Priyanka Gandhi Vadra hogged the limelight for the last four days in Uttar Pradesh — getting detained in Sitapur en route to Lakhimpur, sweeping the floor at the guest house there amidst a spate of interviews, reaching Lakhimpur with Rahul Gandhi, sweeping the floor in a Valmiki locality on Friday and a mega rally is now planned in PM Narendra Modi‘s constituency Varanasi on Sunday.
Some may see it as hope for revival of the Grand Old Party (GOP) in Uttar Pradesh, but the BJP does not seem to really mind this heightened political space for Priyanka in Uttar Pradesh. This, in fact, seems increasingly a concerted strategy of the BJP to make Priyanka ‘look like a factor’ while the major political opponents of the BJP in the state, the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s BSP, dismiss Priyanka and the Congress as a “non-factor" with no voter base in UP.
The fact is that upper castes and Muslims have voted for the Congress in some measure in 2014, 2017 and 2019 in UP, but not in enough numbers to help the party make an impact. The present political space being ceded to the Congress seems a BJP effort to ensure that some of its own upper caste voters in UP who are upset with the BJP for various reasons do not end up voting for SP or BSP, but go for the Congress. Same goes for stopping the consolidation of Muslim votes.
UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in an interaction with News18 UP on Friday asked why opposition leaders, including from the BSP, had not visited families of the “Brahmin men” who were killed in the Lakhimpur violence. His comment at the same interaction on Priyanka sweeping the floor in Sitapur, that the “public has reduced her to that”, has prompted the Congress to now launch a state-wide campaign, alleging that Dalits and women have been humiliated by the CM.
कांग्रेस महासचिव श्रीमती @priyankagandhi जी ने इंदिरा नगर की दलित बस्ती पहुंच कर झाड़ू लगाकर श्रमदान किया।झाड़ू लगाना स्वाभिमान और सादगी का प्रतीक है। इस स्वाभिमान और सादगी का मजाक उड़ाने वाले अपनी दलित विरोधी सोच को उजागर करते हैं। pic.twitter.com/y5H4ku4c9P
— Congress (@INCIndia) October 8, 2021
However, the SP and the BSP both seem to have been left behind in the Lakhimpur episode, and some leaders in these parties even allege a ‘fixed match’ between the BJP and the Congress, pointing out how Priyanka was allowed to proceed till Sitapur on Monday while Akhilesh was not even allowed to move out of his residence that day.
But will an emboldened Congress also hurt the BJP in UP or only end up hurting the chances of the SP and BSP come 2022 elections?
A Lesson in History
Priyanka entered politics as the general secretary in-charge of UP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, complete with a big road show in Lucknow with Rahul Gandhi. The SP-BSP-RLD fought the election in an alliance, with the Congress fighting separately. The opposition alliance could win only 15 out of the 80 seats while the Congress even lost the Amethi seat of Rahul Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi won the Rae Bareli seat.
A key statistic from those elections, however, did catch the BJP’s eye. The Congress seemed to have possibly costed the SP-BSP-RLD alliance a win in nearly 10 Lok Sabha seats as the winning margins of the BJP candidates on these seats were less than the votes polled by the Congress candidates.
So, though the Congress had just won one seat and lost deposits on 3/4th of the seats it fought on, it dented the opposition alliance where it hurt the most — in garnering crucial votes.
Priyanka did contend during the campaign in those elections that her party would either win a seat it was contesting or harm the BJP, but figures belied the claims.
In 2017 Assembly elections, Rahul Gandhi attempted a big plan to improve upon the party’s 28-seat performance in 2012 elections and a state-wide Khat Yatra was done before Balakot strikes happened, following which the Congress stitched an alliance with the Samajwadi Party. The Congress dropped to just seven seats in those polls.
In UP, the strongest challenger to the BJP in terms of organisation, the Samajwadi Party, seems ‘laid-back’ while the weakest challenger with little network on the ground, the Congress, seems the most aggressive. It is unlike the case in, say Bihar, where the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav was a combination of ‘organisation and aggression’ and ran the BJP-JDU close in elections but lost out due to his ally Congress’ poor performance.
The UP opposition lacks a Tejashwi Yadav kind of combination and Priyanka may yet again prove to be an X-factor for the BJP in the 2022 elections.