Nearly a year ago in July 2019, ten people were killed and about two dozen injured over a land dispute in Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh. As a result, the political temperature in the state shot up with opposition clamouring for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s resignation. The district administration of Sonabhadra imposed section 144 so as to bar any political aggregation or politicisation of the event.
However, Congress General Secretary and UP In-Charge, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, would not be dissuaded from such antics. She reached Sonabhdra a day later and when the police stopped her, she sat on dharna at the very spot she was accosted, and refused to budge unless allowed to meet the families of the tribal victims. With televisions across the country flashing the news continuously, the administration relented and Gandhi was allowed her wish. She was the first opposition leader to meet the families of the deceased and announced compensation for them on behalf of her party.
In May this year during the coronavirus induced lockdown when lakhs of migrants were walking home in the absence of public transport — hungry and injured — Priyanka Gandhi pestered Yogi Adityanath to arrange vehicles for them. She herself offered to arrange buses from neighbouring states if the UP government could not. Initially, the UP government dilly-dallied but after media pressure mounted, it relented and sought buses from the Congress. The very next day, hundreds of buses were lined-up by the Congress at the UP border in Noida, Mathura and Ghaziabad. This was the proactive face of Priyanka Gandhi — not only forcing the government to provide vehicles to the migrants, but also assisting in the efforts.
A study of her Twitter handle @priyankagandhi vis a vis other opposition leaders of the state reveals that she is the quickest to react to any event, good or bad. Clearly, she is presently leading the battle against the government on the road and on the social media. As if her aggression was not enough, the Congress state president Ajay Kumar Lallu has been arrested 21 times in last 6 months for criticising or protesting against the BJP. A few more fighters like Lallu, and Congress, some say, can knock the demon to death in coming elections.
The combative and confrontationist Priyanka is on the mission to win Uttar Pradesh. Something that the party which has been sandwiched between the mandal and kamandal politics of state has failed to do in last three decades. However, the biggest question remains whether Priyanka can deliver where Rahul Gandhi and even Sonia Gandhi failed earlier. While the latter duo may not have literally relocated to the state, they had tried several strategies and different narratives to revive congress in the state. Remember Rahul reaching Tappal (Aligarh) riding pillion on a motorcycle in support of people sitting on protest against land acquisition bill; Congress alliance with BSP in 1996; alliance with SP in 2017; however nothing has worked so far.
No doubt, Congress is continuously and unhesitatingly questioning the government, but is it enough? No it is not. It will be a folly to think that the fastest response on Twitter, Facebook or visiting a victim’s house could change the fortune of the leader or party. Let us not forget that three decades is a long term for any party to remain out of power and loss of men and means is obvious. To get the party battle ready, forget winning, you need to have certain basic resources first. Congress has some several handicaps vis a vis BJP, SP and BSP in the state. It will have to deal with them swiftly and tactfully to have any chance of revival.
Now that Priyanka is shifting to Lucknow for good, it can be safely said that Congress has overcome one of its biggest handicaps. Parachute politicians are obsolete. With access to education and social media (mobile), the masses have become smarter and demanding. They want accessibility to their leader and it is only possible if Priyanka parks herself in Lucknow or Allahabad.
Now, the biggest roadblock before Priyanka would be the caste configuration of UP. Congress was traditionally a party of Brahmins, Dalits and minorities. Over the years, all these three communities have deflected to SP, BSP or BJP. Now, unless Priyanka succeeds in persuading Brahmins back to its fold, it would be a complicated road for the Congress. And with the BJP juggernaut on the roll, it will not be easy. However, at the same time, nothing is impossible. With a spate of murders of Brahmin youths in the state, the community has very vocally held the ‘Rajput’ Chief Minister responsible, or at least unconcerned about it. If Priyanka manages to win back even half of the community from BJP, half the battle will be won. Instead of going for a broke and trying to woo all the communities with a general agenda, Congress should come up with a specific agenda for a specific community. It can work along with her disruptive, transformative and game-changing campaign.
Secondly, Priyanka needs to revamp the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee and find able and committed people to launch the campaign. The best of talent has moved to other parties for obvious reasons and Gandhi has to find the right men from the available pool. And in UP politics, this basically translates to having the right caste-man with the right commitment and work ethics in the right region. Ajay Lallu is doing a fantastic job. Imran Masood, ex- MLA from Saharanpur, though he carries baggage from the past, could be given a bigger responsibility as he is a popular Muslim face of western UP. Similarly, MP Pramod Tewari should be used extensively in UP for the next few months.
Thirdly, after selecting the right man for the job, she has to ignite the spirits of the party cadre for the days ahead of struggle, humiliation, jails and batons. The life can be breathed into it by the agitation politics which she is currently pursuing. Here, Lallu is giving her ample support by keeping the pot burning.
Fourthly and most importantly, Priyanka has to learn to seize-the-moment. CM Yogi has been quite benevolent to the opposition by giving them ample opportunities to question him on matters related to law and order, development, coronavirus miss management, etc. However, the opposition has been found wanting in creating any dent. Priyanka Gandhi has to do better than this. She has to create any atmosphere and perception that BJP fears her the most. This can be only done by the right agitations and right questions.
Fifthly, she has to be the chief ministerial face of the Congress for 2022. With all due respect to Ajay Kumar Lulla and his frequent jail visits, he will have to wait his turn. The emotion and empathy which a Gandhi surname evokes today is any day more than Lallu or Tewari or a Masood. Perception and timing are important weapons in politics. The UP elections are less than 20 months away and she needs enough time to frame and work on her strategies. The announcement in this regard should be done without any further delay. The old timers may warn her that in case of unfavourable results, she would be labelled a failure forever. But if not now, when?
Sixthly, once the she is declared as the CM face, she would have to set a realistic target for herself and the party. Yes, miracles do happen in the politics. Arvind Kejriwal became the CM of Delhi only a year after forming a party. N T Rama Rao formed Telgu Desam Party (TDP) in March 1982 and became CM of Andhra Pradesh 10 months later in January 1983 with absolute majority. He traversed close to 80,000 kilometers across the state and during those 10 months and decimated the Congress. Can Priyanka Gandhi do it? Not impossible but at the same time not easy. Meanwhile, if she gets Congress close to even around 100 seats, it will be a great victory and can pave way for the Congress to support SP or BSP in forming the government, if need arises. So, it’s time for Congress to identify its best 150 seats, alert its candidates, manage the funds, design the campaign and set the electioneering in motion. It is doable.
As the saying goes, the minds of the everlasting Gods are not changed suddenly. Even when an individual promises to change, repents and atones for his past sins, the momentum of his past keeps carrying him down the wrong road. For Congress to atone its past mistakes which led people to desert it, the party will have to launch a preparation matching the land and sea invasion of Germany. Anything less than that, will not bear any fruit. Priyanka Gandhi or no Priyanka Gandhi.