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Will Congress star-campaigner Priyanka Gandhi finally step into her mother's shoes

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, unsurprisingly, is the heart and soul of the Congress' list of star campaigners chosen for Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections 2017. As much as the move was expected, there is a departure from trend within the grand old party, in the way this announcement was made.

The usual pomp and show around poll campaigns, and speculations about Rahul Gandhi's coming of age for a change of reins of the grand old party are stale news. And so is the news about Priyanka Gandhi campaigning in the Congress borough, a part she has been playing since 1999 when her mother (Congress President Sonia Gandhi) first contested elections from the Amethi seat.

Priyanka Gandhi. PTI

Priyanka Gandhi. PTI

However, this time poll pundits are sensing a change of wind in the way Congress has finally acknowledged Priyanka and ceded her credit for some major pre-poll maneuvers that the Congress successfully managed to stage. The first of this was the successful alliance the Congress cinched with the Samajwadi Party, and on its own conditions, despite it being the pillion rider in the coallition. Even as many leaders in the SP believed that the Congress did not deserve the massive seat share it demanded, it was because of Priyanka's intervention that the party could get 105 seats in the 403 seat assembly after much haggling. It was she who pulled through the alliance that was hovering on the brink of collapse, as several news reports suggest.

The second strategic move that was credited to Priyanka was bringing BJP star campaigner in Punjab, Navjot Singh Sidhu and his wife on-board the Congress train.

The Sidhus were quite evidently vocal about their grievances with the saffron party and after choosing, negotiating, out maneuvering various political parties in the state, Sidhus finally joined BJP's oldest enemy - Congress, after briefly flirting with the Aam Aadmi Party.

Moreover, this will be for the first time that Priyanka would be campaigning in the state, beyond the family fiefdoms of Amethi and Rae Bareli, where she has canvassed for her mother and brother Rahul Gandhi in the past too.

She may or may not have contributed to major decisions within the party in the past, but the Congress had at best remained coy in acknowledging her active role within the party politics. While the Gandhi heiress herself has turned down requests from party cadres to join active politics in the past, the official party line has always been that 'she is free to do so whenever she feels the need'.

However, according to The Times of India, Priyanka could finally be entering active politics in light of her mother's failing health.  The candour around Priyanka's increasing political footprint in the party coincides with the speculations within party circles about whether Sonia Gandhi will contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

While Sonia's failing health has restricted her role in the party, Priyanka has emerged as a supporter of her brother Rahul Gandhi. The Times of India article further states that party sources feel that Rae Bareli will be the ideal launch pad for Priyanka in 2019, as it was previously represented by Indira Gandhi, and currently by her mother. It is said that Priyanka is taking over many roles that were previously discharged by the Congress president.

However, Priyanka taking control over the Congress party is unlikely to have a change in the scheme of succession plans within the party. Most of all, it is unlikely to raise a power struggle between the two siblings for Priyanka has always maintained that Rahul will succeed the virtual throne.

As Akshaya Mishra argues in this Firstpost article, Congress will never replace Rahul with Priyanka as it will show the Gandhi scion in bad light who has dedicated a large chunk of his life to the party. Priyanka could be a more astute politician and a clever negotiator but her role is likely to remain on the sidelines, taking over control of the organisational responsibilities in the party.

 


Updated Date: Jan 24, 2017 23:24 PM

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