Priyanka is all set to play a national role

The star campaigner of Congress is certainly not going to remain confined to Uttar Pradesh, the state under her charge, writes Amit Agnihotri

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the Congress’ star campaigner is certainly not going to remain confined to Uttar Pradesh, the state under her charge, but is all set to play a national role and travel all over the country countering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s blitzkrieg.

“We have been flooded with requests from almost every state unit that Priyanka should campaign there. We are working out the details,” a senior AICC functionary involved with Priyanka’s campaign said adding that Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are certainly on the cards.

Incidentally, she addressed her first public speech on March 12 after becoming AICC general secretary in charge of UP East at the Congress Working Committee meeting in Gujarat, the home state of PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Another big event is planned in the western state, said the sources.

Priyanka, who is considered to be a natural politician and bears a striking  resemblance to her grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi, is already making the right moves and creating waves around her persona and the Congress party. Her deployment is being seen by party strategists as adding fire power to the nationwide campaign led Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. Party sources said Modi will it hard to hit back at Priyanka the way he attacks Rahul, who is trying to counter the PM’s narrative of muscular nationalism with his concept of justice for all (Nyay).

“Priyanka is the brain behind the Nyay concept and is explaining it to the voters…she is connecting with the women voters by holding small sessions with them and telling them that they are at the centre of Nyay,” said a senior party insider.

The proof of her popularity, said party sources, is the buzz generated around Priyanka in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh since she launcher her campaign through the highly publicised boat ride from Prayagraj to Varanasi from March 18-20 to target the eastern UP which was traditionally the party strong hold.

So far her campaign has been full of symbolism. Be it the stay at the historic Anand Bhavan in erstwhile Allahabad, the home town of Nehrus, to a boat ride from Prayagraj to Varanasi to highlight PM Modi’s failure in cleaning the river Ganga over the past five years and the pain of people residing along the river bank. During her subsequent road shows in Faizabad and Fatehpur to Ghaziabad, Bijnor and Saharanpur in western UP, enthusiastic crowds have brought immense joy to the party strategists who hope to reap a good electoral harvest in the coming weeks.

“Out of these the Faizabad-Ayodhya and the Saharanpur road shows were very successful in terms of voter turnout. While the former one was a Hindu majority area, the latter had a mix of Muslim and jat population. The message is clear…people want a change,” said a senior UP Congress leader. 

True to her style, Priyanka, who introduced Rahul to voters of Amethi in 2004, has been supporting her brother all along. Be it the launch of party manifesto for the 2019 polls on April 3 in Delhi where she urged the youth to read the document carefully to describing her brother as the most courageous man she knew after the Congress chief filed his nomination from Wayanad parliamentary constituency in Kerala on April 4 or accompanying him to the collectors office when he filed nomination from Amethi on April 10. In between Priyanka also dropped subtle hints that she may fight the polls from Varanasi against the PM pushing the BJP managers into a frenzied guessing game. However, insiders said Priyanka fighting the elections is unlikely as it dilutes the focus away from her national campaign. 

Congress insiders said Priyanka knows the field well and has been choosing the issues to slam the BJP carefully. Be it reminding the present generation about the former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi while attacking the BJP for not respecting all martyrs alike to poking fun at PM Modi’s 2014 promise of converting Varanasi into Kyoto city of Japan, she has been speaking her mind.

She took a jibe at the PM to defuse his focus on Pakistan by saying that Modi visited US, China and Japan and ate biryani in Pakistan but did not have the time to visit a poor family in his parliamentary constituency. Old timers recall how she hit back at Modi when as the BJP prime ministerial candidate in 2014 he was attacking her husband Robert Vadra over alleged corruption charges and the Congress party was not sure how to counter him. “Her sharp rebukes silenced Modi..the PM knows that she should not be provoked unnecessarily and has advised his party leaders accordingly,” said a leader.

Displaying awareness of local issues she tweeted to express solidarity with the farmers who lost their crop in the recent untimely rains and hail storm.

Priyanka’s deployment is clearly seen as the Congress response to the regional parties BahujanSamaj Party-Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal who came together to counter the BJP but chose to drop the grand old party from the alliance. Priyanka’s entry has unnerved the mahagathbandan partners who thought the Congress with just 2 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and 7 of the 403 assembly seats in 2017 polls, was a walkover in UP.

In 2014 elections, the Congress had won only Amethi and Rae Bareli, represented by Rahul Gandhi and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, respectively, while the BJP had won 71 seats. Sources said Priyanka wants to change perception about the party as she unfolds her vision for an alternative politics which goes beyond the caste ridden equations in the state.

The nervousness among BSP chief Mayawati and SP boss Akhilesh Yadav has showed in their recent comments that the Congress’ renewed aggression had made the UP contest three-cornered which may end up helping the BJP.

Besides the Lok Sabha polls, she has set her eyes on the next assembly polls in UP in 2022. In her numerous interactions with party workers in the hinterland areas Priyanka has been chiding party workers to work hard for the 2019 national elections but also prepare for the 2022 battle. Priyanka’s mission is clearly aimed at reviving the party in the state, where the Congress has been out of power for the past 29 years, and sending the right signals to the political rivals.

“The deployment of Priyanka is bringing us the benefits…it will hit the mahagathbandhan as Muslims want to support the Congress at the national level and may support the regional parties in assembly polls,” said a Congress strategist.

Commenting on Priyanka the leader this leader said that she does not operate on massive daises like Modi and even addresses public meetings where the gathering is small. “She is not looking at a big show. She goes by people’s affection and trust. For instance, one or two meetings had lesser crowds than expected in Fatehpur constituency but she went on,” said the leader.

Priyanka who is seen charming the voters during roadhshows and greeting them with folded hands, never loses an opportunity to take a selfie for the youngsters. Moreover, she personally receives feedback from variety of sources and patiently listens to people who approach her.

The critics however still question if the buzz around Congress will get votes for the party. “We were lacking mainly on having a direct communication with the voters and could not present the Congress as an alternative. People see her as coherent. We hope the fence sitters will be attracted towards the Congress,” said a senior AICC functionary.

“Besides, Priyanka’s entry has reenergised the party workers and their morale is up,” he said, adding membership enrolment via the application Shakti has gone up manifold after Priyanka’s entry.

Poll observers said the Congress is not a cadre-based party and works more like a mass- based system. “It fights on issues… Priyanka’s charisma will get us the votes,” said a leader.

Party insiders said the Priyanka had always been in favour of the go alone line espoused by Rahul but played a key role in sewing up the alliance with the SP ahead of the 2017 UP assembly polls as most MLAS favoured the tie-up. However she is determined to do everything possible to reboot the Congress in UP which sends the highest (80) members to the Lok Sabha. And certainly if there is a post poll situation where the Congress can work together with the mahagathbandhan allies to keep the BJP out of power, Priyanka the strategist will have a role, said the party insiders.

For the past many years she has played a back room strategist role and has advised her mother and former party chief Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul on the poll campaigns and even in selecting candidates for the party.