Lucknow: Congress President Rahul Gandhi and party general secretaries Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jyotiraditya Scindia during their roadshow in Lucknow, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (PTI Photo) (PTI2_11_2019_000221B) *** Local Caption ***
Lucknow: Congress President Rahul Gandhi and party general secretaries Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jyotiraditya Scindia during their roadshow in Lucknow, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (PTI Photo) (PTI2_11_2019_000221B) *** Local Caption ***

Lucknow: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the newly-appointed Congress general secretary for eastern UP, made her first public appearance on the streets  of Lucknow on Monday, along with brother and party chief Rahul and Jyotiraditya Scindia, her counterpart in west UP. The trio arrived in Lucknow and made a slow, circuitous journey to the UP Congress Committee office atop a bus, which was part of a procession of vehicles and people who walked along side.

The entire route was decorated with banners, posters, flags and welcome gates with people thronging the roadside to catch a glimpse of Priyanka, perceived as the new hope for the Congress party. Marigold and rose petals were showered on her by Congress workers throughout the journey. The ‘roadshow,’ as it was called, was a success in terms of hogging the city’s attention and television news space for the most part of the day.

Traffic was diverted on affected routes and the event caused long traffic jams on alternative routes. The onlookers were more interested in confirming whether Priyanka really resembled her grandmother Indira Gandhi, as much as is claimed, or not – because Priyanka has rarely been seen in public anywhere besides Rae Bareli and Amethi. However, at the UPCC office, leaders and workers were a little disappointed as Priyanka left for Jaipur where her husband Robert and mother-in-law Maureen face day-long questioning by ED officials on Tuesday.

Priyanka has been given the responsibility of ensuring electoral victory on as many of the 44 seats in that region as possible. The seats include those represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, several Union Ministers and heavyweight MPs. However, for nearly three decades, the Congress has been on the periphery of the political space and regional parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have dominated the socio-political fabric.

In the last three years, the BJP has emerged as a force so strong that long-time rivals SP and BSP were forced to come together in an alliance to take it on in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election. The two parties left out the Congress from their alliance because they either perceived Congress as too weak to be considered worthwhile, or both of them thought the Congress represented a common social constituency.

With a weak organisational structure, state-level leaders that are grossly out of touch with the grassroots, and three strong parties itching to give it a beating, the Congress really needs a strong dose of enthusiastic leadership, aggressive campaigning, starpower and organisational back-up to make a noticeable impact in the next general election. That Priyanka alone would provide all this – and that too on the strength of her resemblance with Indira Gandhi – is a tall order.

The complex realities of caste, community, regional loyalties, poverty and other difficult issues in eastern UP have made it a tough arena for all political parties. No party has had a complete sway in this region for long, and looking for winnable candidates will be a tough task for the Congress. The party had put up 105 candidates in the 2017 Assembly elections when it tied up with the Samajwadi Party and won just 7 seats.

It contested all the Lok Sabha seats in 2014 but won just two. Clearly, Priyanka has a lot to do and deal with, once she decides to give full time to the state. But Priyanka will have to divide her time between her political responsibility and the travails of her husband who faces allegations of money laundering. It will surely need more than a morale-boosting roadshow since time is running out for the Congress to make its presence felt in a state where the party has been out of the race for decades.

Although the victory in three Assembly elections in December has given the party’s enthusiasm a much-needed boost, the Priyanka factor did not come into play. According to party leaders, the party is looking at the prospect of holding long and detailed discussion on all seats in the state, and arrive at a formula that mixes caste, community and winnability for every seat. The all-important question is – with her limited exposure to grassroots socio-political realities of eastern UP — will Priyanka have a say in thrashing out this formula? Also, will she leave her political imprint on the State?

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