Priyanka seems to be following the template set by Rahul in the 2017 UP and Gujarat assembly elections and the subsequent polls. Though Rahul has largely been unsuccessful in turning around the fortunes of the Congress party, Priyanka’s charisma is on test for the very first time.
Instead of charting a new course for herself, Priyanka seems to be treading the path walked earlier by her brother.
The Congress is desperate for a turnaround not just at the national level but also in UP, the most populous state in the country and which returns the maximum number of MLAs (403), Lok Sabha members (80) and Rajya Sabha members (31).
But as fate would have it, the Congress was in power in UP for the last time between 1985 and 1989 with ND Tiwari as its last chief minister. By the time the 2022 UP assembly election is contested, the Congress would be out of power in the state for 37 years.
The Congress has always stood behind the ruling BJP and the other two parties – Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati-headed Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) – in the last several elections, both in terms of number of seats won and the percentage of vote share garnered.
The former Congress president has tried different methods to woo different sections of the society.
Even before the 2017 UP assembly election, Rahul Gandhi was seen wooing the Dalits. He used to visit their houses and have meals at their places. He also visited Hyderabad and took part in a candle march to condole the death of a research scholar Rohit Vemula, who was believed to be a Dalit.
In 2013, he was seen standing with the farmers. He went to Bhatta Parsaul village on the outskirts of Delhi to lend a voice to the farmers who were protesting against acquisition of land by the then Mayawati government. He also launched ‘khaat sabhas’ and rode on bullock carts in UP and Gujarat in 2017 as a show of solidarity with the farmers.
Rahul Gandhi’s soft Hindutva was on full display in the two major assembly elections in UP and Gujarat in 2017. He launched the UP election campaign by visiting Dugdheshwarnath temple in Deoria. He got his forehead smeared with ’tilak’. Subsequently, he visited Ayodhya and sought blessings in Hanumangarhi temple.
In the Gujarat assembly election, Rahul launched his campaign by visiting the religious city of Dwarka.
Began the three day Navsarjan Yatra in Gujarat with darshan at Dwarkadhish Temple https://t.co/PkFz0s3Z7v
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) 1506326117000
During the two-and-a-half months of his campaign in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah’s home state, Rahul visited 27 temples. His soft Hindutva did help in improving the Congress’s tally but it did not give a victory to the party.
In a bid to get OBC and Muslim votes, the Congress even forged an alliance with SP and publicised two slogans – ‘UP ke do ladke’ (Two boys of UP) and ‘UP ko ye saath pasand hai’ (UP likes this company).
But these did not work. While the BJP won 312 of the total 403 seats and fetched 39.67 per cent of the votes; SP won 47 seats and garnered 21.82 per cent of the votes; BSP won 19 seats and got 22.23 per cent of the votes; and Congress won just 7 seats and received only 6.25 per cent of the votes.
Rahul Gandhi has also been seen in symbolic cameos such as diving into the Arabian Sea ahead of the Kerala assembly election, held earlier this year, to express solidarity with the fishing community, lecturing and eating meals with students and doing push-ups with a girl student to get related by young voters.
But even these did not help the Congress in Kerala. The Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by Pinarayi Vijayan breached the jinx of rotation of power with the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and retained governance.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in-charge of UP, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, is seen to be following her brother Rahul Gandhi’s footsteps in the poll-bound state.
She is on the forefront of the protest over the alleged mowing down of four farmers and a journalist in Lakhimpur Kheri on October 3 by Union minister of state for home Ajay Misra’s son Ashish Misra Teni.
By taking the initiative in Lakhimpur Kheri, Priyanka has not only overshadowed Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati but her own brother Rahul Gandhi in UP in the last few days. She set out for the village but was detained a few kilometres away in a guest house in Sitapur for three to four days.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wielding a broom in a Dalit locality in Lucknow on October 8. PTI photo
Finally, the Yogi Adityanath government yielded to her demands and allowed her to meet the bereaved families of the farmers who were killed in the incident. This is being seen as a major victory for the Congress led by Priyanka.
Buoyed by this, she soon set out to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi by holding a ‘Kisan Nyay Rally’ (Farmers’ justice rally) on October 10. She also attended the funeral rites of the five deceased on October 12 in a bid to win the sympathy of the farmers and be seen as the only leader espousing their cause.
Like Rahul Gandhi in 2017, Priyanka is employing the same soft Hindutva model. She visited temples ahead of the Kisan Nyay Rally and was seen with tilak on her forehead, a Rudraksh bead necklace and a sacred thread on her wrist. She announced that she was Navratri fast and recited the Goddess Durga Saptashati. She chanted ‘Jai Mata Di’ before starting her speech.
Priyanka is seen to be emulating Rahul Gandhi’s symbolic cameo roles too. After she was detained in a Sitapur guest house on October 3, she was seen sweeping the floor.
UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath took a dig at her and said that the people wanted to make her fit for such work and they had made her fit to do so. These people (opposition) did not have anything to do except creating a nuisance and spreading negativity, he said.
Taking strong exception to the CM’s barb, Priyanka reached a Dalit-dominated colony in Lucknow and wielded the broom in a Valmiki temple. She said Yogi Adityanath’s dart at her was anti-Dalit.
While Rahul Gandhi’s bid to woo the farmers, Dalits and Hindus have not translated into electoral victories, will Priyanka manage to succeed?