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Priyanka Gandhi's UP Campaign: Is it Too Little, Too Late for the Congress Already?

File photo of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. (Image: Reuters)

File photo of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. (Image: Reuters)

Priyanka’s entry to Lucknow now comes at an even more precarious time for the party as it has fared disastrously in the recent Zila Panchayat Chief and Block President Polls, losing even in its only stronghold of Rae Bareli.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is expected in Lucknow finally on July 16 to launch the poll campaign of the Congress party with just six months left for the elections. This will be over one-and-a-half years after she last visited the UP capital where the Congress is hoping for a revival of its electoral fortunes.

But is it a case of too little, too late? Prashant Kishor, the poll strategist who met Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on Tuesday and had first pitched as the Congress strategist then for Priyanka to be projected as the party’s chief ministerial face in 2017 elections in Uttar Pradesh, would perhaps know best.

Congress did not take Kishor’s bait then, Priyanka remained in the back-room, and the Congress offered the late Shiela Dikshit as the CM face before dropping her mid-way the campaign as it stitched an alliance with Samajwadi Party.

Priyanka was finally ‘launched’ in Uttar Pradesh right ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when after a mega road show in Lucknow with her, Rahul Gandhi said at the Congress office in Lucknow that while the party had modest expectations in UP in 2019, the real hope the party had was for the 2022 assembly elections. As it turned out, 2019 too turned into a disaster for Congress in UP as Rahul lost from Amethi, Priyanka did not contest and the only seat Congress won was Sonia Gandhi’s Rae Bareli.

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After that disaster, Priyanka did not choose to stay put in Lucknow but preferred parachute visits to the state. Like going to Sonbhadra after the killing of tribals two years ago, her last visit to Lucknow in December 2019 to meet those injured in the anti-CAA protests, her visit to Hathras last October to meet the family of a murder victim and a series of Kisan Mahapanchayats she did in West UP in February-March this year besides taking a dip in the Sangam in Prayagraj on February 11. She will now visit UP on July 16, over four months after her last visit to the state on March 7.

In political circles of Lucknow, the other leading parties hardly attach any importance to Priyanka’s upcoming visit, with one senior BJP leader in the state telling News18 that this is perhaps the third time recently that the Congress leader has rescheduled even her present trip.

The Congress party was abuzz a year ago amidst speculation that Priyanka could shift base to Lucknow till the elections. House of a former Congress leader was also prepared for her longer stay. But that did not happen as well amidst Covid.

Priyanka’s entry to Lucknow now comes at an even more precarious time for the party as it has fared disastrously in the recent Zila Panchayat Chief and Block President Polls, losing even in its only stronghold of Rae Bareli. While Congress party members in UP project her as the ‘chief ministerial face’ of the party, there is no such declaration from the leader herself and it is even not clear if she would like to send a message to the cadre by jumping into the electoral arena and contesting an MLA seat in the upcoming elections. Many political experts in UP are betting on that not happening.

In the end, it may end up a case of Priyanka’s entry in Lucknow already being too late.

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first published:July 14, 2021, 10:59 IST