There couldn’t have been any better bet than Priyanka Gandhi to put a shot in the arm of Congress before the upcoming national elections. Indeed, the entry of the 47-year-old sister of Congress president Rahul Gandhi was the only certainty amid the myriad uncertainties dogging the politics of the country for so long. Yet, her decision to take a plunge into the choppy waters of Uttar Pradesh politics by becoming Congress general secretary with the charge of East UP has rather come at the right time.
Even if other things, or consequences, of the latest salvo fired by Congress are to be kept aside for a moment, Priyanka’s debut in active politics points to the party’s astute move to play a she card with eyes fixed upon the next summer’s countrywide polls.
But why yet another she card when Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee have already been putting their might against the Bharatiya Janata Party? Will it get lost or dwarfed alongside the two? Or is it going to be the more the merrier? Whatever turns the events to come may take but at the moment the three ladies gearing up to put a front look like a winsome trio of Queens pitted against a virtually lone King.
And it’s no wonder that the Hindi term, or cognate, for politics is Rajneeti as it is made of Raja and Neeti. And, thus the old mores in public affairs, or those from the times of kings of yore, keep on coming back in strange ways. These may well haunt even today’s genuinely elected leaders, or new faces among them, as much as it may be the case with some of the progenies of rulers from the recent past, or through the post-independence era. They are often derisively called as dynasts and may well be blamed for their bid to thrive in the name of their long lamented ancestors. And a few exceptions to this are said to have brought only an “accidental Prime Minister” though the dynasty itself looks to be so accidental.
Anyway, Priyanka too will be called an outcome of long lineage where she is going to remind more of her gritty grandmother than her father or great grandfather. As a woman taking to public life what is expected of her is to combine some of the charisma of the late Indira Gandhi and a bit of poise of her mother Sonia Gandhi though others in her family, or among forefathers, like the late Rajiv Gandhi, or the late Jawaharlal Nehru, were no less, or might well have been more, illustrious and, thus, may well deserve to be emulated a lot.
Ancestry apart, the fact is that Priyanka is as new a face in politics as old is the party she represents. Younger by year-and-few months to Rahul, she is, indeed, going to be a new face in the virtual backwoods of eastern UP’s Bhaiyya belt which is thought to be so because of being too deeply steeped into traditions to fully come to terms with the changing times. It is only in the domain carved out for her that both her mother and brother carry the last and greatly reduced presence of their party by virtue of representing Rae Bareli and Amethi parliamentary seats in the Lok Sabha.
Besides Sonia and Rahul other important constituencies in eastern UP are those of Varanasi represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Azamgarh held by Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav though he is likely to move out to his old bastion in Etawah district or may be to some nearby Lok Sabha seat like Mainpuri. And as for Mayawati she may too try her luck from Akbarpur Lok Sabha seat, near Faizabad, as she has done in the past.
Thus, the task before Priyanka may put her in a confrontation with some of the bigwigs of politics. Yet, this is going to be so in an indirect way since she may or may not contest from any of the seats in UP herself before proving her mettle in the larger political arena through what is expected to be an aggressive Congress campaign under her.
Besides this, Priyanka will have to grapple with and tread across the faultlines like that of Ayodhya where a Mandir-Masjid dispute has been festering and, thus, afflicting politics for decades now. The caste and communal divides that often get entwined also run deep in UP and more so in eastern UP, or nearer Ayodhya and also because of it. These are some of the challenges that are going to stare hard in the face of the new Congress incumbent supposed to look after the less fortunate half of UP as she takes over the huge task of reviving her party and improve its scant presence in the region from the first week of February. She is currently on a visit to New York and is expected to return in a week’s time.
What Priyanka can bank on is simply hope and the appeal she is likely to have among women and youth. In the past her public appearances beyond the confines of family constituencies of Rae Bareli and Amethi have been rare. Yet, once she made an appeal for a vote against an estranged family member Arun Nehru who had defected from Congress and she made him to lose.
Thus far Priyanka has been known only for behind the scene maneuvering of party affairs where she has been part of the Congress’ strategic affairs group. Though this has mostly been on an informal basis her contribution also extended to looking at the applications for party tickets for elections held in the past. But now she is expected to lead from the front where she is not only going to take part in the selection of candidates but also seeing them through the hustings. What can hold Priyanka in good stead in her tryst with UP politics is the fact that for the past five years or so the voters were promised development and jobs without any signs of these becoming a reality. And it is here that Congress and Priyanka signify hope to break the awful stagnation that UP has been reeling under, courtesy the present dispensation as also during those in the past.
Amid this the one fact that has been palpably brought out over the years by the declining fortunes of Congress in the Hindi belt, or more so in UP and Bihar, is that Congress needs an engine to pull the party through. Often the party sought such a propelling force by forging alliances with other parties but this time mainly in UP and generally elsewhere in the country the grand old party is going to try its luck on its own, courtesy Priyanka.
This Congress intends to do without antagonising any of the other parties that could well have become its allies given the shared goal across the larger part of the political spectrum to take on the BJP successfully.
Rahul Gandhi clearly indicated this much on January 23 when he announced the new step that his sister has now decided to take.
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