Priyanka from Wayanad a small piece in Congress’ larger scheme of changes

Priyanka from Wayanad a small piece in Congress’ larger scheme of changes

Rahul Gandhi taking on the role of Leader of the Opposition would signal intent, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra must be given a role that optimises her talents.

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Last Updated : 18 June 2024, 08:35 IST

The announcement that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will contest the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat to be vacated by Rahul Gandhi doesn’t exactly come as a bolt from the blue, considering the backstory. To begin with, Rahul Gandhi was most likely to retain the Raebareli seat, given national compulsions.

But first, let’s look at how things played out. There was a lot of speculation about Rahul Gandhi’s candidature. He was certainly going to contest from Wayanad, but there was a groundswell of opinion among the Congress cadre and supporters that he should contest from Amethi as well. At that point, the cadre seemed to want Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the candidate for Raebareli, since Sonia Gandhi, the outgoing MP, had resigned and been elevated to the Rajya Sabha.

The Congress eventually decided, in what seems in hindsight like a masterstroke, to have Rahul Gandhi contest from Raebareli and Sonia Gandhi’s constituency manager, Kishori Lal Sharma, from Amethi. It proved to be a slam dunk, given Sharma’s intimate knowledge of the constituency and incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Smriti Irani’s unpopularity. Sharma racked up a 167,000-plus winning margin.

Irani had been wrongfooted, but there was some unhappiness in the Congress over the decision to keep Priyanka Gandhi Vadra out of the fray. Again, in hindsight, it appears that everything was carefully scripted. It was almost a certainty that Rahul Gandhi would win both Raebareli and Wayanad. Even in the 2019 washout for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, Sonia Gandhi managed to retain Raebareli by close to 170,000 votes, while Wayanad was a safe seat given Rahul’s 430,000-plus winning margin in 20019, apart from the fact that it was a Congress fortress in the first place.

So, everything has not only played out perfectly for the Congress, it’s also obvious that many political commentators and observers got it wrong when it came to the Congress’ election-management strategies. Rahul Gandhi’s main contender, the Communist Party of India (CPI)’s Annie Raja, put the situation in perspective when she said it was obvious that Rahul Gandhi would retain Raebareli, taking ‘the national political situation into consideration’.

The fact that a mother and two of her children will be in Parliament concurrently, if Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wins, for the first time ever in India will be a footnote in the history books. The more urgent question is whether this prospect will prompt Rahul Gandhi to finally commit himself to offering his services as the Leader of the Opposition. It’s high time that he did so.

Ever since Rahul Gandhi relinquished the position of party president in the wake of the Congress’ rout in the 2019 elections, the label of quitter has stuck to him. This impression was partly dispelled by the two yatras he undertook, which surely helped turn around the party’s fortunes, but it is time for him to take on some institutional responsibilities, even though it can hardly be gainsaid that the arrangement of electing Mallikarjun Kharge as party president has worked out well. Kharge has proved to be a dynamic and more-than-competent helmsman, blowing away the critics who had sniped at him, saying he would be a rubber stamp.

There’s also the question of what function Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will assume after her election to the Lok Sabha. She’s currently the party general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh. Will she be able to serve as a useful and combative parliamentarian, a most desirable outcome given her unflappable temperament, oratorical talent, and forensic inquisitorial skills, work in her constituency, and manage Uttar Pradesh?

It’s a big ask and one she should not be tasked with given the outsized importance of the state and the urgent necessity of building on the gains made in the just-concluded elections.

It’s been reported that the Congress has already planned an organisational rejig, targeting the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and some state units. Particular attention will be paid to the states where the Congress fared poorly despite good results in Assembly elections — Telangana, Karnataka, and Himachal Pradesh. On the radar, too, could be states where the party performed badly — Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

But as noted in these columns recently, this is the right time for the Congress to embark upon a more holistic rejig of which Uttar Pradesh must be a part. Rahul Gandhi taking on the role of Leader of the Opposition would signal intent, but Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, too, must be given a role that optimises her talents. The job of minding Uttar Pradesh could go to an indefatigable and talented organiser like Sachin Pilot.

(Suhit K Sen is author of ‘The Paradox of Populism: The Indira Gandhi Years, 1966-1977’.)

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


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