The Uttar Pradesh Congress headquarters in Lucknow, in its new avatar, had been waiting for long for the arrival of a Gandhi scion and party general secretary in-charge for the state. The much-awaited moment has now come with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra arriving in the state capital on Friday, July 16, on a three-day visit. And this surely will not be an ordinary stopover. In the build-up to the assembly elections early next year, party insiders say, her visit marks the beginning of the “Congress’s offensive".
The last time Priyanka visited Uttar Pradesh was for Prayagraj in February this year. With a holy dip at Sangam and subsequently through meetings with fishermen from the backward Nishad community, who had been subjected to police brutality, the Congress leader has indicated her party’s willingness to reach out to the most backward classes (MBC) vote bank.
Her moves had seen a strong response from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, the momentum was soon lost as the second wave of the deadly Covid pandemic hit the state. Since then, though the Congress remained in action, extending help to people during the crisis, Priyanka herself was termed by the BJP as a “leader in absentia”.
This is a charge the Congress strongly refutes. The party’s national spokesperson Akhilesh Pratap Singh says, “Our party and Priyanka ji herself were at the forefront of extending help to people in distress, at a time when the Yogi government left the people of Uttar Pradesh to their fate. Amid the crisis aggravated by the ‘government in absentia’, it was Priyanka who personally monitored the party’s outreach in the state…Our leader didn’t violate the lockdown norms by coming to Lucknow. With restrictions lifted, she has now decided to come and perform her duties from the state capital”
For the grand old Congress, the challenge had been to build an organisation that could benefit from its leader Priyanka Gandhi’s popularity. The party, which has been out of power in the state for more than thirty years, until recently had no organisational committees at the block level. Organising on more than sixty thousand Nyaya Panchayats was a distant dream.
Congress leaders say that the hard work over the past year has now resulted in the formation of party committees in more than 800 blocks of the state with a robust organisational structure in more than fifteen thousand Nyaya Panchayats and the number is only going up. Before this micro-level organisational work, the party under Priyanka’s supervision had already streamlined the jumbo Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) from five hundred-plus members to 62.
“Our party now has an efficient and responsive mass-based organisation. Our success should be gauged from our campaigns. The party has led from the front on multiple issues, ranging from atrocities on Dalits in Sonbhadra to the rape and murder of a Dalit girl in Hathras. From the issue of migrant labourers, to farmers, law and order and unemployment, no other party challenged the government as we did," said UP Congress’s organisation secretary Anil Yadav.
With an organisational structure in place, it is now time to capitalise on it, the party feels. A senior leader with knowledge of the inside moves says Priyanka was slated to hit the streets in Uttar Pradesh sometime around Holi earlier this year. “The strategy was to ensure her extensive tour across different regions of UP. However, the second wave of Covid disturbed and delayed the strategy. But now, in the run-up to the assembly polls, Lucknow will emerge as the most important base for her. The visit that comes now might be late but not the last," he said.
Highly placed sources have told News18 that a glimpse of the “mounting the offensive” strategy against the Yogi Adityanath government will be evident during the three-day proposed visit. Though on the face of it, Priyanka’s visit is all about organisational meetings, an out-of-the-blue political move is very much on the cards.
The tag of ‘political tourism’
Even as Priyanka looks all set for an aggressive plunge in UP’s electoral battle, she is faced with two big challenges. One on the personal front and another in the electoral arena. Despite all the proclaimed hard work and enhanced presence on social media through continuous tweets and posts, hitting out at the Yogi Adityanath government, the BJP has aggressively mounted the “political tourism” charge against the Gandhis.
Party spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi says, “If a leader chooses to come to Lucknow after a year and a half, what else should we call it? The people of UP have seen their political tourism in Amethi and Raebareli. The Congress has no base in the state. Priyanka’s visit will cut no ice."
While Congress strategists are confident that in the days to come this perception will be demolished, the party is still baffled with the question of caste arithmetic in the state where an election is so defined by these fault lines. Unfortunately, the Congress in UP has no committed caste support base like the Muslim-Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Jatav-Dalits of the Bahujan Samaj Party, and upper caste, MBC and non-Jatav Dalit base of the BJP.
The hunt for this lost base will clearly be the top priority for Priyanka Gandhi. Her planned aggressive political strategy needs to address this key challenge. With just six months until the assembly polls, it’s a mammoth task. A lot will depend on how Priyanka moves ahead from here.