Priyanka Gandhi Vadra takes political plunge, Congress says it is ‘fired up, ready to go’
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is expected to take over from the first week of February.Updated: Jan 23, 2019 23:11 IST
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday formally joined active politics in a surprise move that ended years of speculation over her political future and was hailed by Congress leaders as a “game changer” for the party ahead of the 2019 general elections .
In her first official assignment, Priyanka Gandhi, 47, has been appointed All-India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary incharge for eastern Uttar Pradesh, a crucial part of the country’s most populous and politically important state that includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi represent the fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Their father, Rajiv Gandhi, grandmother, Indira Gandhi, and great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru were all prime ministers who entered politics from Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress president also elevated senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia as AICC general secretary and handed him the charge of western Uttar Pradesh, thereby splitting the organisation of the state between Scindia, 48, and Priyanka Gandhi.
Coming months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the appointments of Priyanka Gandhi and Scindia are part of Rahul Gandhi’s strategy to revive the party in Uttar Pradesh, where it has been struggling to arrest its falling fortunes since being ousted from power in 1989 despite a surprising upturn in fortunes in 2009, when it won 22 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats.
In 2014, the only two seats the Congress won were Rae Bareli and Amethi, from where United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi contested.
The Congress’ decline in the state started with the rise of the Samajwadi Party (SP) of Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The two have stitched up an alliance for the upcoming elections and kept the Congress out of their tie-up. With the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya as one of its principal planks, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also emerged as a key player in the state over the last three decades.
Rahul Gandhi’s decision to give a key party role to his sister underlines the significance of Uttar Pradesh to forming a government at the Centre.
“UP is central to building a new hope filled & compassionate India. The new UP AICC team lead by Priyanka & Jyotiraditya, will herald the dawn of a new kind of politics in the state. We will offer the youth in UP a dynamic new platform to transform the state,” Rahul Gandhi later tweeted.
Robert Vadra wrote in a Facebook post: “Congratulations P... always by your side in every phase of your life. Give it your best.”
BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, attacked the Congress over Priyanka Gandhi’s appointment, saying it highlighted its reliance on the dynastic politics. “In the BJP, we don’t take decisions on the basis of what a family or a person wants. Un logon ke liye, parivar hi party hai, lekin BJP mein party hi parivar hai [For those people, their family makes the party but for the BJP, the party is like a family],” Modi said in Maharashtra’s Baramati.
“Her [Priyanka Gandhi] appointment proves Rahul Gandhi has failed to leave a mark as Congress president,” Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, adding that he wondered why she was given charge of only east UP.
Janata Dal (United) vice-president and poll strategist Prashant Kishor tweeted: “One of the most awaited entries in Indian politics is finally here! While people may debate the timing, exact role and position, to me, the real news is that she finally decided to take the plunge! Congratulations and best wishes to Priyanka Gandhi.”
The move was kept strictly under the wraps and took not only the BJP and other political parties by surprise, but even several senior Congress leaders.
The party’s general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was looking after the party affairs in UP till Wednesday, had called a meeting of select office bearers in Lucknow on Thursday. Azad, who has now been given the charge of Haryana, had also pencilled in a brainstorming session for UP at the party’s “war room” at 15, Gurudwara Rakabganj Road in Delhi on Friday.
Upbeat Congress leaders from UP insisted that Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into active politics will boost the party’s confidence and re-energise workers not just in the state but across the country.
A large number of Congress leaders have demanded over the years that Priyanka Gandhi take the plunge into active politics. But she confined herself to campaign management in Rae Bareli and Amethi, and was informally involved in the party’s election preparedness in UP in Lok Sabha and assembly elections in the past.
She was seen to have played a key role in stitching up an alliance with SP for the 2017 assembly elections, but the tie-up failed to help the Congress in its revival attempt as it managed to win just seven of the 403 seats.
“Her entry will change the nature of politics in the country. This will also shatter the illusions of the BJP and give its leaders sleepless nights henceforth,” said Prakash Joshi, AICC secretary in-charge of UP.
Former Union minister and party in-charge of Jharkhand RPN Singh, who contests elections from UP’s Kushinagar, echoed the sentiment. “She will strengthen the party in its resolve to fight communal and casteist forces. She has brought the Congress back in the narrative straightway,” he said.
Another former Union minister from UP, Jitin Prasada, said: “She is a game-changer. The politics in the Hindi heartland is about to change. With a new general in command, each UP Congress worker is battle-ready. She has not taken any position in a place where the Congress is doing well but taken a challenge head-on in a state where the party badly needs her.”
According to a party statement, Priyanka Gandhi will take charge in the first week of February. Scindia, who represents Madhya Pradesh’s Guna in the Lok Sabha, will take over immediately and continue to be the party’s chief whip in the Lower House of Parliament.
Professor Badri Narayan of Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad said, “I see it as a very positive development for the Congress. I won’t call her entry as a game changer but it will certainly change the politics in UP. It will also help the Congress in emerging as a third block and that may affect BJP and also the SP-BSP. But, BJP will be affected more than the alliance.”