Days after the BJP fielded Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath from his pocket borough of Gorakhpur for the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Tuesday said the move indicated that the BJP leadership is attempting to "cut him to size" as in an "autocratic system like theirs, there can only be one supreme leader".
The BJP had on January 15 fielded Mr Adityanath from Gorakhpur Urban seat, a decision that had put to rest speculation that he may contest from Ayodhya, as the five-time Lok Sabha MP enters the state poll fray for the first time from his home turf.
Asked about her comments on the BJP fielding Adityanath from his home turf Gorakhpur, Priyanka Gandhi said, "Looks to me like his leadership is attempting to cut him to size. It's an open secret that they have been wanting to do so for sometime." "Their internal pushes and pulls are beginning to reveal themselves in public now. I suppose in an autocratic system like theirs, there can only be one supreme leader," the Congress general secretary told PTI in an exclusive interview.
Ayodhya and Mathura along with his traditional constituency Gorakhpur, which he has represented in Lok Sabha a number of times, had been seen as the most likely seat of choice for Adityanath.
Priyanka Gandhi also attacked the Adityanath government for the handling of the Covid pandemic, especially of the second wave, alleging that it failed to protect people, and provide them with health facilities, oxygen, medication and hospital beds.
"Even worse was the fact that while failing to do all of this it acted as an aggressor towards the public and those providing health services. Whether it was the 'asha bahus' who risked their lives to help others or doctors, nurses and health care professionals; instead of incentivising and supporting them the government created an atmosphere of fear," she alleged.
The BJP government's efforts were focussed on covering up the truth rather than saving lives, she alleged, adding that this compounded the problem because people could not even appeal for help while enduring the most terrifying and tragic circumstances.
"Having said that, I cannot say how deeply this will affect the upcoming elections -- people tend to put tragedies behind them and move forward. However, I feel that a government must be held accountable for its actions," the Congress leader said.
"When so many lives are lost and people go through so much suffering, it should not be brushed under the carpet. It is up to us as a people to demand accountability from those in power. This is a fundamental aspect of democracy," Priyanka Gandhi asserted.
On her party making a strong pitch for women in the polls and basing its campaign on it, she said the purpose of giving the Unnao rape victim's mother a ticket to fight the election is to convey a very direct message -- the person who destroyed her family could do so and get away with it because he was an MLA, he had political power, and "we are enabling her to take that very same power, become an MLA, and use her power to rebuild her life and help others".
"The same goes for others like her who have genuinely struggled for the rights of their community, whether it is Poonam Pandey, the 'asha bahu' who was thrashed by the Yogi government just for demanding to be heard, or Ramraj Gond who led the struggle of the people of Umbha after the heinous massacre that took place with the collusion of the government and police in their village," she said.
Political power rightfully belongs to them and not to the mafias and criminals whom the government "protects", Priyanka Gandhi said, adding that her party is offering people such as Pandey and Gond the opportunity to claim it and use it to do good.
Asked about the importance of social media in the polls amid Covid restrictions and whether it gives the BJP an advantage, Priyanka Gandhi said it certainly does give the BJP a certain advantage as they have the most resource rich and elaborate social media machinery.
"I believe the Samajwadi Party has made an appeal to the EC in this regard already. But why should we be daunted by this? If we use it intelligently, we can meet the challenge too," she asserted.
"On our part, we have already switched focus to our door-to-door campaign and amplified it. We have also converted all our women's townhalls and other events into online events," Priyanka Gandhi said.
On the ground, she said, the party is doing small chaupals, using videos and other tools to spread its message.
The party's organisation is enthused and has been working relentlessly while adhering to all the Covid protocols, Priyanka Gandhi said.
Polling for the 403-member Uttar Pradesh assembly is scheduled to be held in seven phases from February 10 to March 7 and the votes will be counted on March 10.