Credit for the Congress party’s clinching of seat-sharing deal with the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh is being ascribed to party president Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka Gandhi in a calculated move to test her sway on the voters of the State in the upcoming Assembly elections. It is being claimed in Congress briefings that it was Priyanka who got round Akhilesh when the SP’s strongman was acting hard to get. The mention of Rahul in that context has virtually died down. In a sense this is a tacit admission that her brother Rahul Gandhi is not equal to the task of reviving the party which has been down in the dumps. That Priyanka is charismatic and has some mannerisms and qualities of her grandmother Indira Gandhi was well recognised for long. But in a party in which the Nehru-Gandhi family holds the Congress party in a firm grip, Sonia was reluctant to bypass son Rahul who as a male descendant is heir-apparent to donning the party mantle. Now, however, a via media has been found. While Priyanka will be tested in the Assembly polls, the real beneficiary of the Congress’ good showing if it comes about would be Rahul.
However, Priyanka would be a trump card that would come in handy for the Congress party in the crucial battle with the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 if she comes good in her ordeal of fire in UP. As things stand, Congressmen are too mesmerised by Sonia and her children to think of anyone else in the party. They were beginning to seriously doubt Rahul’s vote-catching potential but now feel enthused by Priyanka’s possible role in party matters. In the early stages after the 2014 general elections Priyanka was wary of her husband Robert Vadra being hounded and hunted for his controversial land deals by the BJP but inaction on that front has emboldened her somewhat. How deeply she would accept being involved in Congress affairs, however, remains to be seen. A great deal indeed would depend on the results of the UP elections.
All in all, an interesting battle lies ahead. That before the SP-Congress deal was inked the Samajwadi Party had already announced candidates in some constituencies falling in the Amethi and Rae Bareli constituencies which the Gandhis regard as their pocket boroughs could not be without strategic reasons. While the Congress has swallowed this clever ploy, it remains to be seen how the equations between SP and the Congress actually shape out in the run-up to the polls.