Priyanka Vadra recently met senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad to discuss her role in Uttar Pradesh, as apprehensions against Rahul Gandhi continue to grow in the poll bound state. In information available exclusively to this newspaper, Priyanka went to Azad’s residence on 25 June and held an hour-long meeting, deliberating on her likely induction as Congress’ chief campaigner in UP. A source close to Azad told this correspondent that these developments took place after the party’s rank and file in the state complained to Azad that they had little faith left in Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, following election drubbings in four states recently, including in Assam and Kerala where the party was ousted from power in spite of campaigning by the Congress vice president. The decision to rope in Priyanka Vadra as the lead campaigner is almost final, the source confirmed.
Azad, who was on a two-day visit to UP on 16 and 17 June to collect feedback from party functionaries, was asked by the party’s state leadership to convey to Congress president Sonia Gandhi that they wanted Priyanka—and not Rahul—to lead the campaign. Azad was appointed as the Congress’ election in-charge for UP by Sonia Gandhi earlier in June.
The source told this correspondent that the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, when he returned to the national capital, briefed Sonia Gandhi about UP Congress’ lack of trust in Rahul. “There was a meeting between Soniaji and Azad when he returned to New Delhi. Azad told Soniaji that the state unit was apprehensive of Rahul and had pinned its hopes on Priyanka,” the source said.
Significantly, Ghulam Nabi Azad had himself publicly pitched for Priyanka Vadra’s active role in UP elections. “This time the demand from (party) workers is that she should also spare some time to campaign in some other constituencies of Uttar Pradesh. I hope she will spare some time and campaign in other constituencies too,” Azad had told the media on 15 June.
While the source was not able to say whether, or not, Priyanka met Azad on her mother’s instructions, he said the meeting took place in less than a week after Azad briefed Sonia Gandhi about his UP visit. The source added that Sonia Gandhi too wanted Priyanka to be at the helm of affairs in UP.
During her meeting with Azad, Priyanka is said to have nearly consented that she would go beyond the Gandhi family pocket-boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli and take up a larger role.
“Rahul is losing his credibility in one election after another. Azad and Soniaji both want Priyanka to lead the UP elections. During the meeting, Priyanka almost gave her consent that she would visit Uttar Pradesh and campaign for the party throughout the state. The meeting, which took place without the media getting to know about it, was convened to discuss the logistics,” the source told this correspondent.
When asked whether Priyanka would also agree to become the Congress’ Chief Ministerial candidate in UP, as has been suggested by Congress’ poll strategist Prashant Kishor, the source replied in the negative. “She will campaign for the Congress; that is almost certain. But there is no decision yet on the CM candidate. Chances are slim that she (Priyanka) would agree to that,” the source said.
The source, however, admitted that whether it was Rahul or Priyanka or Prashant Kishor, the UP unit of Congress was “riddled with groupism” and it would be a mammoth task to experiment with the party’s organisational structure.
“When Azad visited UP, the PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) president of the state (Nirmal Khatri) did not come to receive him. He was afraid that he would be asked to step down,” the source said. Three days after Azad concluded his visit, Khatri resigned from his post, giving the impression that the Delhi leadership ensured that he made way for a proposed organisational revamp. Two days later, however, Khatri stated in the media that he had not resigned, publicly displaying the fact that the state leaders were ready to block any new experimentation.
The source added: “While there was no resentment to Azad’s appointment as the election in-charge, there is increasing groupism in the state unit. Right now, there’s a lot of pessimism. And the only thing people are demanding is to keep Rahul away from the centre-stage and let Priyanka handle the elections,” the source said.
The media has been rife with reports for some time now about Priyanka’s entry into active politics. Party spokesperson Shobha Oza had recently told the media that “A decision on the role of Priyanka Gandhi (Vadra) and what she would do in Uttar Pradesh would be taken by her along with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.”