Will Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s strategy work for the Congress in UP?
Uttar Pradesh is the state that determines who runs India. Sending 80 members to Parliament out of 543, it is no wonder that the battleground for the Lok Sabha elections is UP.
Political parties have pulled all the stops. The SP and BSP have formed a formidable alliance. The BJP’s strongest constituencies – PM Modi’s Varanasi and CM Yogi Adityanath’s former constituency of Gorakhpur – are both in UP. The Congress has pulled out its trump card: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Priyanka, now the Congress’ General Secretary for east UP, has taken the battle straight into BJP turf.
Kickstarting the party’s campaign in Prayagraj yesterday (March 18), the Nehru-Gandhi scion went on a boatride from Prayagraj and headed towards the Prime Minister’s stronghold – Varanasi.
Taking a dig at the BJP’s “Mein bhi chowkidar” campaign, Priyanka quipped at the start of her campaign that, “Chowkidars are for the rich, not farmers.”
Her brother, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, had coined the catch phrase “Chowkidar chor hai” after PM Modi had called him a “naamdar” (someone whose fame is due to his family name).
Modi then went on to liken himself to a chowkidar whose job was to protect the interests of the country.
In a battle of wits over social media, the Congress President raised the corruption scams the Prime Minister has allegedly been involved in: From the Rafale deal to the sudden rise in the fortunes of BJP President Amit Shah’s son.
While the social media war continues to rage, there has been much speculation over the strategy being used by Priyanka in UP. Many, of course, have lauded her physical similarity to her grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
But does her political acumen go beyond her resemblance to her grandmother?
The first notable step taken by Priyanka was meeting Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad on March 13. Azad was in a hospital in Meerut at the time.
This is a move that suggests that the Congress is no longer waiting for Mayawati to change her mind. The BSP supremo has made it amply clear that the gathbandhan in UP will not include the Congress.
Rather than try to force a door already closed, Priyanka seems to be approaching the Dalit vote bank through the Bhim Army route.
This looks like it will not bear any fruit as the Bhim Army's national president, Vinay Ratan Singh, has said that they will not ally with the Congress. Blaming the Congress for the rise of the BJP and RSS, he stated that he believed that the Congress had done nothing for the Dalit community in spite of being in power for 60 years.
This might prove to be a boon for the BJP as Azad has announced that he will contest from the Prime Minister’s Constituency of Varanasi. In a 4-way fight between the SP-BSP, the Congress, the Bhim Army, and the BJP, the scales are likely to tip in favour of the current ruling party.
In a significant move, Priyanka seems to have done some rejection herself when it comes to Apna Dal (Sonelal)’s Anupriya Patel.
The timeline of events suggest a negotiation between the Congress and Anupriya (currently the Union Minister of State, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare) that went south for the latter.
On February 22, Apna Dal (S) threatened to quit the NDA over not being heard by the BJP on issues that it had raised.
In the 2014 national elections, Apna Dal won two seats in east Uttar Pradesh – Mirzapur and Pratapgarh. Anupriya Patel is the sitting MP from Mirzapur. The party split later, and Anupriya's faction continued its alliance with the BJP.
On the night of March 14, the Congress announced its candidate for Mirzapur – Lalitesh Pati Tripathi, great-grandson of former UP Chief Minister Kamalapati Tripathi.
Barely a day later, Apna Dal (S) announced a reconciliation with the BJP confirming that the party will contest two seats. One of them being Mirzapur with Anupriya Patel as the candidate. The other seat is yet to be decided.
The Congress on Saturday then finalised a seat-sharing agreement with the Apna Dal faction led by Krishna Patel – Anupriya’s mother – allocating it two Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh. Apna Dal will contest from two parliamentary constituencies – Basti and Pilibhit.
This can be seen as a power move by Priyanka that also makes a statement: The Congress will not forgo loyalty and long-term ties for short-term gains. The Tripathis have had a decades-long relationship with the Congress since the times of Nehru. Lalitesh Tripathi was former MLA of Madihan constituency in Mirzapur district and also contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election but lost to Anupriya Patel.
In a show of strength, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is scheduled to make a stop in Mirzapur today (March 19) as part of her campaign.
Will the Bhim Army reconsider and join the Congress in the fight for UP? Will the alliance with one faction of Apna Dal be enough for the Congress so close to the election?
As the campaign heats up and UP goes into polls – the state is polling through all seven phases – the country is watching Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s every move to determine if the Congress’ trump card is going to draw a winning hand.