Enter Priyanka Gandhi
It’s no longer a question of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ The daughter of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and sibling of party Vice President Rahul Gandhi will soon take a plunge into active politics. She is being drafted in for the upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest and most important state, politically speaking. This shows how crucial the UP elections are, due in less than eight months from now.
“Bring Priyanka” campaign has been an on-and-off phenomenon for years but has gained momentum since the worst-ever electoral rout faced by the Congress party in April-May 2014 general elections when the 130-year-old party was restricted to just 44 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. This had prompted the victorious Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to make fun of the Congress saying that just one bus was enough to ferry the party’s newly elected lawmakers to parliament.
The induction of Priyanka is expected to turn around the Congress party’s political fortunes and send out a powerful signal to the electorate that the party is putting its best foot forward to win the most crucial UP polls, which undoubtedly will be a virtual semifinal before the 2019 general elections. This is how the Congress leadership is looking at the present political scenario with an eye on UP polls.
But it is easier said than done. No doubt Priyanka will be a trump card for her party but her much talked about political charisma is yet to be tested. It is yet to be seen whether the Gandhi scion will actually be a vote catcher, something that her main target Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not only proven dramatically in the 2014 general elections but has been demonstrating this prowess consistently in last two years except for electoral reversals in Bihar and Delhi last year.
In contrast, the Congress party’s number two leader Rahul Gandhi has proven to be a damp squib so far and his leadership has done precious little to revive the party’s fortunes.
Since the 2014 general elections, India has had assembly elections in 10 states and the tiny dot union territory of Puducherry. Congress has lost power in six states i.e. Assam, Kerala and Haryana (where it had its majority government) and Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand (where it ran coalition government with allies). It has technically retained power only in one state, Bihar; technically because the Congress is a much junior partner in Bihar’s ruling alliance and comes a poor third in terms of seats won in the three-party alliance.
The Congress party’s two imminent major announcements aimed at reviving its electoral fortunes — anointing Priyanka as the head of campaigning for UP elections and projecting former three-time Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit as the party’s chief ministerial candidate in UP — however may still not be enough. Yes, the Congress has been in a pitiable state in UP. To say that the grand old party has been out of power in UP for last 27 years would be factually correct but won’t convey the extent of decay it has suffered in the past quarter century. The Congress party has consistently finished number four in the four-horse race in UP for last quarter century.
But the two above-mentioned proposed moves by the Congress are nothing more than half measures. Sheila Dixit may have served three full consecutive terms as Delhi chief minister but UP is much bigger and an entirely different cup of tea.
The Congress party should have implemented the advice of election strategist Prashant Kishor that Priyanka be projected as the party’s chief ministerial candidate in UP. By making Priyanka address election rallies in the state, she may address at least 155 rallies in the state, with Sheila Dixit as the CM face may not work.
The Congress has to rebuild itself from the scratch. It is a tough task. This requires full throttle strategy from the party, not half measures like these.
The Congress strategy is simple. If Priyanka fails to deliver, the party can always wriggle out by saying that she was only a campaigner. Sheila Dixit then will become the sacrificial goat.
The Congress party has always been over protective of the Gandhis. Others are made the fall guys for electoral defeats. The Gandhis never face the music. The impending UP-centric twin moves mentioned above should be seen against this perspective.
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