The Congress on Wednesday, 23 January, appointed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the party's in-charge for Eastern Uttar Pradesh in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.
This announcement marks Priyanka's formal entry into the political arena, ending years of speculation on her debut. The party also announced Guna MP Jyotiraditya Scindia as its in-charge for Western Uttar Pradesh.
With this move, the Congress has taken the battle to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s seat Varanasi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s bastion Gorakhpur, both of which are in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Here are a few ways Priyanka Gandhi’s entry could have an impact:
Priyanka to Lead Battle in Modi’s Varanasi
It must be remembered that in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Narendra Modi deployed his most trusted lieutenant as the in-charge for Uttar Pradesh – Amit Shah. Congress President Rahul Gandhi seems to have done the same for the upcoming elections by giving the charge of Uttar Pradesh to his sister and Scindia.
As the in-charge for Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi will be directly handling the Congress campaign in PM Modi's constituency Varanasi. The Congress fielded Pindra MLA Ajay Rai at Varanasi in the 2014 election, but this time the party may opt for a more high profile candidate.
There's a little history to the rivalry between Modi and Priyanka. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Modi who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, taunted the Congress saying "Can a 120-year-old lady understand what young India wants?" Priyanka Gandhi replied to this while campaigning for her mother in Rae Bareli – "Do I look old to you?" she asked the audience at a public meeting. The crowd present replied with a loud "no".
Focus on Rae Bareli and Amethi
The Gandhi family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli will also fall under the area assigned to Priyanka Gandhi. There is speculation that she could contest from Rae Bareli in place of former Congress President Sonia Gandhi. But the party may decide not to field Priyanka at all so that she can focus on managing the party's campaign across the entire region.
In addition to the two family seats, the Congress' chances would improve in a number of nearby seats like Pratapgarh. Another seat to watch out for would be Sultanpur, that is presently held by Varun Gandhi, who has been sidelined within the BJP for some time now.
Despite being in different parties, he is said to have a good rapport with his cousins, particularly Rahul Gandhi.
Bua-Bhatija vs Bhai-Behan
The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party announced their alliance earlier this month and later included the Rashtriya Lok Dal as well. This indicated that Uttar Pradesh was largely heading for a two-way fight between the Mahagathbandhan and the BJP-led NDA, with the Congress being reduced to the Gandhi family bastions and a handful of other seats.
However, Priyanka Gandhi’s entry is the Congress’ way of saying that it isn’t willing to outsource its battle in India’s biggest state to the SP and BSP.
The party is likely to become a force to reckon with in far more seats than was initially being anticipated. This could also help the party woo potential allies like Shivpal Yadav’s PSP, Peace Party and present NDA constituents like Apna Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party.
Focus on Women and Young Voters
In previous elections, Priyanka Gandhi has restricted her campaigns to Amethi and Rae Bareli. By most accounts, she is said to be an effective public speaker, who is able to impress voters. Her connect is said to be particularly strong when it comes to women voters and the youth. In addition to this, the Congress would be hoping that her entry might give it an edge in urban areas as well.
Breaking BJP’s Dominance on Media Coverage
One of the major factors that helped Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as well as the Assembly polls held since then, is the disproportionately large media coverage he gets. This is likely to be challenged with Priyanka Gandhi entering the political arena. Till now the media's main grouse has been that she avoids the spotlight. Now it is only to be expected that the Congress’ general secretary in-charge for Eastern UP will get a fair bit of air-time.
Closing the Vadra Issue Once and for All?
The BJP has time and again levelled allegations against Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra to embarrass Rahul Gandhi. From now on, any attack on Vadra would be considered an attack on Priyanka and not Rahul. This is significant as many believe that attacking Priyanka could backfire on the BJP and the party might just choose to go slow on the Vadra issue altogether.
The battle for Uttar Pradesh has now become a clash between three teams comprising some of the biggest personalities in India’s politics of this time: Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath on one side, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Ajit Singh and Jayant Chaudhary on the second side, and now Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia on the third.
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