By appointing Priyanka Gandhi as the general secretary of the AICC in-charge of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Congress has declared that the region is a crucial part of its agenda. What are the political implications of the decision?
Eastern UP had been part of the Congress’s political base for a long time. Prayagraj, which was a Congress stronghold during the freedom struggle, remained so till the 1980s. It was also the parliamentary constituency of Lal Bahadur Shastri. The region also houses the Phulpur constituency, which was Jawaharlal Nehru’s parliamentary constituency and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit too won this seat. Reviving the party in Eastern UP clearly carries symbolic weight in Congress politics and the party seems eager to recover its old bastion.
Even today, the Congress has considerable influence in 25 seats in the region, including in Barabanki, Faizabad, Gonda, Sultanpur, Pratapgarh, Allahabad, Varanasi, Unnao and Mirzapur, among others. In 2009, the Congress showed impressive results in these seats. Now, again, the strategy may well be to consolidate that influence to gain electoral victories.
The Congress also seems to want to reforge its old social base, which used to consist of Muslims, Brahmins and Dalits. In Eastern UP, this voter base has been scattered among the BJP, SP and BSP over the last 35 years. There are at least 20 seats in Eastern UP where the Muslim votes matters. If the Congress can project itself as a national alternative to the BJP, coupled with the likely presence of Priyanka Gandhi as a campaigner, it may lead to a mobilisation of the Muslim vote for the Congress.
Priyanka Gandhi’s campaign may also influence Brahmins. She may be able to appeal to women across castes, communities and religions. A woman in an East UP village told us that “oo Indira Gandhi jaisan laukat haee” (she looks like Indira Gandhi). This image, perhaps, could help rekindle the fondness that many in the hinterland held for Indira Gandhi.
The Congress may also see ancillary benefits by placing Priyanka Gandhi in East UP. For one, her campaigning may extend to the areas of Bihar near the UP border. In addition, East UP also houses the parliamentary constituencies of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The Congress, by placing Priyanka Gandhi in her new position, appears to be preparing to challenge both the BJP leaders in the politics of perception.
Priyanka Gandhi’s presence appears a bid to strengthen the Congress in UP at the expense of both the BJP and the SP-BSP alliance. The Congress may fracture a section of forward caste votes, especially Brahmins and bring them in its fold. It may also attract a section of Muslims. Priyanka Gandhi’s formal entry into the political foray, then, carries the possibility of turning the Congress from a “vote katua” party to a winner in a few parliamentary seats in UP. Her presence may also give a boost to the confidence of Congress party workers ahead of the general election.
Priyanka Gandhi’s entry may also affect the strategies of the SP-BSP alliance, which might be compelled to reconsider the wisdom of keeping the Congress out of the gathbandhan.
Priyanka Gandhi has hinted at an ability to conduct popular politics with some skill during her visits to Amethi and Rae Bareily, but any future success will depend on the role she plays in ticket distribution as well as if and how she campaigns in the field and door-to-door.
The writer is director, G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. Views are personal