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Priyanka Among the Pigeons

January 24, 2019 06:16 AM


Priyanka Among the Pigeons
Ajoy Bose

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s dramatic entry in politics on the eve of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls is likely to worry BJP even if it does not significantly boost the number of seats Congress wins. BJP, already beleaguered by a large cabal of opposition leaders joining hands to defeat the ruling party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may be pushed further on the back foot by this gambit of Congress president Rahul Gandhi that has clearly caught the BJP leadership by surprise. As the challenges mount to Modi’s bid to get a second term in office, there are several reasons why he would not want Priyanka Gandhi breathing down his neck in India’s politically most crucial state of Uttar Pradesh.

On the face of it, there is no reason why the appointment of Priyanka as Congress general secretary in charge of eastern UP should make any concrete difference to the electoral prospects of the party. She has already been an integral part for the past several years of behind-the-scenes strategy sessions with her brother and mother Sonia Gandhi that ultimately decided the thrust of Congress policy initiatives. Besides, with barely a few months left for elections, there is not much the Gandhi sister can do with the moribund Congress organisation, whether in the west or east of Uttar Pradesh from where the party managed a mere 6% of the popular vote during the last Lok Sabha polls.

However, the impact of the longawaited formal induction of Indira Gandhi’s grand-daughter into Congress on the perception of party cadre — and, perhaps, sections of UP voters who still retain nostalgic affinity to the Nehru-Gandhi family — is a different matter. Indeed, besides boosting the morale of party workers and leaders, the move to give Priyanka Gandhi charge of eastern UP is cleverly designed to appeal to brahmins of the region who are significant in number and influence, and reportedly disenchanted with both chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Modi. The community, particularly the elder generation, is also known to be favourably disposed towards ‘Priyanka Bitiya’, who is seen to be a younger replica of Indira Gandhi.

BJP will be concerned about such a fallout of Priyanka’s entry into politics and direct intervention in eastern UP, because with the formidable challenge of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-Samajwadi Party (SP) alliance, it cannot allow any erosion of core votebanks like the brahmins. This would turn a defeat into a debacle, which with the number of Lok Sabha seats at stake in UP could make a vital difference to who wins or loses in this year’s national elections.

Priyanka Gandhi the politician will also be a formidable contender for Prime Minister Modi and other BJP leaders in the polemical war that is bound to gather momentum as the elections draw nearer. Far more fluent in Hindi than brother Rahul — despite the latter’s improved communication skills — and famed for her skill at swift repartee and one-liners, she could pose a challenge to even a gifted communicator like Modi brandishing a stiletto to his bludgeon.

Priyanka Gandhi poses an even more serious headache to the prime minister as speculation grows on whether she will contest from the latter’s constituency of Varanasi, perhaps the most prominent city of eastern UP. It is most probable that the BSP-SP alliance, using the same logic as in Amethi and Rae Bareli, will throw its weight behind her as a combined opposition candidate. This would seriously test Modi, who is already concerned about his prospects from the seat. At the same time, abandoning Varanasi at this stage could mean a serious loss of face for such a combative politician.

Yet, despite the current buzz about Congress because of Priyanka’s de facto political entry, this need not drastically alter the poll scenario in UP. Significantly, commenting after his sister’s political baptism, Rahul Gandhi stressed that he really respected BSP and SP leaders and would like to cooperate with them wherever possible to defeat BJP. So, while the BSPSP alliance is likely to do most of the heavy lifting against BJP in UP, it would be unwise to underestimate Congress that may not play as marginal a role in the state as it was thought before.

BJP, on its part, will be hoping that a resurgent Congress in UP would confuse anti-BJP voters, and divide their ranks. However, one would believe that the latest development in the Congress camp means concern in the BJP tent about losing even more from an erosion of its own vote banks.

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