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With poll Mahakumbh looming, Priyanka takes political plunge

January 24, 2019 05:58 AM

COURTESY TOI JAN 24

With poll Mahakumbh looming, Priyanka takes political plunge
After over a decade of will-she-won’t-she, Rahul Gandhi’s sister enters politics as Cong gen secy overseeing eastern UP, which includes PM Modi’s Varanasi LS seat
100 Yrs After Motilal First Became Cong President, His Great-Great-Granddaughter Gets Party Post
TIMES NEWS NETWORK

New Delhi:

In a surprise move that spices up the poll broth ahead of Lok Sabha elections, Priyanka Vadra Gandhi on Wednesday ended years of “will she, won’t she” suspense to finally take up the challenging task of reviving Congress fortunes in the barren turf of eastern Uttar Pradesh.


The formal announcement of her appointment as general secretary (in-charge of east UP) by her brother Rahul Gandhi, caught senior Congress leaders unawares and set off heated speculation

of the trigger behind her long awaited formal plunge into politics and the possible impact in UP, which had looked like a straight fight between BJP and the SP-BSP combine.

The role of poll management of a politically volatile region where caste and religion often shape voting preferences and which also includes PM Narendra Modi’s constituency of Varanasi and UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s home turf of Gorakhpur, seemed intended to project a serious bid to emerge as the third pole in the state.

Rahul Gandhi’s reaction indicated as much when the Congress chief said the party will play on the “front foot” in UP even as he sought to convey that the decision is not a hostile move against SP and BSP. He made it clear that giving Priyanka charge of eastern UP and Jyotiraditya Scindia that of west UP are not temporary moves. “Now, Congress will have its own CM in UP,” he said.

The appointments are a novel experiment by Congress to split UP into two regions, with separate monitors. There is now a likelihood of two state chiefs. The development immediately spurred ongoing speculation whether Priyanka will replace mother Sonia at Rae Bareli or perhaps contest separately from Sultanpur though Rahul left the issue open, saying it will be his sister’s call.

An early read of the fallout of a credible Congress challenge—if it develops—seemed to be that a genuine threecornered contest should aid BJP that was faced with regional biggies SP and BSP joining hands. Congress, like SP and BSP, will compete for Muslim votes. At the same time, a Priyanka-aided revival of Congress would appeal to Brahmins which could hurt saffron prospects. It is also possible that upper castes unhappy with saffron politics, but chary of SP-BSP, now have a third option, one that will weaken BJP’s main challengers.

That this will be baptism by fire for Priyanka, currently in the US and expected to take charge of her assignment in first week of February, is evident from the fact that Congress has declined in its one-time stronghold with 80 Lok Sabha seats post-Mandal and Mandir politics, touching a nadir in 2014. While it could win only two seats in the last LS polls, it won just seven in the 403-member assembly in 2017.

Pitching Priyanka into the UP “dangal”, where regional power houses BSP and SP have left Congress out of an anti-BJP alliance, seems a serious gamble. It shows a willingness to go full throttle, its fallout for the “secular” camp unity notwithstanding. The stakes of moving Priyanka to centrestage are too high for the move to be a feint, it was felt. If the challenge gathers steam, Congress may be able to work out an informal deal with SPBSP for “friendly” fights in some seats

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