Congress candidates in the whole of Eastern Uttar Pradesh will find it difficult to stay afloat and may perish if the Modi momentum picks up.
New Delhi: After having raised the expectations of not only the Congress cadre but also the rest of the country by indicating that she was willing to contest from Varanasi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, AICC general secretary, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, by shying away from the mega fight has harmed the prospects of her own party beyond retrieval. In fact, even the timing of her decision, which coincided with Modi’s grand road show in the ancient holy city, is likely to have an impact on the fate of Congress nominees in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.
Shocked with the development, several party sympathisers claimed that there could be only two possible reasons for Priyanka to back out. It is being said that UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was against her daughter taking on Modi from Varanasi since she apprehended that Priyanka would completely overshadow current party president Rahul Gandhi, and emerge as the undisputed leader of Congress, regardless of the outcome. The official explanation is that the family was not in favour of her making an electoral debut, which entailed defeat, thereby prematurely ending a career far before it had taken off.
However, there is speculation in party circles, which suggests that the decision could be the result of a negotiated settlement with some of the key opponents to ensure a safe passage for family members who are under scrutiny. This assumption has categorically been rejected by those close to the Congress leadership, who have accused the BJP of spreading this canard.
Another significant fallout of the decision is that the party has fielded Ajay Rai as its candidate against Modi, knowing full well that in 2014 he had lost to the Prime Minister by over 5.5 lakh votes. The declaration of Rai’s name on the very same day when Modi had arrived in Varanasi could have been easily avoided. The announcement could have been made after the Prime Minister had left the sacred city, thereby diluting the focus on the faulty selection of candidate. The Mahagathbandhan had already made up its mind to field Shalini Yadav, daughter-in-law of former Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson, Shyam Lal Yadav, and therefore it was unnecessary for the Congress also to enter the fray. The decision was against Rahul Gandhi’s initial strategy of weakening Modi since it would split the anti BJP vote. However, if there are two nominees from principal parties against the Prime Minister, he has been assured of a walkover.
The wide reaching larger message that has emanated is that the Congress is in fact facilitating the BJP victory in Varanasi, which can spell serious trouble for the party’s nominees in the remaining four phases of the ongoing elections. In Uttar Pradesh in particular, Muslims may now completely switch to the regional players, or may resolve not to be over enthusiastic in voting against the BJP. According to analysts, the Priyanka factor would be a game changer for the 2019 elections and could most likely have boosted the BJP’s chances in seats where it was under performing.
Her presence in Varanasi would have raised the morale of the Congress cadre, thus enhancing the prospects of the party contestants. The inverse side is that the Congress candidates, in the whole of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, would find it difficult to stay afloat and may perish if the Modi momentum picks up. The developments could have resonance in Delhi as well, where the AAP would now garner the Muslim votes. Without any shadow of doubt, Priyanka was the Congress party’s Brahmastra and unfortunately by not deploying her effectively the high command has jeopardised its own fortunes.
Veteran leaders, including Lal Krishna Advani, have always stressed the need for the country to have a strong opposition, and the Congress alone being a national level party could have been in a position to fill the void. While it is premature to make political forecasts, the Congress apparently is losing the plot. The party strategists must review the remaining phases objectively and put into motion an effective plan; otherwise the way things stand, the Congress may end up replicating its 2014 performance. The argument is that since those responsible for the 2014 debacle continue to play a pivotal role in making decisions, how could the outcome be different in 2019?