Congress Campaigner For 2 Decades, Priyanka Gandhi Takes Poll Dive

Priyanka Gandhi's win in the Wayanad bypoll will give the Parliament another charismatic leader who will make the Opposition's arguments more forceful.

Congress Campaigner For 2 Decades, Priyanka Gandhi Takes Poll Dive

Priyanka Gandhi is set to contest the Lok Sabha bypoll from Wayanad

New Delhi:

The Congress's decision to field Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for the bye-election in Kerala's Wayanad marks her debut in electoral politics, but she has been part of the party's campaigns and outreach programmes for about two decades now. Her political journey has seen her grow from a campaign face to a party organiser who works on strategy too.

Ms Gandhi Vadra holds a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's in Buddhist studies. She is married to businessman Robert Vadra and has two children -- son Raihan and daughter Miraya.

The younger Gandhi sibling, often compared to her grandmother and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for her looks as well as her taste for handloom sarees, took her first step into politics in the 2004 Lok Sabha election that marked her brother Rahul's electoral debut. Ahead of the general election that year, she campaigned for Rahul in Amethi and mother Sonia in Raebareli.

In fact, many had expected that it would be the more charismatic and articulate Priyanka who would take the political plunge before Rahul. While Rahul was seen to be a reluctant politician, many believed Priyanka was the true representative of the Nehru-Gandhi family's political legacy. But in the 2004 polls, she remained on the sidelines. A reason cited by many is that she wanted to focus on her toddlers first before joining politics full-time.

Over the years, her role in the Congress expanded, albeit slowly. In the 2007 Uttar Pradesh elections, she focused on interacting with local leaders and tackling infighting in the Assembly segments under Amethi and Raebareli Lok Sabha seats. The Congress won 22 Assembly seats that year, three less than 2002.

Over the next decade, she would largely appear only during elections and campaign for the Congress in family strongholds. 2019 marked her formal entry into politics as the Congress appointed her general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, the country's most politically-significant state. The next year, she was named the in-charge of the whole state.

Ms Gandhi Vadra burst into political limelight during the Congress's protest over Lakhimpur Kheri incident in which a car allegedly driven by BJP leader Ajay Mishra Teni's son ran farmers over. She was first placed under house arrest, but she managed to evade the cops and proceed towards Lakhimpur Kheri. She was later taken into custody. The visuals of Ms Gandhi Vadra facing off with cops catapulted her from being a campaign face to a full-fledged politician who hits the streets and doesn't back off in the face of state power.

The 2022 Uttar Pradesh election was the first big campaign she led. The Congress fought solo and its manifesto focused on youth and women empowerment. Ms Gandhi Vadra led the fight with the slogan, Ladki Hoon Lad Sakti Hoon, aimed as an outreach to women voters. The efforts, however, did not pay off and the Congress won just two seats after contesting 399 -- 5 less than its 2017 tally.

The Uttar Pradesh rout was a reality check for the Congress about its dwindling strength in the key state. Addressing party workers after the election, Ms Gandhi Vadra asked them to step up their efforts to connect with the people and stressed that poll promises have no impact unless the party expanded its outreach at the grassroots.

After the party rejig in December 2023, Ms Gandhi Vadra remained a Congress general secretary, but did not hold UP's charge. Her next big test was this year's general election. In these polls, which saw the Congress bounce back from its 2019 score of 52 to winning 99 seats, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra played a key role in taking on the BJP and fine-tuning the party's strategies.

From countering Prime Minister Narendra Modi's charge on 'mangalsutra' to camping in family strongholds Amethi and Raebareli, she was hands-on and among the Congress's most visible faces in its Lok Sabha poll campaign.

When the Prime Minister accused the Congress of preparing a wealth distribution plan under which women would lose their mangalsutra, Ms Gandhi Vadra came up with an emotional and spirited response -- she said her grandmother Indira Gandhi had donated her mangalsutra to India's war fund and her mother Sonia sacrificed hers for this country when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.

In Uttar Pradesh, especially Amethi and Raebareli, she steered the Congress campaign as Rahul Gandhi travelled across the country for rallies. The results were impressive. The Congress won both strongholds, with Gandhi family loyalist KL Sharma pulling off a stunning win over BJP's Smriti Irani in Amethi. The Congress won 6 seats in UP. Ms Gandhi Vadra was also the party's voice in multiple TV interviews in which she countered the BJP's attacks and articulated her party's position.

With Rahul Gandhi deciding to vacate the Wayanad seat and the Congress fielding Priyanka Gandhi from there, the Parliament may just get another charismatic leader who will make the Opposition's arguments more forceful.