Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will be the face of the Congress's election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, the party's newly-appointed campaign committee chief P L Punia said today, asserting that the AICC general secretary is the most popular political figure in the state at present.
Mr Punia, who on Friday was named as the head of the key 20-member election campaign committee of the Congress for the UP polls next year, noted that very rarely has the Congress announced a chief ministerial face and said that not having declared one till now will not hamper the party's chances as it already has a personality like Priyanka Gandhi to lead the charge against the BJP.
It is a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP in the UP polls as both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have "fallen behind" and were "not in the fight anymore", Mr Punia told PTI in an interview.
He said Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has fought for truth on all issues and when the Lakhimpur Kheri incident happened, she immediately left to meet the family of the victims, and was detained in Sitapur, but remained determined in her quest for justice.
He said she was "successful" in her struggle and went to Lakhimpur Kheri and Bahraich to meet the families of the victims.
Mr Punia said earlier also -- be it Sonbhadra, Unnao or Hathras incidents -- Priyanka Gandhi Vadra fought for justice.
"So, the people are impressed by her and currently in the entire state, no politician is more popular than Priyanka Gandhi. As far as around whom the campaign will be centred, we are fortunate that Priyanka Gandhi is available for (campaigning) all the time," he said.
There are always demands from other states for Ms Gandhi Vadra to campaign and hold one or two meetings, but in UP she is available 24X7, Mr Punia said.
"Priyanka Gandhi ji hi humara ek chehra hongi jinke ird-gird poora election campaign chalega (the election campaign will be shaped around Priyanka Gandhi)," he said.
Mr Punia also said the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and justice for farmers would be important issues in the elections, asserting that the way the farmers were "trampled upon" was a condemnable incident.
"What was more appalling was that those in power gave protection to the perpetrators (of the crime). Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said no one will be arrested without evidence which was an indication that seeking arrest of the Union minister''s son is wrong ," Mr Punia said.
Chief Minister Adityanath and Union minister Ajay Mishra were both "guilty" of protecting the accused in the case, he alleged.
Mr Punia said "real justice" will be done when the minister is removed and pointed out that a high-level delegation under Rahul Gandhi has also met President Ram Nath Kovind to press for this demand.
Asked if having not declared a CM face till now would hamper the Congress's chances in the UP polls, Mr Punia said the Congress rarely declares a CM face whether it is Uttar Pradesh or other states.
"People talk about a CM face as votes are sought on that face, for us the biggest face is that of Priyanka Gandhi and the affection that people have for her cannot be matched by any person who is declared a CM face. So for us we have such a personality who will be helpful for us in polls in every way," he asserted.
Mr Punia also accused the BJP of indulging in communal polarisation to divert attention from real issues such as farmers' "plight", price rise and the state of law and order.
"It is always the case with BJP-RSS people that when they see that they are losing on issues such as governance, law and order situation, the state is no. 1 in terms of crime, in terms of crimes against women, in crimes and atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, so to save themselves from the anger of the people, they resort to polarisation," he alleged.
"They raise mandir construction, create Hindu-Muslim divide, project themselves as the sole well-wishers of Hindus. They will try all this but this has become a dated strategy, people are concerned about issues such as price rise and development and will not fall for Yogi Adityanath's polarisation plank," the Congress leader said.
On whether votes will get divided with the Opposition unity missing, Mr Punia said the SP and BSP have "fallen behind".
"Earlier people thought that they were in the fight but it is not so anymore. The Congress is in the fight and only the Congress can upstage the BJP. The Congress and the BJP are in a direct fight," he said.
The BJP is feeling "threatened" by the Congress and that is why their leadership attacks the Congress, not the SP and BSP, Mr Punia claimed.
The Congress on Friday constituted different panels for the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, with Mr Punia being named head of the crucial campaign committee.
Party president Sonia Gandhi approved the proposal of the constitution of election campaign committee, election strategy and planning committee, election coordination committee, charge sheet committee and election manifesto committee of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee, a party statement said on Friday.
Mr Punia will head the 20-member campaign committee with Pradeep Jain Aditya as the convenor. The panel includes the likes of Mohsina Kidwai, Pramod Tewari, Raj Babbar, R P N Singh, Naseemuddin Siddiqui, Imran Masood and Imran Pratapgarhi.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)