Making a conscious effort to shun the old baggage and present her party in a 'new avatar' in Uttar Pradesh, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has hand-picked over 70 per cent new faces among the total 166 candidates for the high-stakes state assembly election.
Besides sticking to her promise of 40 per cent women candidates, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has overwhelmingly given a chance to debutants with an aim to build a new leadership in the Hindi heartland, which had slipped from the party hands in recent years.
Uttar Pradesh is scheduled to have seven-phase polls for the 403 assembly constituencies beginning from February 10. The results will be out on March 10.
Of the total 166 names declared so far by the Congress, 119 candidates will be making their electoral debut, party spokesman Anshu Awasthi told news agency PTI.
With the candidature of Sangeeta Tyagi, wife of party leader late Rajiv Tyagi, from Sahibabad seat, Ms Gandhi Vadra has made an earnest effort to break the mould and create new leadership in the century-old party which has faded into political oblivion.
"Priyanka Gandhi has made an attempt to bring all those fighting on people's issues, be it regarding women, youth, farmers, backwards or dalits, to the forefront," Mr Awasthi said.
He said the list of candidates gives a clear vision of the party's effort to give a new direction to the state politics which has been suffering from caste and religion-based politics for years.
"Party tickets have been given to youth and those who are working strongly in their respective fields," the Congress spokesman said, adding that in the first list of 125 names, 26 candidates are those who are up to 35 years of age.
He said 55-year-old Asha Singh, mother of the Unnao rape victim; anti-CAA activist and party spokesperson Sadaf Jafar; ASHA worker and activist Poonam Pandey who fought for the rights of ASHA workers and was attacked at Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's programme at Shahjahanpur; Ram Raj Gond who fought for the rights of Adivasis in Sonbhadra; are all making their debut this election.
Similarly, Bhawana Valmiki, social activist from Hapur; Yasmin Rana from Charthawal; Salma Agha Ansari from Thakurdwara; Kalpana Singh from Bilari; Nafees Saifi from Meerut South; Sukhvinder Kaur from Saharanpur are among those who will be contesting for the first time.
Other women candidates in the Congress list are Ritu Singh from Mohammadi in Lakhimpur Kheri who was manhandled during the recent panchayat elections; Poonam Pandit from Syana who was an international shooter before working as a bouncer to Haryanvi dancer Sapna Chaudhari and later got associated with the farmers agitation.
Archana Gautam, who won Miss bikini 2018 and worked in south Indian films, from Hastinapur; and Avanish Kajala from Meerut Cantt are also in this list. Kajala is also the district unit president of the party.
The Congress had released the first list of 125 names on January 13 and the second list of 41 names on January 20.
Another party leader said fielding new faces will not only infuse fresh energy into the party, but also help tide over internal bickering which had been plaguing the organisation since long.
Releasing the first list, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had stated that the party has chosen such candidates who have struggled for seeking justice in Uttar Pradesh and the party wants them to come to the forefront and be a part of power in the state.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has made it clear that she would be the party face in Uttar Pradesh, is faced with a daunting task to regain the party's lost glory.
The Congress had bagged only seven seats in the 2017 assembly polls, with two of the winning candidates having ditched the party for the BJP.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)