It was a quiet morning of January 23 when Congress president Rahul Gandhi reached Amethi to meet party workers. A party worker came to his side and said, “Sahab, karyakartaon ka manobal bahut neecha hai, kuch kariye (Sir, the morale of party workers is low, please do something)”. Rahul Gandhi said, “Chinta mat kariye, Dilli se dawa jaldi aa rahi hai. (Don’t worry, medicine is coming soon from Delhi).” And within a few hours, the announcement of Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into active politics was announced. The entire nation was taken by surprise.
But before the Congress party leaders could react to the development in their own backyard, there came a volley of reactions from small to tall leaders of the BJP. The imprint of the statements was the same – “Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will not be able to do anything significant in the politics of the country”. This left the general public asking as to why the top leadership of the ruling party was so concerned and reactive if indeed it was so! I met an auto driver in Noida, who picked up a political conversation with me. When I asked him about BJP’s reaction about Priyanka’s entry in politics, he quipped, “Samajh nahi aata inke pet mein dard kyon ho raha hai”.
Soon after her political debut as Congress general secretary for UP East, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on February 11, roared into Uttar Pradesh with thousands cheering as her cavalcade slowly made its way through the city during a 15-kilometre roadshow, taking the capital of Uttar Pradesh by storm.
She was greeted by a 500-strong young Priyanka Sena wearing pink t-shirts which read, “Desh ke samman mein, Priyanka ji maidan mein, Maan bhi denge, Samman bhi denge, Waqt padega toh jaan bhi denge (For honour of the nation, Priyanka ji marches on, she has our respect, and even our lives as a pledge if times demand).”
A few days before, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had sealed their alliance with 38 seats each to contest in Uttar Pradesh and leaving two (Amethi and Rae Bareli) to the Congress. The Congress had been clearly been given the cold shoulder in the gathbandhan politics of Uttar Pradesh.
But the entry of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was a certain game-changer in the politics of the state. The Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) office in Lucknow, better known as Nehru Bhawan on Mall Avenue, which used to bear a deserted look, was flooded with Congress workers.Political pundits started saying that the Congress was now back in the reckoning. And even the SP and the BSP leaders immediately picked up the signal. Soon, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav said that the alliance knitted with the BSP could be reworked,hinting that he was now open to the idea of entering into some alliance or understanding with the Congress.
It is to be noted that the Congress has some candidates in seats and pockets where the SP and the BSP do not have names to match. Apart from the strongholds of Amethi and Rae Bareli, Congress has a list of strong contenders. It is noteworthy here that Rahul Gandhi has made it clear that the party would be batting on the front foot and would be contesting with full strength from all 80 seats of the state.
Some of these names include RPN Singh from Kushi Nagar, PL Punia from Barabanki, Shri Prakash Jaiswal from Kanpur, Anu Tandon from Unnao, Jitin Prasada from Dhaurahra, Pradeep Jain Aditya from Jhansi, Ratna Singh/Pramod Tiwari from Pratapgarh, Nirmal Khatri from Faizabad, Zafar Naqvi from Lakhimpur Kher, Sanjay Singh from Sultanpur, Kamal Kishor Commando from Bahraich, Begum Noor Bano from Rampur and Imran Masood from Saharanpur.
Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president and star campaigner Raj Babbar is another candidate who could give any candidate from the opposition sleepless nights. Actress-turned-politician Nagma has also been asking for a party ticket for parliamentary election for quite some time now. Leaders like Ambika Chaudhary, Naresh Agarwal and Jagdambika Pal, who see no future in their present parties are also looking for a “fresh” change. To sum it up, on its own, the Congress would clearly put a big fight on at least 20 to 22 seats of the total 80 seats of the state.
It will not be difficult for the rejuvenated Congress, to stich an alliance that would hurt both the SP-BSP combine as well as the BJP. Om Prakash Rajbhar, the rebel minister of Yogi Adityanath’s government and the president of Suhaldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP), Shivpal Yadav who heads the breakaway faction of the Samajwadi Party – called the Pragitisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia), Sanjay Nishad of the Nishad Party, Mohammad Ayub of the Peace Party and Krishna Patel of Apna Dal are already looking for a bigger umbrella to gather under in the state.
The Congress is now working 24/7 to get back its upper caste, Muslim and Dalit vote bank back in its kitty. When the party had lost ground in the state, its upper caste vote had shifted to the BJP, Muslims to the Samajwadi Party and Dalits to the BSP.
United we stand and divided we fall – is one line that both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati are aware of. With a strong leadership in UP, the Congress is now in a position to convince the BSP that it can easily transfer its committed votes to the BSP or the SP.
And immediately after taking up office, it was clear that Priyanka meant business. An alliance was announced with Keshav Dev Maurya of Mahan Dal. The Mahan Dal claims support of the OBC voters of western UP, especially Shakyas, Mauryas and Kushwahas. Another entry to the party was Avtar Singh Bhadana, the BJP MLA from Mirapur in Uttar Pradesh. Bhadana is a three-time MP from Faridabad constituency in Haryana and one-time MP from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. He is said to be popular in the Gujjar belt of western Uttar Pradesh. Many more known leaders are likely to join the Congress in the days and weeks to come.
(The writer is senior editor – Politics with Business Television India)