Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra wages lone fight in UP

A month after the historic results of the Lok Sabha elections and repeat of the mammoth victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party, petty politics in Uttar Pradesh are still not ready to relent, rather it seems to be brewing with more vigour. As Congress President Rahul Gandhi is still nursing the wounds of his defeat in the 'family' constituency Amethi, his sister, the Party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra has picked up the baton and continues to fight. She spent a night at a guest house in Mirzapur, UP, as she refused to furnish a bail bond for trying to breach peace in the area. This followed a day-long dharna after she was stopped from visiting the village in Sonbhadra district where ten tribals were shot dead last week in a land dispute. She vowed that she won't leave till she is allowed to meets the families of those who were killed. However, the UP Government did not succumb to the pressure.

The entire national media has been carefully trolling Priyanka's agitation. By now, one would have read all the breathless takes on how Priyanka suffered a night vigil without electricity (reportedly power was cut by the Yogi government) and did not budge. This sort of commentary pours forth from analysts desperate to prove that an opposition exists to Modi's massive majority. This incident does not compare to the late Indira Gandhi’s Belchi moment. Then, in 1977, the Congress was a flourishing presence in UP; today, it is a bygone with zero ground traction.

Did the BJP Government blink?

The grieving family members of the Sonbhadra clash victims were received by Priyanka at the guest house. Either the BJP Government blinked through this or there exists a close-door understanding between local forces. Does this mean Priyanka's significance in the national politics would rise after her visit to the troubled areas? BJP dismisses her as a "picnic" politician to underline the episodic nature of her political engagement. Says a senior member of the Yogi Adityanath cabinet, "We miscalculated and detained her. That is why she is drawing mileage but in the larger picture, it means nothing but headlines. Anyway, all of UP knows Priyanka comes (here) only for the elections like a tourist." This is crude, but true. The most impression that Priyanka's overnight dharna could draw was that it was far more effective than the meaningless boat ride down the Ganga that she ventured on before the elections. Secondly, she beat both regional leaders, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, and positioned herself first in meeting the families of those who died. Akhilesh is preoccupied with stemming the flow of his Rajya Sabha MPs to BJP. Mayawati was busy addressing a presser about the seizure of an allegedly benami property of her brother worth rupees 400 crores.

Does Priyanka's night vigil indicate that the Congress is out of its political paralysis post the huge election defeat and Rahul's resignation? Not quite. Yes, Priyanka has delivered a big political moment for the party but not on a scale large enough to eclipse her underwhelming political debut and the image of a politician who promises much and then doesn't deliver. The biggest example of this is the hype she built about contesting against Modi from Varanasi only to then drop out.

The Congress' first family is concerned with UP with an obsession but the last time the party did well in this state was in 2009. This time around, despite Priyanka's debut in a formal political role in the state, Rahul lost his traditional seat of Amethi. And Priyanka, in a silly display of tone deafness and entitlement, publicly upbraided party workers for that disaster. Months after the elections, the Congress party is still trying to work out the puzzle of who will replace Rahul Gandhi as its president. A huge battle has broken out between Sonia Gandhi's old guard and some Young Turks who are believed to have the support of Rahul in staking claim to run the Congress.

A Family Prop

In any case, the new party president will be perceived as a family prop with real power being held elsewhere. Younger party leaders say "We are now being told that Priyanka will be a sort of chief campaigner for the party and Rahul the head of an ideology think tank. But where would it leave the puppet chief?" Not surprisingly, no leader wants the party president's job. It is why the Congress Working Committee meeting to decide on a new president has been shelved indefinitely. Meanwhile, while Gandhis make headlines in UP, other states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand (and later Delhi) will hold elections now. The Congress party lies in a stupor across the nation. Even as the impatient Maharashtra ally, Sharad Pawar, gave the Congress a deadline to decide on seat-sharing, no reaction was instigated. They are busy with internal feuds in the state unit. If Priyanka is proclaiming to be in the running for the 2022 assembly elections, she will have to find herself a residential address in Lucknow and take certain lessons from Amit Shah on building a party structure from the ground up. Nothing else will do. The writer is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).

- Bharatkumar Raut