For the record, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra routinely denied any interest in a role larger than helping brother Rahul and mother Sonia work in their Lok Sabha seats Amethi and Rae Bareli. But with SP and BSP keeping it out of the alliance and the BJP announcing 10% quota for the unreserved poor, the Congress had to think out of the box — to stay in the game.
Party insiders said that after the tri-state triumph, leaders had urged Rahul Gandhi to do “something” in UP. He is said to have assured them of a “440-Volt jolt.”
How electrifying Priyanka’s induction will be is anybody’s guess but two things are clear: One, her entry has told the UP voter that the Congress is serious about its fight in the state, against the BJP and in the face of the SP-BSP combine, so serious that it has risked its biggest trump card; two, it has told the voter outside UP that the stakes for Rahul have gone up with another Gandhi at the Congress’s high table.
For the Congress, eastern UP isn’t exactly friendly terrain. Of the 21 seats it had won in 2009, 15 were from eastern UP but in 2014, it drew a blank except for the two family seats. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Varanasi and Yogi Adityanath’s Gorakhpur will be under her watch.
Many in the party feel that as Sonia Gandhi, battling ill health, prepares to withdraw, her 47-year-old daughter is the one to step in to connect to women and the youth. Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was in charge of the state, had, in fact, suggested that she should be made the general secretary in charge of UP during the last Assembly elections way back in 2017.
“But I think they wanted to do it an appropriate time,” Azad told The Indian Express. “The people of UP know her well…the goodwill of the Gandhi family, her resemblance with Indira Gandhi, all counts…she is a big crowd puller.” Azad admitted Priyanka’s entry will considerably ease Rahul’s campaign burden.
As his first high-profile appointee, she will be his eyes and ears in UP while he campaigns across the country.
Clearly, Sonia wanted Rahul to establish himself and be seen as inducting his sister rather than the mother “imposing” her in the party. The Rahul-led Congress has been aggressive, showing a penchant to take risks and think out of the box.
Be it the surprise decision to hand over the reins of Chief Ministership to H D Kumaraswamy in Karnataka or shedding his kid gloves in his attack on the Prime Minister, Rahul has been experimenting. The Congress, under Sonia Gandhi, would have never dragged a corporate house into the political tug-of-war. But invoking Anil Ambani or Gautam Adani is his routine rhetoric.
Priyanka will be an asset, party leaders hope, in the perception battle that’s heating up. “TV will follow her meetings. What happens when Modi or Yogi attacks her and how does she react? We are not going to sweep the elections in UP because of her but our candidates will benefit,” said a senior Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh who was a minister in the UPA government. “But she will occupy voter mindspace.”
Some see it as a move to chip away at the BJP’s upper-caste bastion which sees the Congress as a “non-serious” option. “We can be an alternative for minorities, upper-castes and non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs,” said another former Union Minister.