Can Congress’ campaign trump card deliver seats?

Can Congress’ campaign trump card deliver seats?

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s election rallies and speeches are well attended and are a highlight of the Congress’ campaign strategy. However, they have failed to ensure the victory of the candidates.

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Last Updated : 08 May 2024, 08:58 IST
Last Updated : 08 May 2024, 08:58 IST

Just before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, then Congress president Rahul Gandhi assured party workers from Uttar Pradesh of a “440-volt jolt” to revive the organisation in India’s politically and electorally crucial state.

The jolt came in the form of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who after years of reluctance finally took a plunge into active politics in January 2019 with her appointment as the Congress general secretary in-charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Along with her, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is now in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a Union minister, was given the charge of western UP. However, a year later Scindia quit the Congress to join the BJP, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra took charge of the Congress’ operations in the entire state.

Apart from being a good orator and a crowd-puller, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s striking resemblance to her grandmother and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had excited the Congress workers.

But the excitement soon died down as the Congress managed to bag just one seat with Sonia Gandhi retaining Raebareli, while Rahul Gandhi lost to Smriti Irani from Amethi. This worst-ever performance was followed by the party’s equally poor show in the 2022 Assembly elections in UP. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s ‘Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon (I am girl, and can fight)’ slogan could fetch just two of the total 403 Assembly seats. Over 40 per cent the Congress’ candidates were women.

The Congress’ trump card failed to impress, and she was dismissed as a flop.

A moment of glory came to her when the Congress won the Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh in December 2022. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had taken control of the Congress campaign and election management in the hill state in the absence of Rahul Gandhi who skipped canvassing for the party. It was also the first time in many years that Rahul Gandhi had given a miss to the election campaign in any state.

But this success was short-lived as she failed to make any mark in the Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan late last year.

Though Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi have often dismissed the conspiracy theories about sibling rival, it is also a fact that the reshuffle in the party last time was delayed for months as the Gandhi family could not decide on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's future role in the organisation.

Neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi wanted her to be general secretary in-charge of any state. They wanted her to campaign for the party across India just as a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC). Rahul Gandhi had earlier vehemently shot down a proposal to name her as Congress President after he resigned from the post in May 2019 following the party’s debacle in Lok Sabha polls. He remained firm on his decision that no member of the Gandhi family should hold any post in the party.

When the rejig finally happened in December 2023 after the elections in five states and ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, she remained a general secretary but was divested of the charge of Uttar Pradesh. Without any assigned state, she was tasked to be the party’s star campaigner.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is also facing flak for her decision to stay away from electoral politics. Congress workers were hoping to see her finally enter the poll fray in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections either from Raebareli or Amethi, but she opted out. Instead, she decided to oversee the campaigning of her brother in Raebareli and family loyalist Kishori Lal Sharma from Amethi.

Congress leaders have argued that by fielding Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from either Raebareli or Amethi would have limited her role and efforts to just one constituency and restricted her extensive campaigning nationwide.

Also, the move would have entangled the Gandhi siblings in the web of victory or loss in the twin constituencies represented by their family over the past 70 years.

Only time will tell if it was a good strategy on the part of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to stay away from electoral politics. She had once stated that her decision not to contest an election was personal, and would change it only when she felt from within.

While the party is waiting for that call from within, the primary target for her is to ensure that the Congress crosses the three-digit mark in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections — and that’s a tough and challenging task.

(Aurangzeb Naqshbandi is a senior journalist who has been covering the Congress for 15 years, and is currently associated with Pixstory).

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH


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