Congress has finally decided to project Priyanka Gandhi, the daughter of party president Sonia Gandhi, as the leader of its campaign for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2017.
A report in The Hindu stated that Congress spokesperson in UP Satya Dev Tripathi said that Priyanka will venture out of Rae Bareli and Amethi, where she has campaigned for Congress in the past, and hold 150 rallies across UP.
The party is also planning to hold a convention in Lucknow in mid-July once party vice-president Rahul Gandhi comes back to India from his vacation abroad. In that convention, Rahul will launch the campaign and present Priyanka as its leader, said the report.
“It is settled that she (Priyanka) will be seen beyond Amethi and Rae Bareli this election. With Rahul Gandhi, she will take on rival parties. Different leaders and strategists have different suggestions. Some have suggested that the mistakes made with Rahul in 2012, of over-exposing him, should not be repeated. There are others who feel that she should first be brought to the AICC. There’s still another section which wants her as the face of the election campaign,”The Indian Express quoted a source in the Congress as saying.
An earlier report in DNA had also said that Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad had met Priyanka and formally proposed to her to take charge as chief campaigner after securing a nod from Sonia Gandhi.
In June, Azad had favoured Priyanka Gandhi campaigning outside Amethi and Rae Bareli for the state Assembly elections next year.
"I do hope that she campaigns in some other places as per time available to her," he had told reporters.
In May also, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh had said that the party favours Priyanka getting into active politics. Digvijaya, who had said she has the potential to emerge as a mass leader, had added, "As far as we (Congress) are concerned, we will be very happy if she comes into active politics."
Party's election strategist Prashant Kishor had earlier recommended that Priyanka plays a bigger role in the UP elections.
Even the people of Amethi, Rahul Gandhi's home constituency, told Rahul to bring Priyanka into active politics.
Congress has had a dismal performance in Uttar Pradesh so far. In the last assembly polls, Congress had won just 28 of the 403 seats in the state. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the party had secured only two seats in UP with only Sonia and Rahul emerging victorious.
The Congress has been in political wilderness in Uttar Pradesh since 1989 following the emergence of divisive 'Mandal-Mandir' politics and rise of the BSP, which took away its crucial Dalit vote base.
In the recent five assembly elections held in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, Congress managed to secure a victory only in Puducherry.
Bringing Priyanka into active politics could be a whiff of fresh air for the Congress. As Sandipan Sharma wrote in this Firstpost article, "For the Congress, Priyanka Gandhi is indeed an idea whose time has come. Whatever be the outcome of the expected ploy, it will immediately inject new life in the Congress veins. Its workers will get a sense of direction, the party a new face and voters the option of looking at a Rahul-mukt Congress. Comparisons with leaders of other parties can wait, but in a tossup between the Gandhi siblings, Priyanka is the clear winner."
However, Priyanka will have to deal with a lot of challenges, perhaps the most difficult one being the allegations of money laundering made against her husband Robert Vadra. Once Priyanka becomes the face of the Congress in UP, the attacks on Vadra may become more caustic.
Only time will tell whether Priyanka will be able to make any difference to Congress' fortunes but her leap into active politics has been demanded for a long time and may make things difficult for the BJP.
In fact, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra reacted to reports that Priyanka will take an active part in campaigning for the UP polls and said that Congress was bringing Priyanka only because Rahul had failed. "Congress’ attempt to bring in Priyanka shows that Rahul Gandhi has failed. If Rahul had succeeded that there would not have been called Priyanka," another report in The Indian Express quoted him as saying.
(With inputs from PTI)