Rahul Gandhi plays Priyanka card for Lok Sabha polls

By: and |
Updated: January 24, 2019 7:08 AM

ENDING a protracted will-she-won’t-she speculation within and outside the Congress and adding a new variable in the electoral battle for 2019, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday formally made a plunge into active politics, the eighth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to do so.

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ENDING a protracted will-she-won’t-she speculation within and outside the Congress and adding a new variable in the electoral battle for 2019, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday formally made a plunge into active politics, the eighth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to do so.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi appointed her AICC general secretary for Uttar Pradesh East, signalling the party’s intention to go all out in the Lok Sabha elections in the crucial Hindi heartland state. Drawing a cricketing analogy, Gandhi said the Congress would no longer “play on the back foot”.

Priyanka, significantly, will manage party affairs in eastern Uttar Pradesh that accounts for around 40 Lok Sabha seats and is a BJP stronghold that includes the Varanasi constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gorakhpur, the home turf of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

Modi and Yogi are two key pivots of the BJP’s election machinery that hopes to repeat 2014 against the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party combine announced last week.

For organisational purposes, the Congress divided UP into two and appointed Jyotiraditya Scindia as general secretary in charge of the other half — the Western region.

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Having lost the chief ministerial race in Madhya Pradesh to Kamal Nath, it was always expected that Scindia would land a key organisational role. And getting one on par with Priyanka certainly boosts his stock. Priyanka, who is abroad now, is expected to take charge in the first week of February. Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was AICC general secretary in charge of UP, was reassigned to Haryana.

“The Congress party is fighting a battle of ideology. The Congress is not going to play on the back foot. The Congress party will fight on the front foot. Be it Priyanka or Jyotiraditya, the Congress has very powerful leaders and we want to change the politics of Uttar Pradesh with these two young leaders,” Rahul said soon after the party announced her entry into politics.

“UP is central to building a new hope-filled and compassionate India. The new UP AICC team lead by Priyanka and Jyotiraditya will herald the dawn of a new kind of politics in the state. We will offer the youth in UP a dynamic new platform to transform the state,” he later tweeted. Sources said the party could also announce two presidents for the two regions.

Calling his sister a “capable” and “karmath” (energetic) leader, Gandhi said he has not sent Priyanka to UP just for two months. He said he has given Priyanka and Scindia “a mission” to fight for the true Congress ideology in Uttar Pradesh. Gandhi reiterated he has respect for both BSP chief Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and would co-operate with them wherever required but said the party has to “make a space” for itself and this was a big step in that direction.
“Mujhe personally kafi khushi ho rahi hai ki meri behen.. Jo bahut capable hai, karmath hai woh mere sath kaam karegi..” (I am personally very happy that my sister, who is capable and is energetic would work with me).

Asked whether Priyanka would contest the Lok Sabha election as well, Rahul said it was up to her to decide underlining that the point he wants to make is that Congress will now not play on back foot be it in Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh.

“I feel that this step will bring a new thought to Uttar Pradesh and positive changes in UP politics,” he said.

Rahul may have been evasive on Priyanka’s entry into electoral politics but most party leaders exuded confidence she would contest from mother Sonia Gandhi’s Rae Bareli seat, a move they claimed would further galvanise the party’s rank and file. Politics, especially in Uttar Pradesh, is not new to Priyanka. It is just that she has so far been working behind the scenes. That she would enter politics one day was also a foregone conclusion for Congressmen, only the timing and her role was a matter of speculation.

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When it comes to Congress politics in Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka had been actively involved in strategising for nearly a decade apart from campaigning for both Rahul and Sonia in Amethi and Rae Bareli Lok Sabha seats. But with the Congress in dire straits in Uttar Pradesh after the SP and the BSP keeping it out of the alliance and the BJP signalling its intention to woo the upper castes with its 10% quota gambit, the Congress had to think out of the box.

And as is their wont, Congress leaders lavished praise on the latest entrant from the family, from talking about her experience to her resemblance with grandmother Indira Gandhi. Former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan said “Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is a good administrator and an experienced leader.” “She reminds all of us of Indiraji both for her charisma and stunning likeness,” said former Union minister KV Thomas saying her entry would strengthen the Congress and galvanise the cadre to take on BJP.

“This (Priyanka’s appointment) was long overdue and was in offing for about six months. This will be a big boost for the party in a state as important as Uttar Pradesh,” Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath told PTI in Davos.

Congressmen in Rae Bareli welcomed her entry with much fan-fare, drumbeats and dance raising slogans “Priyanka nai Andhi hai, Doosri Indira Gandhi hai”.

Rahul Gandhi said that the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh had “destroyed” the state and asked people of UP, especially youngsters, to remove the BJP as the Congress’s new team — of Priyanka and Scindia — would give a “new direction” to the state.

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