Tough road ahead for Priyanka in UP

Tough road ahead for Priyanka in UP

The massive crowds that greeted newly appointed Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on the roads of Lucknow during her roadshow a few days back was indeed a surprise not only to her political rivals but also to Congress leaders themselves.

The party had not been able to galvanise such a crowd in nearly three decades in Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha and would be central to its dream of returning to power after the general elections.

While no one, not even her political rivals, denies that Priyanka’s entry into politics and her becoming active in UP will benefit her party, even diehard Congress supporters feel that the road ahead of the party’s star campaigner will not be easy, given the dire straits the party is in currently in the state.

Congress could win only two seats in 2014 LS polls, with a 7.5 % vote share. Its performance was worse in the 2017 assembly polls, winning only seven seats in a House of 403 and a vote share of 6.5%.

The grand old party’s slide began in the 1996 UP assembly elections, when it was able to win 33 seats, with a vote share of 8.35%. It never recovered after that, barring in the 2009 LS polls when it won 21 seats, with a vote share of 18.25%.

“The biggest challenge before Priyanka is to activate the near-defunct party organisation…we have no or negligible presence in a majority of Lok Sabha seats in UP,” admitted a senior Congress leader to DH.

No wonder Priyanka, after setting foot in the state party headquarters here, held marathon meetings with workers from different constituencies to have a first-hand assessment of the party’s organisational strength.

Many political analysts and some in the Congress also feel that Priyanka’s entry in the UP electoral scene may “force” the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati’s BSP to revisit their strategy and ‘’accommodate’’ Congress in the alliance with a respectable number of seats.

While SP president Akhilesh Yadav welcomed Priyanka’s entry into politics, BSP supremo Mayawati has continued her attack on Congress, hinting that she will not allow any space to the party in the alliance.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi has also asked party workers not to target Akhilesh and Mayawati, in the hope of finding a place in the ‘mahagatbandhan’ (grand alliance).

While the SP and BSP have so far not hinted at accommodating Congress in the alliance, maintaining that Priyanka’s entry will have no impact on their electoral fortunes, the political analysts think otherwise.

“Priyanka factor will not have any impact on us (SP-BSP)…BJP will be impacted more by her entry,’’ said SP leader Ram Govind Chaudhary, an analysis shared by BSP leaders.

“Priyanka has been active in Amethi and Rae Bareli LS constituencies for quite some time…her presence there could not boost Congress’ electoral prospects in the neighbouring constituencies,” said a state BSP leader.

SP-BSP alliance

Political analyst Pradeep Kapur says, “Congress’ rise in UP will affect both the SP-BSP alliance and the BJP…Congress will dent the Muslim votes of the alliance and also the upper caste vote bank of the BJP’’.

“UP is a large state, and Priyanka does not have much time. Congress has no organisation in the state, she has a very tough task at hand,” said political analyst J P Shukla. Shukla said a Congress revival in the state might “adversely impact” the SP-BSP alliance more than the BJP as there could be a division in Muslim votes.

There is, however, little doubt that Priyanka has been able to galvanise party workers and roused them from their slumber, which was evident by the crowds at the hitherto deserted state party headquarters.

The old-timers think that only Priyanka can revive Congress in UP. “She has all the qualities which are needed to become a popular leader...only she can revive Congress in UP,” 70-year-old Ram Sakal, a diehard Congress supporter from Kushinagar, says. Dalit Nirmala Paswan said, “We women see in Priyanka someone who can empower us in the real sense.”

Priyanka has been given charge of 41 LS constituencies in eastern and central region in the state while party MP from Madhya Pradesh Jyotiraditya Scindia was put in charge of the 39 LS seats in western UP.

The Congress’ star campaigner has already got cracking. She will be visiting each of the 41 constituencies and hold big and small rallies all over, state Congress leaders said. ‘’We have already started receiving requests from leaders from the constituencies to arrange her meetings in their areas,’’ said a party leader.

Interestingly, the number of Congress ticket-seekers for the LS polls has also increased substantially after Priyanka took charge of the party affairs in the state. It, however, remains to be seen if she is able to revive the grand old party in this politically crucial state.