In the run up to 2017 assembly elections, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was hailed as the principal architect of the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance. Her last-minute interventions were said to have turned a “no deal into a great deal”.
However, no one in the Congress mentioned it when the party ended up with a humiliating single-digit figure in a 403-members assembly.
In the run up to 2019 parliamentary elections, Congress’s First Family loyalists, attention-seekers and believers in Priyanka Vadra’s charisma started saying that she should be given charge of UP and also a much larger national role to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP.
She was made party general secretary in-charge of eastern UP in the parliamentary polls. ‘Sources’ of mainstream media said that this was done because with her at the helm of party and campaign affairs, Congress would be better poised to make Modi’s re-election from Banaras and Rajnath Singh’s re-election from Lucknow difficult.
Also, the only parliamentary seats—Sonia Gandhi’s Raebareli and Rahul Gandhi’s Amethi—which Congress could manage to win in 2014, were in eastern UP. Jyotidraditya Scindia was made in-charge of western UP, where the going was perceived to be much tougher.
The media gave her wide coverage. Perhaps carried away by the media attention, she famously remarked on a question on whether she would contest elections, `Banaras se na lad jaoon?’ (should I not contest from Varanasi). This was when during an interaction, a Congress worker urged her to contest from Raebareli. Despite Vadra camping for several days in Amethi, Rahul Gandhi lost to Smriti Irani. The rest is history.
Did Smriti Irani’s victory against brother Rahul Gandhi in 2019 inspire Priyanka Vadra to come out with the “Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti Hoon” slogan for the 2022 UP assembly election? Perhaps not.
Reality, counts in politics, but perception matters much more. Whether Priyanka Gandhi’s decision to go it alone in all 403 assembly constituencies and give 40 per cent of Congress tickets to women was driven by courage and conviction, is difficult to say. Even if it was, no one on the ground is inclined to believe it.
After talking to cross sections of people in various parts of the state one gets to understand that:
First, nobody in Uttar Pradesh really cares about the Congress. It simply is not there in the voter's mental frame. Congress leaders are seen or heard more in the media than on the ground. So much so that even though the fourth phase of election is to take place tomorrow, and even when 231 seats have been polled by Wednesday (23 February), Rahul Gandhi is not to be seen in the state.
Second, the general perception among the people at large in the state is that Congress was forced to go alone in all seats because no party was willing to join a completely diminished force.
Third, Congress was in no position to find good candidates for 403 constituencies, so it came with the announcement that 40 per cent tickets would be given to women in these elections.
Congress or Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s biggest test would be on Wednesday, when assembly segments within Gandhi family bastion of Raebareli go to polls.
Last time out of the total six wins for Congress in Uttar Pradesh, two had come from Raebareli – Aditi Singh from Raebareli Sadar and Rakesh Singh from Harchandpur. Aditi Singh’s father always fought and won against Gandhis, but when he faced health issues, his daughter contested on Congress ticket. Both Aditi Singh and Rakesh Singh subsequently joined the BJP.
Priyanka Vadra has two fights in Raebareli. First, make the Congress candidates win from six seats in the district. Second, create a favourable situation for herself given the possibility that she may have to contest the 2024 parliamentary election from Raebareli if her mother Sonia Gandhi vacates that seat.
Make a visit to the area, talk to people and one would get to know that people are already speculating if Raebareli will prove to be another Amethi for Gandhi family in 2024. Even those who claim to be `Pucca Congressi’ don’t deny that possibility.
Congress leaders in Raebareli, it seems, are oblivious to that emerging ground reality. In Bachhrawan town, on Sunday (20 February), Priyanka Vadra was to address a public rally. At 4pm, just outside the ground where the rally was to take place, at a pan (betel) shop, Rampal and a group of men were cursing the organisers – “they have gathered people from 10am, saying that rally was at 10, now someone has told us that rally was actually at 4pm.”
Rampal and his family have been Congress supporters and voters since 1999 when Satish Sharma (Rajiv Gandhi’s close friend) fought election from here. But this time he has been thinking if he should actually vote for Congress in name of loyalty to Gandhi family. A debate is already going on in his family.
He came for the rally at 12 noon and that four-hour long wait had made him agitated: “They don’t care for their supporters. Afterall how long this can go on?”
At the intersection, Suresh Sonekar runs a fresh fruit stall. He and his family have been traditional Congress supporters. He didn’t open up immediately but once he started speaking there was no stopping. “They have taken our support for granted. They don’t realise the winds of change have been blowing for some time. It's time for me to vote for Yogi.”
Inside at the rally ground, a Congress leader holding the mic was speaking loudly “We will wait for our leader Priyanka ji till our last breath. We will wait till our last breath but wouldn’t move till she comes and we see her face to face.”
At around 5pm (seven hours after the announced time) Priyanka Vadra came and the man holding mic says: “She has come and will bless all of you from the podium”. Congress leaders in UP don’t even seem to realise that in a democracy, political parties and leaders seek blessings from people and not bless them.
Move ahead to other parts of Raebareli district, rural or urban, talk to more number of people, and one gets to understand that the going would be tough for Priyanka, should she decide to contest the 2024 parliamentary election from Raebareli.
Sanjay Singh is a seasoned journalist who has worked in all formats of media: print, tv, digital. He is known for his field reporting and political analysis and commentary, particularly those relating to UP elections, assembly or parliamentary.
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