It is more than evident that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is attempting to emerge as the front ranking Congress leader after Rahul Gandhi’s continued refusal to take back his resignation. Her visit to meet the victims of the Sonbhadra massacre in Eastern Uttar Pradesh may have reminded veteran politicians of her grandmother, Indira Gandhi’s fightback against the Janata regime which commenced from Belchi in Bihar, more than 40 years ago, but the fact remains that Priyanka has a long way to go before she can be viewed as the former Prime Minister’s worthy successor.
The entire drama enacted to near perfection at a Mirzapur guesthouse seemed to have been scripted well in advance, and it is not merely a coincidence that several young leaders of the party landed up at the dharna venue or openly expressed absolute support to her effort, which undoubtedly boosted the sagging morale of the cadre. Priyanka has a way of connecting with people and for 24 hours she had put the Uttar Pradesh government in a state of disconcertment. The Congress general secretary is visibly determined to take control of her party, even though Rahul had made it amply clear that he did not wish any Gandhi to succeed him. For the sake of form and propriety, Priyanka may refrain from becoming the party president, at least for the time being, but in all probability shall ensure that someone who would be at her beck and call would be elected to the coveted position.
The Sonbhadra incident has exposed several glaring loopholes that exist in the Yogi Adityanath-led government, but Priyanka’s trip would have boosted the Congress cause provided there had been a robust party infrastructure in the state. The Eastern UP belt is the homeground of the Chief Minister and to believe that this one-off visit would have weakened his hold would be nothing short of political naivety. The question being asked is: why did Priyanka, who returned from the United States a few days ago, decide to go to Sonbhadra, instead of any of the Assembly poll going states, where the Congress could have reaped political dividends? For instance, Maharashtra is going through a very rough patch and her presence there would have enthused the cadres. Priyanka’s record in UP has been rather uncomplimentary. In 2017, it was because of her intervention that the Congress got into an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav and lost bitterly in the Assembly elections, resulting in a large number of party workers supporting the BJP instead of the Samajwadi Party. In the 2019 Parliamentary polls, the Congress was able to retain only Rae Bareli, that too because of the last minute help from local strongman Akhilesh Singh. The biggest blow was the loss of Amethi from where Rahul was vanquished by his BJP challenger and Union Minister, Smriti Irani. Priyanka, who, at one stage, seemed inclined to contest against Narendra Modi from Varanasi, backed off, leading to speculation on whether there was some sort of a negotiated settlement that had led to her reviewing her decision, even though this sounded far-fetched. In fact, the presence of Congress candidates in a number of constituencies had dented the chances of the Mahagathbandhan, which was seen as the major threat to the BJP rather than the grand old party. Thus, by fielding candidates, the party ended up helping the BJP.
Congress ideologue, the late Devendra Dwivedi used to often say that politics paradoxically had its own logic and its own illogic. Seen in this context, the Priyanka visit to Sonbhadra can also be viewed from a different prism. The BJP has been talking about holding simultaneous polls at the Centre and in states. The One Nation, One Poll issue is most close to the heart of both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Like in the Lok Sabha, the threat in UP would be from both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, rather than the Congress. Thus by positioning the Congress in a pivotal role, knowing full well that it was not going to win too many seats, would Priyanka not inadvertently be assisting the BJP? Her presence would definitely be advantageous to the saffron brigade, rather than supportive of secular forces. There is no denying that each party should have the liberty of carving out its future strategy, and the Congress is within its right to do what it deems fit in Uttar Pradesh. However, ultimately, the BJP would be the major beneficiary. Therefore it is imperative for the Congress leadership to identify its main opponent and accordingly arrange its priorities. If the objective is to take the BJP head-on in the country’s largest state, the Congress should build up its party at the grassroots level, since gone are the days when people would vote for leaders who would shake hands with them. In the initial part of the Parliamentary campaign, Rahul had categorically stated that his main target was to defeat the BJP. However, if the Congress high command wants to review this decision, it is their prerogative. Prior to this, the party must have a president, who in consultation with others would determine the tactics to be deployed against its opponents. It should certainly not be left to one individual alone, whose track record is not very exemplary in the electoral arena. Priyanka certainly can be a top leader, once she is able to deliver on the ground. Between Us.