Bringing the biggest ‘will-she-n’t-she’ narrative in contemporary Indian politics to an end, the Congress appointed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as its general secretary for the Uttar Pradesh (UP) East region on Wednesday, marking her official entry into active politics.
Expected to take charge from the first week of February, according to a press release, Priyanka’s presence in UP will pose a direct challenge to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in the coming general elections.
Poised to be a serious contender
Her plunge into active politics ahead of the polls can strengthen the party’s edge in the ensuing triangular contest in UP, against the BJP on one hand, and the newly forged SP-BSP alliance on the other. Ever since Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati snubbed Congress’s offer to ally up earlier this month, the party knew it would take a miracle to wrest control of the state, which sends the largest number of MPs (80) to the lower house of the Parliament. According to political pundits, this move suggests Congress’s seriousness.
Fielding Priyanka in a challenge to Adityanath may shake up BJP’s stronghold in the state where violence against women and minority communities are at an all-time high. Now that she is in charge of poll preparations in UP, it might galvanise the party’s workforce and provide the right push to the state’s voters, who are already wavering in their support for the saffron party after a series of failed promises and heightened communalism.
For Priyanka, the struggle hereon is an uphill one, as she is in charge of a region that has not been a Congress bastion of late. In East UP, the party had failed to win a single seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The anti-dynasty narrative against Congress is another obstacle she will have to overcome.
The more prominent , UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul, have long since faced criticism for denying Priyanka a more decisive role in the party’s hierarchy.
Several publications have written extensively about her absence from the stage despite a commanding personality and mass connect. Priyanka has even been touted as a victim of patriarchy in Indian politics in an op-ed published in The Print, which describes her as “a better speaker, especially in Hindi, more rooted, more natural. She reminds people of Indira Gandhi…appears to be more aggressive, more political.”
On several occasions, she has answered questions about her political ambitions with a curt reply suggesting it was her decision to make.
What has PGV done for the party till date?
So far, her role in Congress has been that of a backroom troubleshooter, and her contribution to the party limited to campaigning in “pocket boroughs” or constituencies of her brother and mother, like Amethi or Rae Bareli during past elections, or confining herself to behind-the-scenes chores like organising the AICC plenary session.
However, she has always been a news magnet for the party, with her uncanny resemblance to her grandmother, a similarly electrifying personality, and engaging disposition. She is also believed to have a say in election strategies and candidates’ list of the Congress in previous elections, but the 47-year-old now has a formal title to go along with that role.
Married to businessman Robert Vadra since 2007, she is a mother of two children. The saffron party has repeatedly targeted Priyanka for her husband’s allegedly corrupt land deals in Haryana and Rajasthan.
In 2008, she made headlines after meeting with the suicide bomber who assassinated Priyanka’s father and former PM Rajiv Gandhi in prison. “Meeting with Nalini [Sriharan] was my way of coming to peace with the violence and loss that I have experienced,” said Priyanka, who used to assist her father in his trails in the eighties.
In a press release, the All India Congress Committee also announced other changes in key positions. Ashok Gehlot, recently elected as the chief minister of Rajasthan, will hand over the reins of the party’s general secretaryship to KC Venugopal. Jyotiraditya Scindia has been appointed as the general secretary of Uttar Pradesh (West), while Ghulam Nabi Azad has been entrusted with the same responsibilities in Haryana.
Commenting on Priyanka’s appointment, Rahul Gandhi described his sister as a hardworking and capable young leader.
“I have not sent Priyanka and Jyotiraditya (Scindia, who has been made general secretary for UP West) for just two months. I have sent them to take Congress’ ideology forward in Uttar Pradesh. Our ideology of standing and fighting for the poor, for the youth, for the farmers. There will be new thinking, new ideology in Uttar Pradesh,” Rahul Gandhi, who is currently on a tour of his constituency Amethi, told reporters.
Senior party members, including Motilal Vohra, welcomed Priyanka into the fold, saying her appointment will auger well for Congress in Eastern Uttar Pradesh and beyond.
BJP lawmakers were less impressed by her sudden elevation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a veiled attack, said Congress’s ‘dynasty politics’ has never been more evident, while Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad the party for giving Priyanka a limited role.
“Priyankaji has become General Secretary, my good-luck to her. Since is a family concern, these kinds of postings are nothing unusual, except to say with a caveat, why she has been given role of only Eastern UP? Perhaps her persona merited a wider role for her,” Ravi Shankar Prasad said, ANI reported.
There is, however, further speculation that Priyanka may contest the coming Lok Sabha election from either Amethi or Rae Bareli.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius