Lucknow: The entry of Priyanka Vadra nee Gandhi, just a few months before the Lok Sabha election, could change the political contours of UP – the gateway to the Delhi Sultanate. To begin with, it could lead to a subtle realignment within the SP-BSP alliance and also vis-a-vis the Congress.
Priyanka is vested with the responsibility of east UP, which will seal the fate of 58 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats. Both Rae Bareli and Amethi fall in this region; also on Priyanka’s radar will be PM Modi’s Varanasi seat, Allahabad, Lucknow, Kanpur and all seats around Delhi — such as Ghaziabad, Aligarh, Meerut, etc.
The area of influence of the BSP and the SP is also UP east. By tasking Priyanka with the charge of the region, the Congress is sending out a clear message to Bua-Bhatija that howsoever powerful be their alliance, they have to perforce accommodate the Congress on some seats, or at least have a tacit understanding. So, for the SP-BSP combine, it is time to reassess their individual strength in certain areas where Priyanka could make a difference.
Under her ‘watch’ will be Varanasi and Gorakhpur, which have been the strongholds of the BJP. This is again a wellcalibrated decision of the Congress to take the fight right into the pocket borough of Yogi Adityanath and PM Modi. Politics is all about symbolism and the Congress may now be perceived as a serious alternative by those who are averse to the BJP for ideological or other reasons.
Ditto for those who have reservations about the SP-BSP combine. However, on the flip side, Priyanka’s presence and her tactical understanding with the SP-BSP could lead to a consolidation of hard core Hindu vote in favour of the BJP. Ironically, Priyanka’s presence is supposed to rejuvenate a defunct Congress party, but actually it may further diminish the importance of the UP Congress Committee (UPCC).
More so, since Jyotiraditya Scindia, a rank outsider, has been made general secretary for UP west. When the Congress party was reduced to a paltry two seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election (one each for Rahul and Sonia), party workers had raised a clamour for Priyanka’s induction. It is widely believed that the party was waiting for the opportune moment to make the announcement.
And there may not be a better moment than now, with UP’s two major regional parties, the SP and the BSP, aligning for the 2019 election, delivering a huge snub to the Congress. Priyanka has never actually been “out” of politics in the sense that she has campaigned actively in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in Amethi and Rae Bareli in the past few years. And she played an active role in crafting the Congress-SP alliance in 2017, selecting chief ministers after the recent win in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisharh, and deciding party candidates in various elections.
Priyanka’s likeness to her grandmother and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is often cited as a measure of her strength. The big idea, of course, is to recreate the Nehru- Gandhi magic in a state which was once regarded as a Congress bastion. The fact that Priyanka has been given the charge of only half of UP could be an indication that Rahul wants to be still seen as calling the shots, even though Congress workers and office bearers from east UP would now interact only with Priyanka, and not Rahul.
As for the BJP, it would rush to harp on the allegations against Priyanka’s husband Robert Vadra. It will not be a surprise if, in the coming days, the Vadra card gets played out in every public appearance. Besides Priyanka and Rahul, the Congress lacks star campaigners in UP and the UPCC remains in a dormant state.
In this situation, the impact of her appointment on the party could be limited to selecting the appropriate candidates and quelling dissent. In any case, for the Congress, anything beyond two seats is a gain. But politics is also all about public perception. How voters perceive Priyanka could tip the scales.