Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is apparently putting in her best efforts to enhance the Congress chances in Uttar Pradesh despite the fact that some of her remarks have triggered off speculation regarding her own electoral ambitions. Speaking to workers in her mother Sonia Gandhi’s constituency, Rae Bareli, she while responding to an enthusiastic welcome, tongue-in-cheek wanted to know whether she should contest from Varanasi from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a re-election. “Varanasi se lad loon?”, she inquired.

Priyanka, who bears a strong resemblance so far as her appearance to her illustrious grandmother, Indira Gandhi, has her own seamlessly effortless style of connecting with people. She is both charismatic and witty, and these two qualities are evident during her interaction with various sections, cutting across caste and community barriers.

Ever since she mentioned Varanasi as a possible constituency for making her Parliamentary debut, in political circles speculation is rife regarding her plans. Analysts are unanimous in accepting that if she were to take on Narendra Modi from Varanasi, the entire 2019 elections would be electrified and the contest would turn into a mega fight, regardless of the outcome. Most of the international media would descend on this ancient Uttar Pradesh city, situated on the banks of the Ganges, to cover a Modi versus Priyanka battle, relegating everything else to the background. The challenge would have shades of the 1980 big fight where Vijaya Raje Scindia was fielded against Indira Gandhi in Rae Bareli. At that time, India Today had billed the confrontation as Mrs India versus Mrs Scindia, with full-blown pictures of both the contestants on its cover.

However, Priyanka and Modi may never have a direct encounter, with both of them being nominees of their respective parties. This would be primarily so because within the Congress, family loyalists would advise Priyanka not to risk her electoral launch by pitting herself against a formidable candidate like Modi. Secondly, others would be concerned that if such a tussle were to take place, Priyanka would emerge undisputedly as the sole leader of the Congress, notwithstanding the result. This effectively would mean that Rahul’s era as the prima donna of the party would end much before its time, something that would not sit well with Sonia Gandhi.

In Rae Bareli, Priyanka also made an interesting yet significant comment where she told workers to be ready for the 2022 Assembly battle even if at this juncture they were not prepared. “Tayyari kar rahe ho aap chunav ki? Is wale ki nahin, 2022 ke liye…” This is being perceived by several political pundits as her way of putting across her intention of entering the electoral arena only in 2022 where she possibly could be the party’s Chief Ministerial face.

Evidently, Priyanka appears to be still undecided on the kind of role she would want to play in Congress politics. She has the urge to pit herself against Modi, thereby making it her political baptism by fire. On the other hand, she wants to give the workers sufficient time before she takes the plunge and thus is talking in terms of the 2022 elections.

However, the reference to 2022 has also rubbed both the Samajwadi Party and the BSP the wrong way, even if this was not Priyanka’s intention. Both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav have aspirations of occupying the Chief Minister’s chair in 2022, and by pitching the Congress for the coveted spot, the Congress general secretary has needlessly touched a raw nerve. Activists of both the parties believe that Priyanka wants everyone to take note that she was going to be a serious contender for the UP Chief Ministership. The question is:  why refer to 2022 elections, when the 2019 poll process has commenced? This is the second time the Congress has mentioned 2022, the first instance being when Rahul Gandhi, while inaugurating the party campaign along with Priyanka and Jyotirditya Scindia, had also spoken about the preparedness for 2022.

In addition, by visiting Chandrashekhar Azad alias Ravaan in Meerut, Priyanka had not only provided an insight of how her mind works and at the same time had also infuriated Mayawati who considers herself as the sole defender of the Dalit rights. This particular visit was uncalled for, since a miffed Mayawati can wrought more harm onto the Congress; it being in no position to retaliate in equal measure. For instance, if the BSP or SP were to put up serious candidates from Rae Bareli and Amethi, it would be tumultuous for both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

So far, the singular objective of the Congress president has been to somehow prevent the Modi government from returning to power. However, during the campaign, this goal has become blurred. Rahul has virtually withdrawn himself from the Prime Ministerial race, but while the situation continues to be fluid, earlier in the week in Amethi, Priyanka announced that the electorate may not only be voting for an MP but a possible Prime Minister.

With barely 10 days left for the first phase of voting to begin, the Congress needs to have a more focused approach. It should have clear-cut clarity on its targets and accordingly deploy its energies and resources. It should concentrate on improving its communication strategy so as to push its NYAY agenda with more seriousness. It should make up its mind on alliances in places like Delhi, while simultaneously not allowing Haryana to be lost by default. If the party has to revive itself each seat counts. Between us.