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UP Elections 2017: Saving for a Stormy 2019? Why Priyanka Gandhi is Not Seen Much This Time

Priyanka Gandhi is finally reaching Rae Bareli on Friday but in the company of her brother Rahul Gandhi.

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18pallavighcnnibn

Updated:February 17, 2017, 1:47 AM IST
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UP Elections 2017: Saving for a Stormy 2019? Why Priyanka Gandhi is Not Seen Much This Time
File photo of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with sister Priyanka. (PTI)
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New Delhi: Priyanka Vadra is finally reaching Rae Bareli on Friday but in the company of her brother Rahul Gandhi.

For Congress workers, it’s been a long wait. A party worker calls this reporter to ask, "You must be knowing. Is Priyanka ji coming? We have no idea."

It indeed has come as a surprise. Unlike in 2012 when Priyanka held about 100 rallies in both Amethi and Rae Bareli, giving headlines almost daily, brazenly taking on Narendra Modi and the BJP, this time round she is nowhere to be seen.

FULL COVERAGE: Assembly Elections 2017

Sources close to Priyanka say she will go, but nothing has been finalised yet. Rae Bareli goes to polls on February 23 and Amethi on February 27. Yet, Priyanka has been conspicuous by her absence. Even if she goes, the message which has gone across is that Priyanka is campaigning much less this time.

Reason enough for the BJP to make this an issue. Union minister Smriti Irani, who took on Rahul Gandhi in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, said Priyanka was not campaigning because she had no answer for the tough questions which the voters would ask her.

In stark contrast to the big bang campaign planned for Priyanka by Prashant Kishor and his team, Priyanka is, as expected, limited to Amethi and Rae Bareli as usual. But what’s unusual is her truncated schedule.

There are several reasons given for this. Most important is the fact that in many areas there are ‘friendly fights’ between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress which have tied up for the elections and it could be confusing for Priyanka to decide who she would campaign for. In Amethi, pitted against the official SP candidate Gayatri Prajapati is Amethi Singh, who is campaigning on a Congress ticket.

ALSO READ: Priyanka Not Campaigning in Amethi as She Can't Face Questions, Says Smriti Irani

Sources close to Priyanka point out that she hasn’t taken a back seat as far as the Uttar Pradesh elections are concerned. In fact, she is the one who is micro-managing the campaign and elections. And when the SP-Congress alliance was clinched, it was Priyanka who was given credit.

ALSO READ: This UP Poll is to End Dynastic, Caste-based Politics, Says Amit Shah

State Congress in-charge Ghulam Nabi Azad said that "Priyanka is playing an important role and she knows about all constituencies in the state. Something which even I don’t know”.

It's also a fact that the Congress is saving Priyanka for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, learning from the experience of 2012 when Congress won only two of the 10 Assembly seats despite Priyanka campaigning. The fear is that a similar poor show would spread the perception that she is no trump card.

This apart, it is felt that these elections are once again about Rahul and Akhilesh. With a tag line of ‘UP ke ladke’, a pro-active Priyanka would dilute this campaign. And many fear it would take the attention away from Rahul Gandhi as Priyanka is believed to be the more charismatic.

It's clear now that Priyanka will play the role of the backroom strategist and work on Rahul and Congress strategies and campaigns. And for this, it is important that her public appearances are limited.

ALSO READ: Brahmin Face of SP's Majority Outreach Now Rides BSP's Jumbo

But behind the limited appearance of Priyanka is also the typical Congress sentiment to protect the Gandhis. Even in the case of Rahul Gandhi, initially, the attempt was to slowly and gradually introduce him. When they found this wasn't working, Rahul was thrown in at the deep end.

That leads to the question: how long can the Congress carry on its strategy of keeping Priyanka Gandhi in cotton wool.

| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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