How Lakhimpur Kheri incident has given Congress a small window to regain its footing ahead of Assembly elections

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If there's one thing that politics has taught the common man, it is that optics and seizing opportunities really do matter.

A lesson that the Congress and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have learned, as the aftermath of the recent Lakhimpur Kheri incident shows.

From fighting with the police, arguing with officers who tried to stop her, sweeping the floors of the detention room she was kept in at Sitapur for nearly 40 hours, to finally meeting the families of the victims in the violence and compassionately offering her condolences, Priyanka has come out of this incident as the 'major domo' and has also got political experts crowning her as the next competitor to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Will the Lakhimpur Kheri incident be seen as a relaunch pad for the Congress?

Lakhimpur Kheri incident and Congress

On 3 October, three cars rammed into a crowd of protesting farmers at Lakhimpur Kheri. Eyewitnesses claimed that two of the cars belonged to Union Minister Ajay Mishra. The incident and the violence left eight people dead: four farmers, two BJP workers, a driver of one of the vehicles and a journalist.

The Congress immediately took on the Yogi Adityanath government and the Centre on the issue, with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra leading from the front.

She tweeted immediately in the aftermath: "How much does BJP hate the farmers of the country? Don't they have a right to live? If they raise their voice, will you shoot them, will you trample on the car? Enough. This is a country of farmers, not a fiefdom of BJP's brutal ideology."

She was then taken into custody on Monday morning along with Deependra Singh Hooda and others as she tried to make her to way the district to visit the families of those killed.

She was detained near Hargaon after having an altercation with the police and kept in a guesthouse in Sitapur.

Shortly after her detention, social media was flooded with videos of her sweeping the guesthouse. Meanwhile, Congress workers had assembled outside the place of her detention in her support.

Across the country too, Congress workers were seen protesting her detention and calling out the government's "tyranny" against the farmers. She also alleged that she had been detained, but no information regarding her detention was provided to her. The Congress leader also announced that she was going on a hunger strike and would continue to do so, until she was released and allowed to meet the victims' families. On 6 October, in what was perceived as a win for the Congress, Priyanka was released from detention and she, along with her brother, Rahul Gandhi, made their way to Lakhimpur Kheri to meet the bereaved families. Then came the photos that have been talked about and many praised the Gandhi siblings for the compassion and empathy that they displayed while meeting the victim's families. The Congress hasn't let up any pressure from the incident €" with a Rahul Gandhi-led delegation to meet President Ram Nath Kovind on Wednesday to other Congress chief ministers such as Ashok Gehlot, Punjab's Charanjit Singh Channi and Chattisgarh's Bhupesh Baghel calling out the government over the issue. On 12 October, Priyanka once again was the headline grabber as she attended a prayer meeting at the Samyukta Kisan Morcha's 'antim ardas' for the four farmers.

What was even more surprising was that Priyanka was the only political leader to share the dais with farmer leaders during the last prayers.

Enthusing UP cadre

Many political analysts are of the opinion that Priyanka's moves in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident has generated a lot of buzz and also seems to have motivated the cadres on the ground in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the very important state Assembly elections to be held next year.

It is believed that a motivated cadre will help the Congress in improving its tally in the populous state. A reminder: The Congress won just seven seats in the 2017 polls whereas the BJP won a whopping 312 of the total 403 seats.

The Congress last won an election in the state in 1985 following which ND Tiwari was made its Uttar Pradesh chief minister.

Priyanka, the Congress face in UP

The Lakhimpur Kheri violence has also propelled Priyanka to be the face of the party in the Assembly elections. In fact, senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid is among those who have demanded that she be the party's chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP and Opposition parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have already taken notice of Priyanka's ascent. The BJP has taken every opportunity to cut her down.

After her sweeping video went viral, Yogi Adityanath was quoted as saying by News18: "Janta unko ishi layak banana chahti hai (people want to make her capable of doing such tasks)."

The fact also remains that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is a big draw for the media, with many making direct comparisons of her with her grandmother €" Indira Gandhi. Moreover, anti-BJP issues do get more visibility if she raises them.

However, it's not all hunky-dory within the Congress, with a section of the party saying that "her occasional visits don't address the structural problems of the party" in the state. Also, there are the whispers that Priyanka is arrogant to grassroot workers and does not have the experience to manage the polls in the state.

Also, there's the other fact that she is seen as a peacemaker within the party: She pacified Sachin Pilot to save the Rajasthan party and was also responsible for the peace, although, short-lived in Punjab.

It is left to be seen if the Congress can continue its momentum from the tragedy. But one can surely say that if anything Priyanka has carved a niche for herself in Indian politics and she's not going away anytime soon.

With inputs from agencies

Also See: Uttar Pradesh govt denies permission to Rahul Gandhi-led delegation to visit violence-hit Lakhimpur Kheri

Opinion | Lakhimpur Kheri and the Valley: A tale of two massacres and selective emotional outpouring

'Modi ji, have you seen this,' asks Priyanka Gandhi on viral Lakhimpur video ahead of PM's visit to UP

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