NEWS

Priyanka Could Easily Eclipse Rahul As The Face Of The Congress Party

06/07/2016 8:58 AM IST | Updated 18/07/2016 8:49 PM IST
NEW! HIGHLIGHT AND SHARE
Highlight text to share via Facebook and Twitter
The India Today Group via Getty Images
RAE BARELI, INDIA APRIL 22: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra campaigned for her mother Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli on Tuesday, April 22, 2014.(Photo by Pankaj Nangia/India Today Group/Getty Images)

It isn't simply a matter of addressing a few rallies in Uttar Pradesh for the key 2017 assembly elections. Priyanka Gandhi will be launched full time into Indian politics, and could soon become its face to take on Narendra Modi in 2019.

Widely seen as the Congress party's trump card, Priyanka Gandhi will become the party's face in the Uttar Pradesh elections, and Sheila Dikshit its chief ministerial candidate. Twelve years after Rahul Gandhi entered politics by announcing his candidature for Amethi in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Priyanka's anointment is likely to take place in the Gandhi family's home turf of Allahabad.

The Congress party has been suffering from a leadership crisis, with Rahul Gandhi widely seen as a failure, indifferent and incompetent. Launching Priyanka is the party's last and desperate gamble.

Two years his junior, Priyanka had all these years been reluctant to join politics as it is a full-time occupation and would have come in the way of raising her children. The 44-year-old mother of two teenagers has for sometime been active in the Congress party as a backroom troubleshooter.

Widely seen as the Congress party's trump card, Priyanka Gandhi will become the party's face in the Uttar Pradesh elections, and Sheila Dikshit its chief ministerial candidate.

Priyanka's arrival is no doubt bound to eclipse Rahul Gandhi, and possibly give the Congress party an image makeover. Rahul, currently the party's vice president, will continue to occupy a higher designation.

Nudged by campaign strategist Prashant Kishor, Priyanka's campaign in UP is unlikely to be limited to rallies. A mass contact programme would make her seem accessible to people. The tall and charismatic Priyanka, a better speaker than her brother, has a hairstyle that resembles her grandmother Indira Gandhi's.

priyanka gandhi

By launching Priyanka, the Congress party could manage to make Rahul Gandhi's failure old news. The political conversation may shift to asking whether Priyanka is proving to be a game-changer.

It is no doubt a big risk for Priyanka and her party. Should Priyanka fail, the Congress might lose even its brahmastra (divine weapon). Chances of its revival may go from being bleak to impossible. But the Congress party, at its worst ebb in history, doesn't have much to lose anyway.

Campaign strategist Kishor's team insists the effort in UP is not just for the Congress party's revival. An enormous campaign will make the Congress party look like it is in the race in a state where the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Bhartiya Janata Party are all ahead of the Congress.

An enormous campaign will make the Congress party look like it is in the race in a state where the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Bhartiya Janata Party are all ahead of the Congress.

Perhaps more crucial than the result in Uttar Pradesh will be the campaign, carried out by Kishor's Indian Political Action Committee in its typical style. The campaign may be for UP, but in the process it is likely to build Priyanka's persona and political stature as a national leader to take on Narendra Modi in 2019.

priyanka gandhi

Presenting Sheila Dikshit as the party's chief ministerial candidate, the Congress will seek to impress the state's 10% Brahmin voters that the old days of their rule in the corridors of power are likely to be back. Similarly wooing Thakurs, the party hopes to ultimately impress upon Muslims that the Congress is winnable this election. Brahmins, Thakurs and Muslims together are around 35% of the electorate, enough to turn the tide in a four-cornered contest.

If the plan works and the Congress is even able to occupy the third slot, the gamble would have worked. Cognisant of the challenge, the BJP is working hard to discredit Priyanka Gandhi by calling her Priyanka Vadra (she writes Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as her full name). Her husband, Robert Vadra, businessman from Moradabad, should expect a lot more legal trouble than he has already faced.

The campaign may be for UP, but in the process it is likely to build Priyanka's persona and political stature as a national leader to take on Narendra Modi in 2019.

The BJP also hopes to declare its own chief ministerial candidate, one who can take on the big-name opponents – Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Sheila Dikshit – all of whose names come with the promise of caste vote-banks. Focusing on the OBC and MBC votes, the BJP will face a tough challenge holding on to its upper caste votes.

And then, amidst all the challenges of the most important state, there will be Priyanka Gandhi's charm offensive on voters, giving a jaded old party a fresh face.

More On This Topic