The Congress has finally decided to unleash its political weapon Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (44) in the poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh (UP). But fearing that this ‘weapon’ may have a cascading effect on her brother Rahul Gandhi’s political fortunes, party leaders have suggested that Rahul’s anointing as Congress president be advanced, and accentuated, ahead of drafting his sister into the campaign.
Two sets of dates are being discussed in the corridors of Congress circles. The first is November 19, the birth anniversary of Indira Gandhi, the ideal date on which to kick Rahul upstairs. Similarly, December 9, Sonia Gandhi’s birthday, is seen as the ideal time to launch Priyanka. Sources in the party say the Congress intends to launch her with a mega show in Allahabad.So far Priyanka Vadra has kept herself confined to the family bastion of Amethi, Raebareli and Sultanpur while campaigning for the party. But it is believed that she has agreed – after much persuasion by the party general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad and PCC president Raj Babbar – to join the rallies and roadshows across the state. In the first leg of her tour, the party is lining up 150 public meetings.
Party leaders also say that they are also in no mood to allow president Sonia Gandhi to take retirement from politics. A post of a patron or chairman unlike the BJP’s powerless ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ is being explored to accommodate her. In this role Sonia – who will be celebrating her 70th birthday on December 9 – is likely to continue to keep tabs on office bearers and party functioning.
In fact, the senior Gandhi had recently gone to Allahabad a couple of months ago and set up a small team there at Anand Bhawan, the ancestral house of the Nehrus, to plan for Priyanka’s mega show. This shows that she is still playing an active role in the party’s functioning.
Speaking to reporters, Congress party general secretary and in-charge of UP, Ghulam Nabi Azad said the campaign by the brother-sister duo will be a “game changer” for the Congress to attract the people of the state. He added that the people here can never forget the contribution of Jawaharlal Nehru and the Gandhis in the building of modern India.
Senior party leaders also say that Rahul Gandhi’s recent kisan yatra – that covered 3,468 km in 30 days – has also had a positive impact for the Congress in UP politics. Now to keep up the tempo, party leaders said the Congress has many more programmes that will be launched one after the other to build up steam ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections.
On the strategising front, party leaders say that there is cause for optimism, as Muslims have slowly, but steadily, been drifting away from Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party, in the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots. These minority voters are looking towards the Congress.
Also, other backward communities are beginning to look towards the Congress for their empowerment, as they have been complaining that the quotas reserved for them are being taken away by influential Yadavs. Reports also have it that party strategist Prashant Kishore and his team have been vigorously trying to get farmers and also a Brahmin-Muslim combination for the party.
This however, seems highly unlikely in the current scenario. Political analysts recall the fact that both Muslims and Brahmins had abandoned the Congress almost simultaneously in the wake of the Babri Mosque demolition, though for different reasons. Since then Brahmins have been moving from the BJP to Mayawati.
Congress leaders however believe that history is on their side. Party leaders point out that that Brahmins in the state since regard Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as their tallest political icon, even more than that of any RSS stalwart. They expect the campaigns of both Rahul and Priyanka to make a dent in the community, so it returns to the Congress fold.
The party is also banking on the fact that the BJP is failing to make a decisive dent into the backward vote bank despite their pro-reservation statements. Congress leaders are optimistic that unlike past elections, in 2017 no one can really write off the party’s chances.
The key though for the party is handling the Rahul-Priyanka scenario. Rahul has to made president and soon, as with Priyanka in the field, there will be calls from party cadres to make her president instead of him. To stop such demands, it is necessary that Rahul first takes over, before his sister hits the campaign trail.