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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Congress, BJP battle it out in Uttar Pradesh

The Congress will play “on the front foot” for the Lok Sabha elections and fight to form Uttar Pradesh’s next government, the party’s president Rahul Gandhi said on Monday during a roadshow in Lucknow that drew thousands of people and marked the political debut of his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2019 07:57 IST
Pankaj Jaiswal and Umesh Raghuvanshi
Pankaj Jaiswal and Umesh Raghuvanshi
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra with brother Rahul Gandhi in UP.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra with brother Rahul Gandhi in UP.(Reuters file photo)

The Congress will play “on the front foot” for the Lok Sabha elections and fight to form Uttar Pradesh’s next government, the party’s president Rahul Gandhi said on Monday during a roadshow in Lucknow that drew thousands of people and marked the political debut of his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

The two siblings and Congress general secretary incharge for western Uttar Pradesh Jyotiraditya Scindia travelled for six hours on the top of a vehicle after arriving at the airport in Lucknow, crossing roughly 15 km through streets flooded by excited supporters and lined with posters welcoming Priyanka Gandhi.

“I have told both of them [Priyanka Gandhi and Scindia] that the Congress began from UP, and it cannot be weak here. The two have to strengthen the party here to first perform well in Lok Sabha elections and then form the government in UP after 2022 assembly elections,” Rahul Gandhi said at what has been billed as the party’s biggest event yet in the run-up to the general elections due this summer.

Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into active politics, which had been a subject of much speculation for years, comes at a time the Congress is aiming for a turnaround in Uttar Pradesh, which sends more members (80) to the Lok Sabha than any other state in the country.

Party leaders and political leaders see her entry – she has been designated the general secretary incharge for UP east — as a crucial boost to cadre morale at a time when two regional powerhouses decided to keep the Congress out of a formidable coalition.

Also read | At Priyanka Gandhi’s mammoth road show, Rahul says time to win Uttar Pradesh back

While she did not make any comment during Monday’s event, she had on Sunday sent an audio message to party workers, saying: “I wish together we will begin a new politics and you be a part of it. Youth, women and marginalised, everyone’s voices will be heard. Let’s establish a new future and politics.”

On Monday, as she stood atop a bus carrying images juxtaposing her with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, she waved at supporters and the Lucknow public jostling to get a glimpse.

The images drew on the striking resemblance that Priyanka shares with her grandmother Indira. A majority of the hoardings also read “Indira Is Back”.

Political analysts said Priyanka Gandhi’s entry will help energise the party. “Yes, Monday’s roadshow will help in rejuvenating the Congress now. In the long run, Priyanka and Jyotiraditya’s challenge will be to strengthen the party at the grassroots,” said SK Dwivedi, former head of the department of political science, Lucknow University.

Congress president Gandhi touched on the issue when he told the incharges: “Give a push to workers at the grassroots. This is your responsibility. Those who fly high will not work and if you push the grassroots level workers, the Congress will gain strength.”

Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) president Raj Babbar, senior UP leaders RPN Singh, Anu Tandon, and others accompanied the three leaders on the roadshow that went through the state capital’s arterial roads.

Using the campaign to target the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government on the Rafale deal, the Congress president held up a cardboard cut-out of the Rafale jet to the crowd, which shouted back: “Gali gali mein shor hai, chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is a burglar, it is known)”, a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has on several occasions sought to describe himself as a chowkidar to signal his fight against corruption.

The purchase of the Rafale fighter aircraft is mired in a controversy, with Opposition parties saying the new deal is more expensive and was struck to enrich industrialists “friendly” to the PM.

BJP leaders hit back, saying the roadshow was a “chor show” (a show of burglars). “People of UP, especially Lucknow, will come to see the corrupt faces of those who looted ₹12 lakh crore of this nation,” said UP minister Siddharth Nath Singh, who later described the roadshow as a ‘flop’.

Gandhi also spoke about the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party (SP-BSP) alliance, saying, “I respect Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, but the Congress party will fight with full force. The party will fight for its ideology. It will fight to change Uttar Pradesh.”

SP chief Yadav welcomed the Congress roadshow in Lucknow and said parties should continue organising such events. “We are in alliance with BSP, but we do have other parties too with us, including the Congress, the Rashtriya Lok Dal and regional parties like the Nishad Party,” he said in Firozabad.

Congress will take on the ruling BJP as well as the SP-BSP coalition that is expected to sweep pockets determined by complex caste calculations.

From 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh in the 2009 general election, Congress’s tally fell to just two in 2014. It had a vote share of 10% in UP east in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and 4.9% in the west.

The BJP swept all parts of the state when it won 71 of the 80 seats with a vote share of 42.6%, and the 2017 assembly elections when it won 312 of 403 seats with a vote share of 40%.

According to an HT analysis, had the BSP and SP fought the elections together in 2014, their combined vote share was more than that of the BJP in 41 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh.

Late on Monday, Priyanka Gandhi went to Jaipur where her husband Robert Vadra will on Tuesday appear for questioning by the Enforcement Directorate over allegations of money laundering in connection with a land allotment matter in Bikaner.

She will fly back to Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, and will remain in the state till Thursday to hold meetings with party workers.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Vadra issued an appeal for Priyanka Gandhi’s safety, saying the political atmosphere is “vindictive and vicious”.“My best wishes to you P [Priyanka] on your new journey of working in UP and serving the people of India,” he said in the post.

Also read | ‘It’s like Indira has come back’: Priyanka Gandhi makes political debut with roadshow

First Published: Feb 12, 2019 00:00 IST