There are several pertinent questions to ponder about a Congress campaign led by Priyanka Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh
Prashant Kishor is a smart man. In
2013, when the country had deep undercurrents of resentment against the then ruling dispensation led by Manmohan Singh, Kishor put together an intelligent team of youngsters and took up the mantle of handling election campaign of Narendra Modi, an outsider to the ‘Lutyen brand’ of politics and who promised to cleanse the country of corruption. As widely expected, Kishor and Modi handed the BJP its biggest win in parliamentary elections and a mandate that astounded many.
The following year, Kishor jumped camps to handle the campaign of Nitish Kumar, a sworn rival of PM Modi in Bihar. Against a resurgent BJP, the campaign had its doubts. But Kishor worked out the math — he would draw on the arithmetic strength of the RJD, JDU and the Congress and combine it with the clean, development-friendly image of Nitish. And it worked. The JDU RJD-Congress combine, which came to be known as the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ rode to power with wins in 178 out of 243 constituencies.
But many wonder whether Kishor took the wrong step when he agreed to formulate the Congress strategy in Uttar Pradesh for the state elections in 2017.
UP’17 is considered the semi-final to the general elections in 2019 and is considered integral to the BJP’s efforts to build together a ‘Congress-Mukt’ Bharat. While the saffron party fancies its chances in UP after its impressive general election show (71 out of 80 seats), it doesn’t look all that good for the Congress. Adding to its worries are the ruling-Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) – strong regional parties with established cadres. It is at this juncture that Kishor has reportedly asked the Congress leadership to bring in Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to campaign across the state, and not limit her to the Gandhi pocket-boroughs of Rae Bareli and Amethi.
Kishor’s plea inherently stems from the demands of the local block level units of the Congress who believe projecting a strong leader and that too from the Gandhi family could produce wonders. There are no doubts that Priyanka enjoys higher popularity ratings than her brother at least in parts of the Gandhi bastions. Her oratory specially her mastery of the Hindi language coupled with good organizational skills have been successful in retaining the two parliamentary seats even when the competition was fierce.
Prashant Kishor tells Congress to bring in Priyanka to campaign across UP in 2017. Congress expects Rahul Gandhi to take over as Party Chief this year. But to even consider Priyanka’s candidacy, there are several questions to be pondered.
First, is she even interested in the job? Largely, for the last decade, Priyanka, a doting mother to two children, has restricted herself to visiting the two Gandhi bastions and never ventured anywhere else. She has never contested an election or held any posts in the party. There is also a bigger theme of sibling complexes.
Will projecting Priyanka be seen as overshadowing Rahul? But given the latter’s eventual elevation as the party president and the presumptive PM nominee in 2019, that may be put to rest. But as I said, she has to be interested in the job and that hasn’t been clear as of yet.
Second, is her candidacy enough for the party to pull through? In the last Assembly elections, the Congress bagged a dismal 28 out of the 355 seats it contested, a slight improvement from the 22 seats it got in 2007. But what will hurt them more is the fact that the party has just two MLAs in the ten Assembly segments in the districts of Amethi and Rae Bareli in 2012. So while the voters are clear about sending Sonia and Rahul to Parliament, they clearly don’t want to vote for the party in state elections. If a campaign led by Priyanka has to work, there has to be a state-wide mobilisation of workers and the strengthening of block units. And more importantly, a clean message that the Congress can deliver has to percolate down to the masses.
Third, and most important, can Kishor craft a campaign that’s free of factionalism and squabbles that the Congress is infamous for. While the clamour for Priyanka is indeed there in the state unit, there are voices, specially among the senior rungs of the party that such a move could backfire. While 10 Janpath has historically broken down rebellions in the past, it is not the same anymore, as is evident in what we saw in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Moreover, there is a power tussle with 12 Tughlaq Lane that periodically brims to the surface.
So, will a Priyanka campaign be able to unite the party in what will be a fiercely contested election?
You can’t blame Kishor for trying his luck. After all, if he can deliver UP for Congress, there can’t be a bigger political story than that. But it’s an uphill task, a grand uphill task at the moment.
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