UP Election 2017: Priyanka Vadra is no star-campaigner, but Congress’ crutch to save it from Rahul Gandhi

The most defining moment in Priyanka Vadra’s periodic flirtations with politics up till now occurred on 5 May 2014 when she uttered the words, “Smriti, who?” when journalists questioned Smriti Irani’s chances against brother Rahul Gandhi, both contesting from Amethi.

Perhaps Priyanka came to regret that statement, perhaps she didn’t, in the light of how her party was smothered in May 2014.

The fact is that she is Priyanka Vadra, not Priyanka Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi Vadra but as has been the sickening norm, her party is politically lost without the “Gandhi” crutch. But then it appears that post May 2014, even this “Gandhi” crutch has become a liability as we shall see.

A file photo of Priyanka Gandhi. AFP

A file photo of Priyanka Gandhi. AFP

And so, Priyanka Vadra in a departure from said periodic flirtations has now jumped actively into the electoral battleground of Uttar Pradesh, which became the Congress party’s political dustbowl about thirty years ago. That in every election cycle since then, the Congress has desperately sought to reap some semblance of political harvest there but has failed miserably, is evident. And that is the case even in the upcoming UP assembly polls, which might help the Congress save face, or wipe the party out completely in the state. But the greater threat is the fact that its sworn enemy, the BJP is in the pole position with a serious chance at capturing power.

Indeed, its mind-boggling when Priyanka Vadra is described as the Congress party’s “star campaigner” given the minuscule number of times she has actually campaigned in all these long years or the fact that she’s made absolutely no mark on any campaign trail either through oratory, ideas, or her ability to draw crowds. Perhaps the Congress party and its sympathizers have a different definition for “star campaigner.”

But to put Priyanka’s latest bout in perspective, we need to focus on what her party has tacitly admitted, finally, but what the nation always knew: that Rahul Gandhi has been an utter disaster.

As a Congress functionary recently told me, the general feeling among the karyakartas is that “each time Rahul Gandhi makes a speech, the party loses votes in geometric progression.” Far too many articles, analyses and critiques have been written on how Rahul Gandhi has become a liability for the Congress even by die-hard Congress supporters. In the wake of his “attack” against demonetization recently, Rahul Gandhi made a public show of standing in the queue at a Delhi ATM for withdrawing ₹4000. But barely a month later, he decamped from India and went abroad to celebrate at a New Year party. As the youngest scion of India’s oldest political party, the least he could’ve ruminated upon was the sort of message this sends to the party cadre and the perception it generates about his political acumen. How would a nation place its trust in a leader with this kind of competence? In other words, it suggests that Rahul Gandhi doesn’t realize that being a politician is a full-time affair with little or no personal life, let alone partying at whim.

It is to stem Rahul Gandhi’s — and therefore the Congress party’s — very plausible potential gaffes and failures in this critical election that Priyanka Vadra has been roped in. But it’s too little too late. To put it plainly, Priyanka’s debut of sorts in UP has been a non-starter when we observe that the most noteworthy aspect is the fact that she has absolutely no prior political experience. Of course one may argue in her favour that her inexperience might bring in some out-of-the-box thinking. But in her case, she’s dealing with two insurmountable challenges: one, an atrophying party that has failed to evolve and adapt to a rapidly changing profile of voters, and two, the real truth that Uttar Pradesh voters stopped taking the Congress seriously three decades ago.

Then there’s the question of giving her abundant marks for stitching the so-called “grand” alliance between SP and Congress. But the said alliance is really the outcome of fear and desperation in the camps of both these parties. Let’s quote from Ajay Singh’s perceptive piece on Firstpost:

"For the first time, the state has witnessed socially and historically incompatible political forces like Congress and SP joining hands to defeat the BJP. Obviously there is a lot more than what meets the eye in the SP-Congress coalition. The prime motivating factor for Rahul Gandhi and UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to bury the hatchet was to attract Muslim votes. The cry for "secularism" is a contrived façade to cover up their patently opportunistic strategy… In 2017 elections, the Congress has given up the pretense of being a national party and will be trying to ride piggyback on the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party… the anti-incumbency against Akhilesh government can not easily be wished away."

This is the precise reason why Akhilesh ultimately surrendered a large political space to the Congress.

But that’s not all.

From 2012 when the Congress rode roughshod over Mulayam Singh Yadav using its favourite weapon, the CBI, to now having to grovel before his son over seat sharing in state elections, the national party’s fall has been truly abysmal. When we read the actual details of how Akhilesh made the Congress eat humble pie, we get the true picture of Priyanka Vadra’s “achievement” of stitching up the alliance:

Congress sources confirmed that before the alliance was stitched both Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav had reassured Congress strategist Prashant Kishor that Samajwadi Party would leave Amethi and Raebareli even if that meant sacrificing seven of its sitting seats… That also meant that Mulayam's 'blue-eyed boy' Gayatri Prajapati would have to forgo the prime Amethi seat. However, after the alliance was finalised, the Samajwadi Party stunned the Congress by announcing the controversial minister Prajapti's name from Amethi Assembly constituency.

Then there’s another important factor of a cash-strapped Congress, a major reason for strategist Prashant Kishor’s acrimony with the party. Tied to this is the fact that the Congress — although it hasn’t admitted openly — is also apprehensive about how demonetization will actually play out during voting time. Given Priyanka Vadra’s lack of experience, she, like her brother, must depend on advisors and friendly media to garner whatever mileage she can for her party’s campaign. So far, the Congress campaign team has shown neither freshness nor a well-thought strategy to combat Amit Shah under whom the BJP has emerged as a formidable electioneering machine.

Meanwhile, even as the race intensifies, she’ll also need to explain why Sheila Dikshit (who was previously named as the CM candidate of the party) seems to be missing from Day One. It’s anybody’s guess that Dikshit has been set up as the fall woman. Obviously the party won’t acknowledge it, but the reality is that we’re living in a post-Congress — that is, post-Nehru Dynasty — era.


Published Date: Jan 25, 2017 17:58 PM | Updated Date: Jan 25, 2017 17:58 PM

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