No Modi vs Priyanka in Varanasi: Why Did Cong Create Such a Hype?

Priyanka marked her entry into active politics after being appointed as AICC General Secy for UP East on 23 January.

3 min read

The Congress on Thursday, 25 April laid to rest speculation that the party would field Priyanka Gandhi against PM Narendra Modi in Varanasi by naming Ajay Rai as its candidate from the holy city in Uttar Pradesh.

Rai is a political lightweight who was a distant third after Modi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in the 2014 general elections.

Senior journalist and commentator Madhavan Narayanan, Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) Sanjay Kumar, and Associate Editor at The Quint Aditya Menon spoke to Tamanna Inamdar of BloombergQuint on whether the Congress has underplayed its "trump card" by not fielding Priyanka against Modi and whether the move will backfire on the party.

Asked if the move is likely to put a dent on the party’s image in the perception battle, Kumar said, "The Congress is very good at creating suspense, but when the suspense finally gets over, it doesn't help the party in winning additional vote, as compared to what they have done and what they could have managed to get."

Speculation on Priyanka making her political debut from Varanasi was fuelled after Congress president Rahul Gandhi, to a question on whether he planned to field his sister against PM Modi, said last week, “I will leave you in suspense. Suspense is not always a bad thing.”

The whole suspense doesn't give good signals for the Congress, Kumar said, adding that it doesn't help the party regain any confidence amongst the common voters.

“I don't think that the move has gone down well among the common voters of Uttar Pradesh," Kumar, who is also a Co-Director at Lokniti, said.

Narayanan, on the other hand, said "there's a mind game on" and that the decision to not field Priyanka from Varanasi was more atmospheric than tactical/strategic.

"I am not surprised by what has happened," the senior Journalist said as he stressed on the three elements (strategy, tactics and atmospherics) involved in the decision making.

“This (Congress’s decision on Priyanka) is part of the atmospheric movements where they have to get the maximum out of the mascots of the party (Rahul and Priyanka),” Narayanan said, adding, “it was probably decided well in advance."

"There's too much at stake,” he said, and added that “this would be a bad election for Priyanka Gandhi to lose."

Stating that there was no point in creating so much suspense if it had to lead to an “anti-climax”, Menon said, "In some ways, this is a good news for the ‘mahagathbandhan’ as now there's no confusion in Uttar Pradesh as to who the main anti-BJP party is.”

“In some sense, the Congress has done them (grand alliance in UP) a favour," he added.

Priyanka Gandhi marked her entry into active politics after being appointed as the All India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary for Uttar Pradesh East on Wednesday, 23 January.

As the incharge for eastern UP, she managed the campaign for the party in various constituencies, including Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi parliamentary constituency, which falls in the region.

Welcoming his sister's entry into active politics, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had said he was "very happy" that Priyanka will assist him in the Lok Sabha polls.

Rahul even took to Twitter to congratulate Priyanka and said that their leadership will herald the dawn of new politics in UP.

On whether the Congress utilised its "trump card" well enough, Kumar said the party has “underutilised” Priyanka.

“They should have launched her in a big way. It is not wise to keep her confined to just Uttar Pradesh. The Congress knows and we all know that the party is very weak in UP. Priyanka’s aggressive campaigning in the state for days and months will not add to the party’s electoral prospects in the state.”  
Sanjay Kumar, Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

“She might be able to add few more percentage of votes for the party, but not seats (in UP)," he added.

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