Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s maiden visit to UP after formally entering politics has greatly enthused the Congress cadre in the state. But will it significantly impact the electoral fortunes of the party?
- Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has launched the Congress electoral campaign in UP today with a four-day visit to Lucknow.
- Her entry is expected to generate a strong political resonance for the Congress at the national level.
- If Priyanka Gandhi manages to wean away the upper caste and Muslim votes, she could impact the vote shares of both BJP and the SP-BSP combine.
- Despite the general consensus that it’s too late for her entry, it is premature to write off the impact of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on the Lok Sabha elections.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra arrived in Lucknow for a four-day visit today, her first as the Congress general secretary for Uttar Pradesh (East). She is accompanied by Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia. During her visit, Priyanka will hold discussions to ascertain the party’s preparations for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Priyanka launched an audio message on the Congress’ Shakti app, “Namaskar, Mai Priyanka Gandhi Vadra bol rahi hu. Tomorrow, I am coming to Lucknow to meet all of you. I have hope in my heart that together we will start a new kind of politics, a politics in which all of you will be stakeholders — my young friends, my sisters and even the weakest person, all their voices will be heard.”
Indeed the enthusiasm within the Congress rank and file is palpable from the scenes of Lucknow today. They are sensing the beginnings of a strong turnaround for the Congress, which was reduced to just 7 seats in the recent Assembly elections in the state.
But the visit will be closely watched by all major national and regional parties, because the impact of Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into active politics is expected to go way beyond Eastern UP.
The SP-BSP alliance handed the Congress just two seats – Amethi and Rae Barelli – for the upcoming general elections. In response, the Congress brought Priyanka Gandhi ad Jyotiraditya Scindia (who is now General Secretary for UP (West)) and decided to fight all 80 seats in the state with the help of smaller allies.
The obvious question being discussed and debated across the political and media circles is this – Will Priyanka’s entry indeed have a significant impact on the Congress’ electoral fortunes in Lok Sabha Elections, 2019?
THE CONGRESS’ FRONT FOOT STRATEGY
First of all, Priyanka’s presence will definitely usher in a fresh narrative for the Congress – both in social media and beyond it. So far, Priyanka has only campaigned for her mother and brother in their respective constituencies. But she has already stood out as a charismatic politician and wonderful orator who can connect extremely well with audiences. And this is well beyond the fact that she is often compared with Indira Gandhi in terms of looks and mannerisms.
Moreover, here is a challenge of double anti-incumbency this time for the BJP, which makes 2019 quite a different ball game as compared to 2014. While the BJP has been focused on attacking Rahul Gandhi, they are certainly not prepared to take on Priyanka Gandhi yet. This is evident in the statements from different BJP leaders that have come so far which range from welcoming to critical and even misogynistic.
On the eve of her visit, Priyanka has already launched a scathing attack on the BJP governments in UP and Uttarakhand for the hooch tragedy that killed 110 people since Friday. She stated, “It is beyond imagination that the trade in illicit liquor is running under the patronage of the Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh governments. I hope the BJP governments will take stringent action against the criminals and provide adequate compensation and government jobs to the families of the dead.”
The Congress, on its part, will try to replicate its performance in 2009, when it won 21 seats – 18 of these seats came from eastern UP. Congress and BSP were able to garner a major share of votes in the region, which is dominated by upper caste Brahmins, Scheduled Castes and Muslims. But there has been a major shift towards the BJP since 2014.
Priyanka would be expected to play a major role in bringing Brahmin votes back to the Congress. Her team has been asked to contact disadvantaged Brahmin families as well as Brahmin leaders in other political parties.
A poll by India Today-Karvy Insights, on the other hand, predicts 58 seats for the SP-BSP alliance in 2019, leaving 18 for the BJP and 4 for the Congress. Priyanka Gandhi has a major responsibility to shore up Congress’ numbers and impact BJP’s vote share. And she has just around 100 days in hand.
Speculations are already rife on who will get hit the most by Priyanka Gandhi’s entry – SP-BSP or the BJP. If she cuts into the forward-caste votes, Priyanka is likely to hurt the BJP the most. On the other hand, if she also splits the Muslim vote, it will impact the SP and BSP in UP.
According to sources SP-BSP are already considering a rethink of the tie-up with Congress to prevent the diversion of votes.Priyanka Gandhi’s critics assert that her presence will not make any significant impact in the upcoming elections, beyond enthusing the Congress cadre in the state. They would be quick to cite a recent poll by India Today Stock Exchange, which covered voters across the 80 constituencies in UP. Around 57% of the voters said that her entry will not help the party, while 27% felt that she can revive the Congress’ electoral fortunes.
However those who cite this survey are missing the fact it was carried out between January 29 and February 5. By then, only her appointment as General Secretary, UP (East) was announced. A survey at this stage cannot be taken as gospel truth on the outcome of the elections over three months ahead. Moreover, it is evident from the reactions of BJP leaders that they are not taking her entry lightly at all.
TAKING THE FIGHT TO THE BJP CAMP
The Congress has already sent a strong signal on the role it envisages for Priyanka, as UP (East) houses the constituencies of PM Narendra Modi (Varanasi) and UP CM Yogi Adityanath (Gorakhpur) apart from extremely sensitive Ayodhya. Congress workers have already expressed the hope that Priyanka Gandhi contest against PM Modi for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat.
It is not a far-fetched notion. Modi has a sway over around 8.5 lakh voters – 2 lakh Vaish, 1 lakh Rajput, 80,000 Chaurasia, 65,000 Kayastha, 2.5 lakh Brahmin and 1.5 lakh Bhumihars. That is a huge number, but If the BSP-SP come out in support of Priyanka in Varanasi (like they have avoided Rae Bareli and Amethi), she has the opportunity to gain from around 3 lakh Muslim, 1.5 lakh Yadav and 80,000 Dalit votes.
Beyond that, Priyanka could tap the 4 lakh Brahmin and Bhumihar voters, who supported the Congress earlier, but shifted to the BJP. Moreover, a Priyanka-Modi contest will generate a strong political fervor at the national level. Going forward, it is also highly probable that the Congress would keep a vision for the UP state elections in 2022 with the UP state elections.
Indeed, a lot depends on how Priyanka plans her campaign strategy ahead and connects with the voters & party cadre in UP, besides countering the imminent counter attacks by the BJP. It is true that she has very little time to create a wave, but it’s equally premature to write off her impact in the upcoming elections as well.