In a U-turn of sorts, Priyanka Gandhi will not be the star campaigner across Uttar Pradesh, a reliable source in the office of a very senior Congress leader said exclusively to this newspaper, adding that the party’s initial assessment suggests that though it will improve its vote percentage, any sizeable increase in its seat tally is unlikely, courtesy the indifference shown to its campaign by the minority community, and hence the “top leadership” has decided not to waste the “Priyanka card” in an election it was most likely to finish at the bottom.

 “She (Priyanka) will not campaign across the state, except for holding a few small, localised meetings. She will mainly campaign in the family pocket boroughs Amethi and Rae Bareli, as she had done in the past. In the last leg of the election, there may be a couple of her rallies in ‘safe constituencies’. But the plan to project her as Congress’ star campaigner across UP has been dropped. There will be no such Priyanka Gandhi show as anticipated,” the source said. Earlier, different media outlets had reported that Priyanka will be campaigning across the state, where Assembly elections are due early next year.

 When asked about the sudden U-turn, the source said that although Congress’ early projection of a CM face, its attempts to woo the upper castes and a month long, extensive “Kisan Yatra” have generated a buzz, things are not turning the way the party had imagined. “Muslims are not showing interest in the Congress. In Muzaffarnagar, the repsonse to Rahul’s roadshow was disappointing. There is still anger and disillusionment with the Congress within the Muslim community. Sheila Dikshit as CM face is yet to make an impact as Akhilesh Yadav is very young and has launched schemes that have benefited certain sections. Mayawati too is not that old and Dalits may go for her, as they know Congress did not do much for them while in power…

 “As far as the Brahmins are concerned, we are nowhere close to bet on them. The BJP and BSP both have Brahmin faces and the community has voted for them in the past.  After much deliberation, the top leadership decided that it would be extremely risky to project Priyanka in an election where our chances are not bright.”

 The source further said that even when the Congress had earlier decided to go ahead with Priyanka in UP, there were concerns as to how to deal with the dual power structure that would emerge with the entry of Rahul Gandhi’s younger sibling. “It was felt that letting Priyanka hold the UP poll mantle will be an acknowledgement of lack of trust in Rahul’s leadership. Jo role Rahul Gandhi ka hai, wo role wo nahi le sakti (Priyanka cannot be awarded the position which Rahul Gandhi is already holding). If you bring Priyanka, Rahul Gandhi will be sidelined and rival parties will miss no opportunity to play up a power tussle story,” the source told this correspondent.

 The source also said that despite Prashant Kishor’s best attempt to unite the party and increase cadre strength, the state unit of the grand old party continues to be a fractured house. Apparently, ex-PCC chief Nirmal Khatri is miffed with the high command for replacing him with actor Raj Babbar and is internally campaigning against the latter.

The source said that not much should be read in Rahul Gandhi’s road shows that attracted large crowds as these were being stage managed by multiple ticket hopefuls in every constituency. “The crowds are being stage-managed by those who are aspiring for tickets. The ticket distribution has not been done yet and there are three or four hopefuls in every constituency. The party has said tickets will be given to those who are able to demonstrate their support base and outreach. So, these people are arranging big crowds in order to impress Rahul. It is only after the tickets have been allocated, we will come to know about our actual cadre strength,” the source pointed out.

 On Thursday, Rahul Gandhi winded up his month long Kisan Yatra in New Delhi, having covered 141 Assembly constituencies in 48 districts of UP. Since the “yatra” commenced in Deoria on 6 Setember, he has done 26 “khat sabhas” and an equal number of road shows. The Congress vice-president had been consistent in attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for allegedly waiving off Rs 110,000 crore worth of loans of the industrialists. He had been wooing the small traders and farmers all through, while accusing the BJP of neglecting their interests. The party hopes to regain its lost foothold by attracting the Brahmins (13% of UP’s population) and consolidating its erstwhile vote bank in the state, the Muslims who constitute a little less than 20% of all electorates. The Brahmins had helped the Congress win 21 of 80 parliamentary seats in UP in 2009, up from nine seats in 2004. But the lukewarm response from Muslims to Rahul’s road show has dampened its spirits. The crowd in Rahul’s road show in Muslim dominated Muzaffarnagar was so thin that the leader was forced to leave the town without addressing any rally. Attendance was discouraging in his widely publicised “khat sabha” in National Kisan PG College of Shamli, too. As of now, only the farmers may be attracted to the Congress because of the loan waiver promise that is being made to them. After the end of Rahul’s yatra, it is clear that there will be no significant gain for the party in terms of seats, a realisation that goaded its leadership to do a rethink on launching Priyanka from Uttar Pradesh.


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