The Congress is abuzz with speculation that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra may be deployed to save its fortunes in Uttar Pradesh. Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Congress General Secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradhesh has already stated that he is hopeful that Priyanka would venture beyond the family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli in the coming Assembly polls. What he leaves unsaid is that a survey commissioned by the party predicts that with Priyanka, the party could win as many as 50 plus seats; without her, they are left with a kitty of just 10 odd seats.
The importance of injecting Priyanka into the UP campaign is the one thing that both Azad and Prashant Kishor, the ace strategist roped in by Team Rahul Gandhi, agree upon. While Kishor has been briefing the media (off record of course!) that he would like to see her as the chief ministerial face, Azad is more realistic. He wants her to take on the role of chief campaigner. Sources in the Congress say that Priyanka (and family) is seriously considering the second option. In fact, while speaking informally with the media a few months ago, Priyanka had said that she was ready to take on whatever role in Uttar Pradesh that her brother desired. She made it very clear that the call was ultimately Rahul Gandhi’s.
And for all his grand plans, Kishor would be well advised to study the history of the Nehru-Gandhis who rarely choose the state route to the Centre. Veteran Congress leaders point out that “if Priyanka makes a debut, it would be as star campaigner and not CM Candidate. Though to be fair to Kishor his first choice was to inject former Delhi CM Shiela Diksit as the party’s CM face, The three-time Delhi Chief Minister was, in fact, brought back to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh, has a connect with the cowbelt, a track record of governance and also ticks the Brahmin face requirement to woo the vote bank. But as she told NewsX, it is too short a time to do very much.
But can Priyanka really make a tangible difference? What does she bring to the table aside from girlish charm, an ability to connect with the masses and a great line of repartee. For when it comes to ticking the leadership box, she remains an untested commodity. Even Smirit Irani, whom she had dismissed infamously as a “Smrit who?” in the last election campaign, now brings her ministerial experience to the table.
And then, of course, there is the baggage of Robert Vadra. Congressmen were unhappy when she recently took on the media over news of an Enforcement Directorate notice being sent to Skylight Hosipitality Ltd, a company owned by Robert Vadra for dubious land deals in Bikaner. Questioned by the media, Priyanka affirmed that the Vadras had got the notice, but also chided the media saying, “We got it at 4.30pm, but you seem to have received it a day before.” She was, of course, referring to the fact that news of the notice had been leaked much earlier. Scoring brownie points apart, Congress leaders were unhappy that she became the face of the Vadra-reply on the ED notice. “Since her name is not mentioned on the notice, why did she have to reply,” groaned a party general secretary.
But, in that Priyanka is shrewder than the Congress and knows that she — and the Gandhis — are the real target and not her husband. Which is why Sonia Gandhi dared the government to conduct an “impartial investigation” when Vadra was linked to the arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari recently. And as for those who make a link between Priyanka and her grandmother Indira Gandhi, would do well to remember that unlike Vadra, Feroze Varun Gandhi had a spotless corruption free reputation. Instead, he was a self-appointed crusader against the corrupt in his father-in-law’s government.
There is, however, a counterpoint to this, for it is not Indira but Benazir that is the correct comparision. And Benazir did remarkably well with Mr Ten Percent (as her husband came to be known) by her side. Asif Ali Zardari himself went on to become the President of Pakistan. And we all know that Vadra harbours political ambition for himself, the Dhingra Commission enquiry notwithstanding.
There is, however, another wild card up Priyanka’s sleeve. And that is her cousin Varun Gandhi. As this paper disclosed last week, there is a plan to bring back Varun to the Congress. If Priyanka succeeds in convincing Varun, then the party has a strong CM face from the family.
In fact, BJP sources disclose that Varun’s exit was timed for last week, post the Emergency anniversary events planned by the government. The plan was that once his own party targeted his father Sanjay Gandhi, an emotional Varun would play the family card and quit the party. But, says the source, Amit Shah got to know of this and it is for this reason that the party underplayed its attack on the Emergency, depriving Varun of his excuse to quit. This is also one reason why the Congress publicly honoured Sanjay Gandhi on his death anniversary this year on 23 June with hoardings and posters and a visit to Shanti Van by Sonia Gandhi.
Kishor is said to approve of the plan to woo Varun. Two months ago, he had held a meeting with the party’s frontal organisations asking them to identify Congress workers who had worked with Sanjay Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh.
Whether it is to field Varun, or take to the campaign field herself; whether to defend her husband or to safeguard her brother’s political legacy — Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s political calendar has suddenly got very active.