Amid indications that an alliance was agreed Thursday between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party group led by Akhilesh Yadav, who has reportedly called a meeting Friday to identify seats that can be given to the Congress, sources within both parties also hinted at a larger campaign role for Akhilesh’s wife Dimple as well as Priyanka Gandhi of the Congress. There has long been a demand within the Congress that Priyanka campaign outside the family bastion of Rae Bareli and Amethi. In the SP, leaders have of late started calling for Dimple as campaigner beyond her own constituency, Kannauj.
A few sources within both parties said the two women leaders had already met during the winter session of Parliament. While some other leaders wouldn’t confirm this, they too agreed that the two are likely to hold joint meetings in the future.
A role of star campaigner would be a step forward by Dimple, 39, who in 2009 was not even considered a serious candidate. She lost that by-election from Firozabad, to current state Congress president Raj Babbar. And when she won in 2012, it was with a walkover from other parties. In 2014, though, she won a close battle against the BJP in Kannauj. Even as MP, she has largely kept away from the party’s organisational activities. Now, leaders within the party as well as poll consultants want her as “star campaigner”.
“We are excited about seeing both campaign together,” said Brijlal Sonkar, SP MLA from Mehnagar in Azamgarh. “Dimple’s conduct and behaviour attract women in both rural or urban areas. She is seen as someone conscious about retaining her traditional values and at the same time raising issues close to her heart, be it in Parliament or here.”
Accepting that male dominance is still prevalent, Sonkar called for change. “I am 65 and ready to let my daughter and grandchildren take the roles that they are capable of. Dimple is capable of attracting serious votes for the party. Our mother or grandmother might not have imagined such roles but times have changed,” said Sonkar.
Those close to Dimple said the role has come gradually rather than suddenly. In 2014, she caught public attention with a speech in Parliament on women empowerment. At home, she had started taking an interest in government programmes on issues she connects with, such as nutrition, hygiene and health of women and children. In the last 2½ years, she is seen as having played a role in structuring two UP schemes — Hausala Nutrition Project for pregnant women and malnourished children and Disha, a sanitary napkin project. Since then, she has been seen sharing the dais with Akhilesh during the launch of such schemes.
“It is a crucial election and who could be a better partner for the CM than her,” said MLC Udaiveer Singh, an Akhilesh aide. “They make an ideal couple, out of any controversy, away from personal ego… We, as workers, expect to see more of her in the elections.”