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In Pursuit of Lost 'Fantastic 5': With or Without Ram Lalla, Why Priyanka Gandhi is Just 76 Steps Away from Success With 'Well Chalked' Ayodhya Itinerary

It is believed that before visiting Lord Ram, climbing 76 stairs to Lord Hanuman's temple in Ayodhya helps in fulfilling wishes. With a soft religious discourse and people connect, Priyanka Gandhi seems to be on track to revive Congress's five key seats.

Pranshu Mishra | CNN-News18

Updated:March 29, 2019, 11:07 AM IST
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In Pursuit of Lost 'Fantastic 5': With or Without Ram Lalla, Why Priyanka Gandhi is Just 76 Steps Away from Success With 'Well Chalked' Ayodhya Itinerary
Congress General Secretary UP-East Priyanka Gandhi Vadra offers prayers at Bade Hanuman temple in Prayagraj. (File photo: PTI)
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First the Ganga Yatra from Prayagraj to Varanasi, now a visit to epicenter of Ram Janmabhoomi dispute — Ayodhya. Congress's eastern UP in-charge Priyanka Gandhi may be busy touring her assigned areas, but the bigger question is — are these yatras more about optics or does it have some kind of political resonance?

While her Ganga sojourn was to send a larger message to the Most backward castes (MBC) in the state, the Ayodhya trip seems to have been planned as direct electoral action in the select few seats that fall under party's 'Mission 30' scheme.

Initially, the party had planned a train journey for Gandhi, from Delhi to Ayodhya and then travelling to Amethi via Sultanpur by road. However, this plan was later changed.

The party leader flew down to Lucknow on Wednesday and continued her journey to Amethi by road. She will camp for two days in Amethi, meeting party workers in Parliamentary constituency of her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. On Friday morning, she will proceed with her road trip to Ayodhya via Sultanpur. On the way, she will meet local resident on select points.

But even beyond this "know the pulse of aam aadmi" initiative, the electoral fact is that right from Lucknow to Barabanki and then Faizabad (Ayodhya) and beyond, Sultanpur and Amethi are long geographical arch, which have some key constituencies that are part of the party's 'Mission 30' strategy.

Many of the seats in this region were won by the Congress in 2009 and on others it has got a good vote percentage. Adjacent to parliamentary constituency of Faizabad, there are Gonda and Bahraich seats. Both were with the grand old party in 2009.

So when Gandhi lands in Ayodhya and first goes to offer prayers at famous Hanuman Garhi temple, before moving out for a road show in Ayodhya (parliamentary constituency of Faizabad), the political intent is clear.

Through the move, what is often described as 'soft Hindutva' and subsequently interacting and meeting with the people, the Congress east UP in-charge is actually making some serious efforts to raise party's stock in the "potential seats".

In 2009, apart from Gonda and Bahraich, Congress had also won the Barabanki, Faizabad and Sultanpur seats. In 2014, it lost all the seats to the BJP and could just win Amethi and Raebareli. So while the last two may be defined under a separate category of "existing strongholds", the remaining five are the focus area.

Though this time around, the caste arithmetic emerging out of the SP-BSP alliance has made it difficult for the Congress to be in a direct fight with the BJP in these seats, it is banking on the 'Priyanka factor' for things to work in its favor.

In Faizabad, Congress has fielded Nirmal Khatri as its candidate. Khatri won 2009 election from here but lost to BJP in 2014. Compared to 2009, it lost around 15% votes in 2014. Similarly in Sultanpur, Sanjay Singh won in 2009. In 2014, Congress performed miserably and lost 38% votes as compared to 2009 and polled fourth. Singh is again the party's candidate in the coming elections.

Similarly in the reserved constituency of Barabanki that lies between Lucknow and Faizabad, Congress's PL Punia had won in 2009. In 2014, he lost to BJP, polling around just half the votes of what the BJP candidate got. This time around, Punia's son Tanuj is a Congress candidate from the seat.

So out on a mission to build the party, the area under this geographical arch naturally becomes important for Priyanka Gandhi. But will it reap political dividends?

Professor Prashant Trivedi of Giri Institute of Social Studies says, “There is a larger political effort behind Gandhi's visits from Sangam in Prayagraj to Varanasi and then Ayodhya. Congress is trying to reclaim its lost space in the larger Hindu religious discourse. The discourse which had been over the period of past three decades entirely taken over by BJP/RSS's Hindutva ideology."

Trivedi adds, "So when Gandhi goes to Ayodhya, it is an effort to regain this lost space but by choosing to skip visiting the disputed site, there is also an attempt to draw an alternative to BJP's aggressive Hindutva. In small term political impact, the 'Priyanka travels' may not spring immediate political gains specially in the upcoming elections that is highly defined by caste arithmetic, in long term imperative, it can help in Congress's revival."

The program schedule of Gandhi, accessed by News18, mentions only about her proposed visit to Hanuman Garhi and has no mention of the Ram lala Virajaman makeshift temple at the disputed site.

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| Edited by: Sumedha Kirti
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