Priyanka — Congress’ only hope

Priyanka — Congress’ only hope

Rajeev Sharma
Election strategist Prashant Kishor may have delivered a master googly by suggesting to Congress party that it projects the politically disinclined Gandhi scion Priyanka as its chief ministerial candidate for Uttar Pradesh in crucial assembly elections early next year.
This has become all the more important for the 130-year-old party after its poor showing in the recently concluded five assembly polls where the Congress party lost power in two states, Kerala and Assam.
The Priyanka Gandhi card can be a potential game changer and drastically alter the political scene nationally should the Congress party accept Kishor’s suggestion. The Congress will do well to accept Kishor’s suggestion. There are many compelling reasons for this. One, it can make the Congress bounce back in a swing state like Uttar Pradesh and immensely add to the party’s firepower and appeal to the masses.
The Congress has been out of power in the biggest Indian state, electorally speaking, for over a quarter century. Worse, the party has gone from bad to worse virtually after every assembly election in last two decades with the advent of regional parties like Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. So much so that the Congress has become an also-ran in UP’s election battles and the party’s fortunes have failed to revive even after Rahul Gandhi’s sustained efforts since 2009.
N.D. Tiwari was the last Congress chief minister of undivided UP and his fourth and last stint as UP CM ended on Dec. 5, 1989. Since then, UP has had twelve chief ministers, all non-Congress ones, including the present one Akhilesh Yadav who is the 20th chief minister of the state.
Two, the assembly poll in UP less than nine months later will be a virtual semi-final before the next general election. If the Congress were to field Priyanka as its CM candidate, it would be providing a breath of fresh air to the electorate and a new face with a clean slate. It would mean a lot to those voters who are sick and tired of the cyclical pattern of SP and BSP ruling the state all these years as no exciting alternative was available to them.
Forget about the regional parties like SP and BSP as their national level importance will remain within the current bandwidth, give or take up to five percent from their current vote share. UP polls will be important from the perspective of how two rivals on the national scene — the BJP and the Congress —perform in the 2017 assembly polls.
Three, with Priyanka in the lead the Congress can afford to go solo with an all or nothing approach. This is something that her brother Rahul and heir apparent for long had been trying to do for many years but could never succeed. Rahul tried this in Bihar in the 2010 assembly polls but with disastrous results.
Four, the Congress loses nothing much in fielding Priyanka as its CM candidate because even if this experiment were to flop, which is unlikely, the grand old party's arsenal would have been beefed up considerably with the entry of Priyanka in electoral politics and that would take enormous load off the shoulders of Rahul.
Priyanka has consistently refused to enter into the dusty world of electoral politics because she doesn’t want to be seen emerging as an alternative to her stressed out brother. She has repeatedly shrugged aside demands from party men for becoming more pro-active in the party rather than confining herself to campaigning for her brother and mother. Her argument has been that Rahul has worked hard and invested huge political capital already and she would not like to steal his thunder.
But by becoming the Congress party’s chief ministerial candidate in UP would not put her in a rivalry mode with her brother. By agreeing to take the plunge she would be actually helping her brother and the party and would be confined to a state, leaving the national stage to her brother.
The uncharitable truth is that despite his persistence and perseverance, Rahul Gandhi has thus far been a non-starter and an under-achiever. Rahul has merely been a square peg in a round hole.
Far from impeding Rahul’s political career, Priyanka can actually act as a force multiplier in bolstering his career, which right now remains stuck in a groove.
If Congress wants to reclaim UP, which is an obvious important prelude to the next general election, Priyanka Gandhi will have to finally shed her inhibitions and take the plunge. The chances of her flopping are remote considering her uncanny similarity to her charismatic grand mother Indira Gandhi.
As for Prashant Kishor, if Priyanka were still to be unwilling to enter electoral politics in UP, he could claim that he did his best but the Congress was not ready to deploy its ultimate weapon. The question is if the Congress does not use its ultimate weapon now, when will it do so?
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view