Why Sheila Was Picked up and Priyanka Kept in Reserve
Cong’s decision to pick Dikshit up for the UP CM’s job while insulating Priyanka for the time being is a smart move.
Desperate to put up a semblance of fight in the crucial Uttar Pradesh polls next year, the Congress on Thursday dusted 78-year-old Sheila Dikshit and parachuted her into the heartland state – critical for party’s revival ahead of the 2017 Lok Sabha polls. The announcement of Dikshit, an upper caste Brahmin, as party’s chief ministerial candidate has put paid to the buzz about Priyanka Gandhi emerging as the face of the party in the state.
Nevertheless, Priyanka will campaign more extensively than before, addressing between 100 and 120 mega rallies, according to party sources. She will be a key manager, along with election strategist Prashant Kishor, for “Mission UP 2017”.
In fact, in a do or die situation and with limited options, the family trio – Rahul, Priyanka and Sonia – will be in the battlefield, assisted by a team headed by Dikshit and her boys. On Wednesday, the party revamped the state committee, appointing Raj Babbar as president while selecting five new vice presidents keeping the state’s caste matrix in mind. Congress Legislature Party leader Pramod Tiwari, another Brahmin face, was appointed chairman of coordination committee, while Sanjay Singh, a Rajput leader and Rajya Sabha MP, has been made the head of the campaign committee.
Considerable thought and deliberations have gone into the decision to pick Dikshit up for the job and insulating Priyanka for the time being. However, critics say Dikshit and Babbar only bring symbolic value to the party – and “superficial” appointments a few months before the polls will not bring electoral dividends. It is difficult to say if the gamble will pay off. The Congress is not fighting to form the next government in Lucknow, but to remain in the reckoning so that political pundits are not tempted to write its obituary ahead of the next general elections.
Dikshit’s Track Record + Babbar’s Popularity = Win?
Dikshit is the daughter-in-law of former minister Uma Shankar Dikshit, a veteran Brahmin leader of UP. Dikshit was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kannauj seat in 1984. The Congress has been the natural party of the Brahmins till Mayawati and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) usurped them. As a three-time chief minister of Delhi, she has a good development track record. Though age is not on her side, she is more active and energetic than many of her contemporaries. Her brand value – caste and popularity – will be complemented by an aggressive and popular campaigner like Babbar.
We are trying to combine caste, popularity and aggression.An AICC leader
Another plus point of Dikshit is her political stature – she can connect with top leaders such as Mayawati and Mulayam Singh, and in the event of a hung House, she could even emerge as a chief ministerial candidate, provided the Congress does well.
The Congress is hoping to forge an alliance or at least covert adjustment with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). In the 2012 elections, the BSP polled 25.91 percent votes and bagged 80 out of the 403 Assembly seats. The Congress secured 11.6 percent and 28 seats, the Samajwadi Party got 29.15 percent votes and bagged 224 seats, and the BJP secured 15 percent and 47 seats. Arithmetically speaking, an alliance between the two makes sense as their combined vote share was roughly 38 percent.
Though Mayawati had earlier rejected Congress overtures, sources said some contacts have been made of late. The BSP chief is a bit worried after Amit Shah’s entry into UP where he humbled the BSP by reducing it to zilch in 2014. Already, three prominent leaders have deserted the BSP, and if it fails to win the next poll, a single-leader party like the BSP will find it difficult to sustain itself, the Brahmin and Muslim support being incremental and situational.
UP Not The Right Place to Launch Priyanka?
And why the pause button on Priyanka? Many seasoned party leaders felt that UP was not the right place to launch her. Out of power for over 27 years and winning just two Lok Sabha MPs in 2014, the Congress is at its worst in the state and, with just a few months left for the polls, pushing Priyanka into the hopeless vortex would have only damaged her USP. And if she is declared the CM candidate, the BJP would have flagged her husband Robert Vadra’s “questionable” land deals in a big way to corner her. A party source said Priyanka is kept in the reserve for 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Notwithstanding, unlike in the past, Congress strategists have decided to brazen out the graft charges against some members of the party and Vadra. Senior party sources claimed that Modi and the BJP government are using Vadra for political and electoral games, but the Congress is convinced that Vadra cannot be hauled up for felony.
Neither Leaders Nor Cadre
The Congress is an underdog in UP. All its experiments to revive the party, so far, have failed. It has neither leaders nor cadre. It remains to be seen if the new team and formula will deliver. The party appears to be trying a new strategy. It has at least decided to go on the offensive. That is why, unfazed by the corruption allegations against Dikshit, the party nominated her as the CM face and gave Priyanka a bigger role in spite of Vadra. It also appointed an aggressive Imran Masood, who made a hate speech against Modi, as the party’s state unit vice president.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. He can be reached at @benedict18)
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