Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, has, after a six-month hunt, identified a Lucknow address in service of her designation as Congress General Secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh. PGV, accused by critics of episodic flashes of interest in UP politics, plans to rent the accommodation which will come in handy when she visits for agitprop politics targeting Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
After her sibling Rahul Gandhi, then the party president, lost his Lok Sabha seat of Amethi to Smriti Irani, the brains trust of the Congress decreed that a Lucknow address was needed for PGV to signal her commitment to reviving the party in India's most populous state. Despite his multiple stints as MP from Amethi, Rahul Gandhi never felt the need to purchase or rent a house in or near his constituency.
The Congress argues that PGV's endeavors in UP are also yielding returns - as proof, they hold up the recent attacks on her by former Chief Minister Mayawati who heads the Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP. PGV has also skirmished with Yogi Adityanath. The only politician of regional substance who has yet to express opposition to her is Akhilesh Yadav, another former Chief Minister and president of the Samajwadi Party.
The Congress despite, nearly two decades in political wilderness in UP, has a consistent nine percent vote share. For any sort of recovery from its highly diminished national standing, the party has to expand its appeal in UP which elects 80 MPs, more than any other state. Leading this mission has been the Gandhi siblings' dream. In the 11 by-elections for assembly seats in October, the Congress collected 11.49 % vote share. It did not win any seats but in a some, Gangoh, the winning BJP got 30.41 percent of votes while the Congress was a close second with 28 percent.
This upward bounce is being attributed to PGV, unsurprising for the Congress, long habituated to ascribing all positive politics developments to the Gandhi family.
Yogi has called her excursions to UP a political drama - she rode pillion to meet the family of a former IPS officer who was arrested during protests against the new Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA. Mayawati has dissed her for the high number of deaths at a hospital in Rajasthan, where the Congress is in charge, suggesting that PGV should focus on those sort of governance issues instead of foraying into UP. It should be noted that Mayawati did not attempt to visit the house that PGV did, which showed her up.
The Congress however was thrilled at the headlines that PGV generated with her scooter ride. At least the real political players of UP singled out the Congress for attack. Earlier no one even acknowledged us, sums up the feeling in the Congress. "Mayawati does not want any other woman leader to be a rival to her in UP. She did not feel threatened by Sonia Gandhi because she confined herself to first Amethi and then Raebareli. Vadra is trying to reclaim the Congress space across UP and this is making Mayawati angry," said a Congress leader to me.
So angry, in fact, that sources claim that Mayawati and her lieutenant Satish Mishra have been in touch with Yogi and Amit Shah. In supposed retaliation, PGV has reached out several times to Chandrashekhar Azad, the chief of the Bhim Army which fights for Dalit rights; so far, the response to her overtures has been cold.
The UP state elections are due in two years and the Congress makes the obvious sell that PGV is in it for the long haul. But voters have grown wary of the Gandhi family, sensing a lack of commitment in actually moving to or spending substantial time in UP.
Yogi Adityanath was initially caught totally unprepared by the anti-CAA protests and ordered a police clampdown. The BJP is now anticipating a Hindu consolidation in its favour on the CAA issue. Even Akhilesh Yadav, whose party claims a huge share of the Muslim vote, has been less trident than you would think on how much to berate the new law.
The Modi government has the ability to dial up or down the corruption cases launched by the CBI against both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. Separately, the BJP is launching a spread of CAA rallies across the country. In UP, Rajnath Singh, Irani and Nitin Gadkari will address the public gatherings to boost support for the CAA, which is accused of discriminating against Muslims.
How the opposition in UP reacts to this will help determine if the CAA will emerge as a campaign issue for its next state election. The Congress has taken on the Act, declaring that the states it governs will impugn any attempts to further the Act. "Ahead of the general election last year, PGV was claimed as the Congress's "Brahmastra" (deadliest weapon) but so far, UP has been hostile to her. The voter has changed. The Gandhi family does not have any charm for young voters. UP is with the BJP, a two percent Vadra vote increase won't help the Congress," estimated a BJP leader cheerfully.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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