The Congress is keeping under wraps its strategy for the next year’s crucial assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh despite growing clamour for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s larger role in the state.
The party has refused to comment on intense media speculation about Priyanka being given a key responsibility in the politically important state.
“We don’t respond to sensationalism or speculation,” said party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala.
The party has maintained that it will share any information on her future role in the organisation as and when any decision is taken.
The Congress general secretary in charge of UP, Ghulam Nabi Azad, dismissed as false reports suggesting that Priyanka will head the party’s campaign committee for the UP polls. “If she wants to come in during the elections to campaign, that is different,” he said.
Congress sources pointed out that poll strategist Prashant Kishor along with state leaders have been pushing for Priyanka’s greater involvement in the election strategy for UP. They have argued that Priyanka with her “charisma” and “popularity among masses and workers” could help the Congress make a turnaround in UP where the party has been relegated to the margins for nearly three decades.
The Congress managed to create some political buzz in the 2012 elections when party vice-president Rahul Gandhi led the poll campaign from the front, addressing 211 public meetings across the state in 45 days.
However, the party could win just 28 of the 403 seats, six more than its tally in 2007, because of a non-existent organisational structure.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the party secured only two seats with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi winning Rae Bareli and Amethi.
The reaction on the ground to growing indications that Priyanka might play a larger role in the state this time around is summed up thus: Party upbeat, public sceptical.
Allahabad, home to the Nehru dynasty, has led the demand for Priyanka’s entry into politics. Haseeb Ahmed, a party worker, fears the 2017 polls would be a washout if she does not take the lead.
“We won 23 seats in the 2012 assembly elections and we could well cross the 100-mark in 2017 with her,” he says.
The party’s Varanasi MLA Ajay Rai believes that Priyanka, along with Rahul Gandhi, can “deflate” the BJP. District president Prajanath Sharma is already planning to invite Priyanka in August to launch the campaign. “We all see the reflection of Indira Gandhi in her.”
The Congress rank and file may be pitching for her to revive the party, but Priyanka’s entry is no guarantee of success. The party last held sway over the state in 1989. It now faces an uphill task, recovering the party base in UP’s fragmented society, building the organisational machinery to convert crowds into votes.
Scattered social base
But here is the problem. The party’s traditional voters have shifted in three different directions – the Dalits have moved towards the BSP, Muslims to the Samajwadi Party, and Brahmins have been wavering between the BSP and the BJP.
The state’s discourse has drastically changed with the advent of the Ram Mandir, Mandal and Dalit dignity as poll planks. While backwards and Dalits have come to associate Congress with upper-caste domination, upper castes don’t quite own it.
The organisational challenge
The next challenge lies in ensuring that crowds convert to votes. Rahul’s rallies were well-attended in 2012 too, but they did not translate into seats.
Eminent Agra historian SP Singh admits that Priyanka’s popularity stretches to rural pockets, but her entry has come a little too late. “She should have launched campaign a year ago as it’s a complex state and the party lacks a base. She will be reduced to a mere star campaigner.”
Will she stay?
And then there is the question of whether she will stay on in UP. Though Priyanka will bring a whiff of freshness to the party’s campaign in the state, people are unsure about her continuity in state politics. The fact that she may not be the CM candidate adds to these doubts.