With the announcement of Priyanka Gandhi as the General Secretary of the Congress Party, in charge of UP East (Purvanchal), the electoral math of India’s most populous state has suddenly become more interesting. It is not just the ruling BJP, which will turn a tad nervous, but even the recently announced SP-BSP marriage may see some testing times.
Besides nurturing her mother Sonia Gandhi’s constituency Rae Bareili, Priyanka Gandhi has seldom been in the news, at least in Lutyens’ Delhi. However, reports from Rae Bareili seem to suggest that Priyanka has done significant amount of work, especially in the rural segments of the constituency, which has won her the appreciation of some segments of the society.
Secondly, her area of charge includes Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s own constituency, where, despite all the hype, there is precious little that has changed, whether it is the city or the river. Purvanchal also has Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath’s home. In a single move, Priyanka finds herself pitted against two of the biggest BJP’s electoral icons. While an electoral loss may not hurt her much, such an eventuality will severely dent BJP at a national level.
Thirdly, Priyanka will be aided by the reports of lawlessness and vigilante violence that has been the topic of national discussion and which has put the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, on the defensive, the recent one coming in just yesterday. She will, as a part of her narrative, combine the three factors and seek to highlight the virtues of GOP, as against the alleged polarization politics of the ruling BJP.
Equally important are the optics. Her uncanny resemblance to her grandmother, iron lady and former PM Indira Gandhi, will be a huge soft factor in the campaign, and one that will have a massive influence, on the older voters, and the women voters, irrespective of caste equations or developmental arguments.
As to the BJP, it may want to turn its attention to the recent elections to State governments, where it lost the popular mandate decisively. BJP’s taunts and jibes at ‘pappu’ Rahul Gandhi badly backfired and at the end of the day, except for the die-hard ‘bhakts’ who are fed on friendly TV channels in urban India, RG is now seen as a leader with matured abilities and an ability to win elections. Given that, BJP may want to tone down its mirth and jokes on Priyanka’s joining politics lest it runs the risk of converting the Priyanka sceptics into Priyanka voters. ‘Pariwar is party’ is no longer a jibe, but an in-your-face statement by the Congress.
The SP-BSP is also a loser. The Akhilesh-Mayawati combine was hoping for a tacit alliance between the duo and Congress before the elections in May. However, with the recent move, Congress will most certainly eat into the dalit votes that the alliance was hoping to capture; the BJP will also have to sweat hard for the upper caste Brahmin votes, which will also be covetously eyed by the Congress, it being their traditional stronghold in the UP.
The biggest headache for Priyanka is likely to be her husband. With Robert Vadra’s shenanigans under the scrutiny of law enforcement agencies, BJP will certainly play the Vadra angle to counter the Congress narrative. Till date, Priyanka has been strangely silent about the entire issue but has allowed her husband to deal with the matter. Her PR has to step up, not just to clear her stance on the matter but also to blunt the offensive from BJP. That will be tricky.
The problem that the BJP will face is tough – if they don’t respond to her and counter, Priyanka may just run away with Purvanchal. If they do, they will end up providing legitimacy to her status which only helps her stature, in the near and mid term.
Clearly, Congress has played its card well. There is no hint of apology for being a dynasty party. Priyanka’s appointment, while perpetuating the family’s pre-eminence, is unlikely to cast a shadow on the voting population, irrespective of what Lutyens’ inhabitants may feel.