Priyanka Gandhi's appointment may not result in an immediate electoral gain for the party. However, presence of another Nehru-Gandhi family member at the grassroot level may help the party regain some of the lost space in UP.
The appointment of Priyanka Gandhi as a general secretary of Indian National Congress marks the entry of yet another member of the Nehru-Gandhi family, India’s most famous political dynasty, in to the country’s politics. Though she has been active in Uttar Pradesh politics, leading election campaigns for her mother and brother, her formal induction into the party is a departure from the family’s stated reluctance to push her to the forefront of electoral politics.
The Congress is obviously looking to cash in on Priyanka’s popularity among the youth and the women, two sections crucial to the reversal of fortunes of the grand old party of Indian politics. But her stint as the general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh will be fraught with challenges in the absence of a strong party machinery and an eroded popular base of the Congress.
What Priyanka brings to the table
Priyanka is no stanger to Uttar Pradesh politics. She has actively campaigned in the two family bastions in the state – Amethi and Rai Bareilly – and was also active in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi in last general elections.
Priyanka Vadra is undoubtedly popular among youth and women. Any chances of a reversal in the Congress fortunes in the state, and also in the country, will hinge on its ability to attract these two sections of voters. Close to two thirds of the country’s population is below the age of 35 years and it was this segment that catapulted Narendra Modi to the throne in Delhi. Congress cannot even hope to notch a good number of seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections without weaning away a large section of this large vote base.
Priyanka will have to mobilise her party cadre against the three well oiled party organisations of BJP, which enjoys the support of the RSS cadre, Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party and Mayawati-led BSP, all of them have well developed cadre networks in place.
She is seen by many as a natural politician and a effective communicator. Often, she draws comparisons with her late grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi. There is no doubting her ability to energise party workers and voters. But she is faced with a non-existent party machinery and a dwindling voter base.
Challenges ahead for Priyanka
In addition to a depleted party organisation, Priyanka Gandhi also faces the challenge of absence of a core support base for the party in UP. Congress has traditionally relied upon the support of Brahmins, Muslims and Dalits in the state. However, in the last three decades these three numerically crucial support bases have completely drifted away from the party.
While Brahmins, who constitute around 10% of the state population have traditionally supported BJP in recent times, Dalits, who constitute 20% of the state population, have been weaned away by BSP Supremo Mayawati. Muslims, who constitute 18% of the state population have voted for Samajwadi Party in alliance with another powerful cast Yadavs.
Priyanka Gandhi’s appointment also comes at a time when the Congress party has been snubbed by two powerful regional parties the SP and BSP for a pre-poll alliance in the state. The party has also been facing a tough time in negotiating seat sharing arrangement with its allies like RJD in the adjacent Bihar.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who was not given Lok Sabha ticket in 2004 general elections, has been roped in by her elder brother 15 years later to revive the party in the most crucial general election as the party struggles to regain prominence in the country. Congress party’s poor performance in the state has been attributed for party’s downfall in the national politics and the party is well aware that it cannot mount a serious challenge to Narendra Modi-Amit Shah led BJP unless it improves its performance in Uttar Pradesh.
Priyanka Gandhi’s appointment may not result in an immediate electoral gain for the party in the three-cornered contest in the state. However, presence of another Nehru-Gandhi family member at the grassroots may help the party regain some of the lost ground in India’s most populous state.