While Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to formally launch sister Priyanka Gandhi in politics beyond the family pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli took the power corridors of Lutyens’ Delhi by surprise, the announcement was yet to sink in among the electorate in many places of Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday.
An animated discussion between Mahesh Chand Yadav, Mohammed Irshad, Sushil Nishad, Vinod Kushwaha and Vishram Singh Yadav at an animal feed shop at Bakhewar, in Jahanabad Assembly segment of Fatehpur Lok Sabha constituency, about the Lok Sabha elections continued uninhibited — without the Congress, even after being informed about the party’s decision to formally hand over electoral responsibility to Priyanka in East UP.
With their usual rustic banter about each other’s choice of party, the group of farmers did not get drawn to repeated attempts to factor in Priyanka’s new electoral role. Their debate revolved around PM Narendra Modi-CM Yogi Adituanath versus Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav, with a little bit of name-calling of potential candidates from Fatehpur seat.
“Let her (Priyanka) campaign wherever she wants. We should vote where our vote counts for something,” Mahesh Chand Yadav, very critical of the Modi government, said, suggesting that they would not like to waste their vote on a party that may turn out to be an also-ran.
At another place, mention of Priyanka’s name got villagers to associate her with the Congress’s legacy. “The Congress had come out with the Rs 2-per-kg ration scheme. It could launch only in a few states before 2014, but now it’s everywhere,” Buagwandin Maurya, in his sixties, said when told about Priyanka’s appointment. The resident of Devri village in Fatehpur didn’t dwell on Priyanka but the mention of her name drew Maurya to invoke the Congress-led UPA’s national food guarantee legislation.
“Indira Gandhi had helped get land patta for many deprived people,” said Pawan Kumar, a Dalit, when nudged to react on Priyanka’s political course.
Both Kushwaha and Pawan Kumar put the upcoming elections as a contest between the BJP and the SP-BSP alliance.
Although Priyanka seemed not to matter much — at least now — to these respondents in Fatehpur, abutting Rae Bareli, on the other side of the Ganga, that her name strikes a connect with a promise associated with the Congress is a political capital that the grand old party will seek to capitalise on in the coming days.
Given how Priyanka has thus far kept herself confined to Amethi and Rae Bareli, many people in other constituencies can be excused for their lack of enthusiasm over the Congress’s latest decision. But people in Rae Bareli, cutting across gender, class, caste and age groups, vouched for her charisma. “Priyanka Gandhi will make a definite impact.
Wait and watch,” Shivkaran Singh, an upper caste Rajput voter in his late-50s, said at Baiswara, near Lalganj in Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituency. “Priyanka Gandhi has the potential to turn around many political equations,” Saurabh Singh, in his mid-30s, chipped in, while his companion, Shailendra Yadav, asserted that she will “galvanise young voters across castes” with her charisma.
“Priyanka reminds you of Indira Gandhi,” said Ramsajivan Yadav, in his 50s, suggesting that other political parties will make a mistake in taking her lightly.
It may take some time before Priyanka’s name gets associated with an electoral promise, but the general association of her name with the Congress’s glorious legacy could be a solid foundation to mount an electoral challenge while being in Opposition. Her charisma, cited by the electorate in Rae Bareli, has now got an opportunity to play out on a larger canvas of nearly 40 constituencies in central-eastern UP.
That she has been given charge of a region which has got political heavyweights of the likes of PM Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and CM Adityanath has its ‘high risk-big rewards’ gambit. More so, when the Congress has been left out of the SP-BSP alliance in the state.
Given how electoral conversation in the state has the potential to get polarised in a direct contest between BJP on the one hand and SP-BSP on the other, the Congress, however, has an uphill task to rejig the contest.