alliance, the Congress had wanted the lion’s share in these much-touted ‘bastions’ but the Samajwadi Party was unrelenting.

What is particularly significant is that despite Priyanka Gandhi having been the star campaigner in Amethi and Rae Bareli in 2007, the Congress lost all five assembly constituencies in Rae Bareli, of which the SP won four — Harchandpur, Sareni, Bachharawan and Unchahar. Only Rae Bareli Sadar was won by Peace Party candidate Akhilesh Singh, whose daughter recently joined the Congress.

Besides, in these five seats, the Congress candidates finished second only in Harchandpur and third in the other four. So much for Priyanka’s campaigning about which Congressmen are so excited this time around. That despite the fact that she concentrated all her attention on Amethi and Rae Bareli this was the outcome inspires little hope of Priyanka working her magic. Relying overmuch on SP would indeed be a folly. The Congress is seeking more seats in areas covered by the two parliamentary constituencies that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul hold on grounds that there is anti-incumbency against SP leaders but this would not hold water with Akhilesh.

Of the five seats in Amethi, the Congress won only Jagdishpur and Tiloi — the Tiloi MLA, Mohd Muslim, has since joined the BSP. The SP won the remaining three seats – Gauriganj, Amethi and Salon. The Congress finished second in all these three, including Amethi where Ameeta Sinh was defeated by Gayatri Prajapati, who went on to become a minister in the SP government and is considered close to Mulayam Singh Yadav. In the two seats the Congress won, the SP finished second.

Meanwhile, of the 43 candidates declared by the Congress late Sunday night, six are for sitting MLAs – Pankaj Malik from Shamli, Sanjay Kapoor from Bilaspur, Gajraj Singh from Hapur, Mohd Sayed Khan from Syana, Bansi Singh Paharia from Khurja, and Pradeep Mathur from Mathura. The SP had declared it would contest all these seats but is now softening its stand somewhat.

In a sense, putting the spotlight on Priyanka amounts to a tacit admission by the Congress that her brother Rahul is not equal to the task of reviving the party. That Priyanka is charismatic and has some mannerisms and qualities of her grandmother Indira Gandhi was well recognised for long. But there is no gainsaying that Sonia has been reluctant to bypass Rahul who as a male descendant is heir-apparent to donning the party mantle.

It is a measure of the party’s subservience to the Gandhis that Congressmen cannot look beyond them in terms of leadership.

As she prepares to campaign across the state, Priyanka will have to contend with the fact that her husband Robert Vadra may well be booked for some dubious land deals in Haryana and Rajasthan sooner than later.

Vadra had been roundly criticised by the BJP in the wake of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections for amassing wealth through unfair means but he has been spared thus far. Priyanka’s entry into active politics will intensify the demand for action against him. Whether Priyanka will manage to weather the storms that she will face will be a test of her political sagacity and her durability as a leader.