Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into active and wider politics is not a surprise. She has led the Congress’ election campaigns in Rae Bareli and Amethi for her mother Sonia Gandhi and brother Rahul Gandhi. She had a role in the formation of an alliance with the Samajwadi Party in 2017 and recently in the party’s government formation efforts in some states. The party has now made her its general secretary in charge of eastern UP, with about three months remaining for the Lok Sabha elections. The new role and position may be seen as the natural culmination of past responsibilities or as a desperate attempt by the party to use the last weapon it has in the coming electoral fight.
There have been demands from party cadres to bring Priyanka into leadership positions. The prospect of her campaigning will enthuse the workers and enhance their confidence in UP and elsewhere. This year’s Lok Sabha election is crucial for Congress. The entrusting of the electoral responsibilities in eastern UP, which includes Varanasi, to Priyanka shows how important the party considers the battle in UP to be. The other part of the state has been entrusted to another young leader, Jyotiraditya Scindia. The exclusion of the party from the SP-BSP alliance may have forced it to look for options it has in the state. It has said it will contest all seats in the state. If Congress can wean away some votes from the BJP, as it did in the Gorakhpur by-election, it might even help the larger opposition cause.
But a face and a famous surname are not enough to win an electoral war. Congress’ organisational and electoral machineries have to be rebuilt in most parts of UP, and that is no easy job. It will have to contend with the charge that it is run by a family. Dynastic succession is unfair and undemocratic, but Congress is pathologically wedded to the family culture, although it must be said it is not a uniquely Congress failing, nor that even the BJP is immune from it. Ultimately, it is for the members of the party and for the people at large to accept or reject dynasts. Congress has launched Priyanka’s political career at what it thinks is an opportune moment – Rahul Gandhi is secure in his leadership position after the recent assembly election wins; while BJP will seek to use the corruption charges against her husband Robert Vadra against her, the fact that its government has not been able to act against him in nearly five years works in her favour; and Congress is in desperate need of her services. Yet, Priyanka has to prove herself, and the challenge will be especially big, given the expectations about her in the party.